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Asking a Question at a Town Hall Meeting
Transforming Fear Into Action December 18
Members of Congress spend time in Washington, DC, and in their home districts. When they are home, they often hold community open houses and town hall meetings. These events are great opportunities to ensure elected leaders are hearing that ending hunger is a top priority for constituents.
Elected officials pay special attention to the voices of constituents who make the effort to get to a town hall or other interactive meeting. Candidates running for office or re-election have obvious additional interest in listening to and responding to your concerns—they want your vote! Going to an event where a member of Congress or candidate is speaking provides an excellent opportunity to thank him or her in public, make a particular request, or encourage stronger leadership on one of our issues. It is also a way to get the elected official or candidate to take a stand or create a platform on hunger and poverty issues when he or she might not otherwise pay attention to them.
The media are often at these events and cover the questions asked. By presenting carefully prepared and powerful questions at the event, your Bread Team has the chance to influence the member of Congress, educate the community in the room, and make the pages of the local paper - all in one evening.
Preparing for the meeting
- Where and when?
The best way to identify dates, times, and locations of town hall meetings is to call the local office and ask. Note that many town hall meetings don’t have more than a few day’s notice, so it’s a great idea to call the office at the beginning of recess periods when they will be back in their home states and districts.
- Designate a “historian.”
If you have two or more people coming to a meeting, and if you have the ability to make a video of the question, make sure to designate one person as the “historian” to document the question and the answer. (Some digital cameras have video capabilities.)
- Wear a Bread t-shirt.
You can order these through the Bread Store. If you don’t have time to get a Bread shirt, wear bright colors to attract the candidate’s attention.
- Do your homework!
It’s a good idea to have your question ready in advance. The more you know about the official’s or candidate’s interests and the topic of the town hall meeting, the more effective your question can be. Contact your organizers for more help here.
- Know the rules.
Town hall meetings can have slightly different rules for asking questions. The member or staff might call on people who raise hands. Some have microphones in the aisles. A quick call to the office sponsoring the town hall should be all you need to figure out the rules.
- Personalize your question.
Maybe you have recently travelled to a developing country and it prompted you to think more deeply about the need for foreign aid reform. Or perhaps you can connect your question with a local issue. This will help journalists, especially your local reporters, get a local angle for their story.
It takes courage to question a current or future member of Congress. We encourage you to pray for strength and peace.
Arriving at the meeting and the Q & A
- Arrive early.
Get good seats, preferably as close to the front as possible or near the microphones (usually placed in the aisle). If there are several people in your group, make sure you’re spaced out in different parts of the room. If you’re recording a video, make sure you’ll be in a position to record the question and the answer. The closer you are to the candidate, the better the quality of the recording. If for some reason you cannot be close to the candidate, be as close to amplifiers as possible so you can at least capture the audio.
- Raise your hand first, fast, and HIGH.
Longtime Bread member Ellen Fisher of Cedar Rapids, IA, gave us this tip. There’s usually an initial pause after the speaker asks for questions for the first time, as most people are deciding whether they are going to ask the first question. Be the first to volunteer.
At the Event
- Shake hands.
At the end of the event, try to be one of the first to work your way to the front of the meet-and-greet line. Shake the official’s hand firmly and mention something to him or her about how important the fight against hunger and poverty is to you as a voter.If you brought a camera, ask to have your picture taken with him/her. If you’d like to schedule a meeting with the official or staff to flesh your ideas out, mention that. The official will likely suggest getting in contact with the appropriate staff.
- Find the media.
After the event, find a member of the press and try to get quoted. They will want a local perspective on the event and will want to hear your feedback from the candidate’s statement about the issues you discussed or the question you asked. But they will not find you—you’ve got to find them. If you have a 1-page handout prepared with key messages and statistics, feel free to present it.
After the Event
- Contact your Bread organizers.
Let your organizers know how it went. Be sure to tell them what you asked, what the candidate said, and anything you learned that would be helpful
- Post your video.
If you had someone record your question and/or the answer to it, be sure to post it on YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, and any other social media sites you maintain. Send a link to your regional organizer and you may be featured on Bread’s website, too. If you took pictures at the event, be sure to send them to your regional office.
- Blog it!
Be sure to recap your experience on your team’s blog. Share your post with your regional organizer for possible posting on the official Breadblog.
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