Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Fun Times at a Meeting with My Congressman

I am way out of my league at this meeting.

The other women carry binders of statistics, folders of research, handwritten letters and testimonials. Me, I've got nothing. 

Until a few months ago, I didn't know who my Congressional representative was. (Steve Stivers) Until a few weeks ago, I didn't know what my district was. (Ohio District 15) Until I programmed the address into my GPS, I didn't know where this office was. (3790 Municipal Way, Hilliard, Ohio, office phone: 614-771-4968)

Now I'm sitting here in a reception room with a handful of very prepared, professional-looking women, who are waiting to meet with Steve Stivers' District Director. His name's Adam and he's young enough to be my son. He asks us to sign in and one by one we do, with me wondering what they'll do with these names and addresses.

(Hey, I've read a ton of Dystopian fiction! Someone could be building a list of troublemakers in District 15. Next week they'll round all of us up and make us fight to the death in the Hunger Games or dress us like handmaidens in the Handmaid's Tale. 

That, or Steve Stivers' office will email us a bland, yet nice, form letter thanking us for visiting his office.) 

I decide to go with option C.

We sit down in comfy chairs in a room that looks like a boardroom. Again, I am having flashbacks to school board meetings, except this room's got a nice picture of Steve Stivers on the wall. He seems like a nice guy. Adam seems like a nice guy too. He opens the meeting by asking us to go around and introduce ourselves and share our concerns and he'll gladly pass those on to the congressman. 

Since I'm sitting next to Adam, I go first. I start out okay, I think, saying that I'm new at this-- the whole activist thing. I don't know the proper way to go about expressing my dissent with the new administration. The letters, the phone calls, the town halls that my representative (Steve Stivers) doesn't attend--these don't seem to be making a difference. 

And you know what? I'm angry after reading in the newspaper that Steve Stivers called me and people who've been writing and calling "paid protesters." It's not true. And it's disrespectful, I say, my voice rising.  I voted for Mr. Stivers and now, truth be told, I'm ticked off at myself for doing that. I don't feel like he's representing me.

Also, I don't know even know why I'm mad, I say. None of this affects me. I'm probably not going to be hurt by whatever new healthcare plan is passed. I don't have to worry about losing contraceptives. My kids are now out of public school.

Other people will be affected, though, and this matters to me.  

My voice keeps rising. I can feel my face burning and my voice getting thick. What the hell is this? Ugh, am I going to cry? 

Adam must think so. He's shifting uncomfortably in his seat. His head's bowed and he scrawls something on his notepad. (Possibly: ooooh kay this one's a lunatic.) But he says, nicely, that the congressman wasn't talking about his constituents when he said that thing about the paid protesters. He was talking about the people in Utah. 

This is  a lie  debatable, and I debate him, but then I quit and let the other women have a turn.

They speak, one by one, as Adam dutifully nods and occasionally writes something on his notepad.

One has just come from the hospital where her husband is recovering from expensive surgery. She's grateful for Medicare and is terrified it will be taken away. She has a letter she reads about the importance of the ACA.

Another woman opens a file and begins quoting statistics. She hopes that Steve Stivers will take a look at her research and Adam assures her that he will.

Someone tells a story about her nephew who was born with a congenital disease, how he suffered and died and this was before the ACA and the family struggled with medical bills. She starts to cry as she speaks about how we can't go back to that as a country, where people go bankrupt and have to rely on charity fundraisers to pay for catastrophic care. 

Adam interjects now and again to explain the congressman's thoughts, that healthcare is not a right but a responsibility, that the Republican goal is to keep costs down, that the new plan will help with that.

A woman points out that we'll save money if we keep the ACA. Isn't it better (and cheaper!) she asks, to pay for prevention-- things like birth control, drug addiction treatment, vaccines, medications, regular checkups with the doctor, rather than expensive trips to the emergency room?

Sure, Adam says, but Steve Stivers thinks people should be working to pay for their own health care.

But the working poor are the ones most using the ACA, the woman with all of the research folders points out. And not everyone can work. Children, for example. And elderly people in nursing homes. And people with disabilities. These are the people who will be most harmed by the repeal of the ACA.

An hour goes by and I am losing my will to live desire to sit any longer at this meeting.

It's such a sad, bizarre mix of passionate anger and boring procedural stuff, so that one moment someone is talking about the raging opioid epidemic in Ohio (The state is tied with Kentucky, in the top three of overdose deaths this year.) and the next moment, we're discussing the protocol for how the office handles constituent mail. Also, how many mean phone calls Steve Stivers gets each day. (A lot, apparently. But Adam assures us that Steve Stivers has a thick skin. Whew.)

After the meeting, the women hand Adam their letters and folders of research. Another office worker takes our pictures with Adam. He shakes our hands and offers us his card. He really is a nice guy. 

And it really is nice that Steve Stivers opened his office up to us, that he pays nice guys like Adam to answer the phones and read our letters, that he gives his constituents an opportunity to vent their anger and terror in meetings like this one. 

Steve Stivers is going to vote for the new healthcare law that guts the ACA anyway.

I know this. The women at the meeting know this too. I drive home from the meeting wondering why I went. I have no idea what to do next.

So I do the only thing I can.

I write about it.

Steve Stivers, the nice Congressperson of Ohio District 15


  1. Thank you for doing this, Jody, and for writing about it so well.

  2. Your comments are to the point and thought provoking. Kind of futile that people like you and the other ladies who attended this meeting know that Steve Stivers will simply vote on issues as though you(all) didn't present him with facts and figures about how new laws affect you (and many many people) and feel justified because he's following his party's line.

    1. I understand on a logical level why he's voting the way he does. District 15 in Ohio is mostly a rural, conservative district that also includes a chunk of Columbus that tends to be more liberal. Basically, it's been gerrymandered the way a lot of districts in Ohio have been--to dilute the votes of Democrats. He votes to represent the majority in his district. It's nice that he "listens" to the minority at all.

  3. Thanks for sharing about this and speaking up for others. I know I should be making more noise with my representatives, but I feel helpless here in TN, with almost no chance they will be swayed by either compassion or facts.

    1. You're right. See the response above. I still think it's worth making the noise, making it clear to our representatives that not everyone agrees with them. It's unfortunate (and I think it's pretty crappy) that they make assertions like Steve Stivers did, that the vocal minority has been paid off. Why do that? Maybe he has a thin skin after all...

  4. It matters.
    If these actions weren't having an impact, they would have already repealed ACA two months ago.
    Change is not rapid nor easily won, and there are always setbacks. But it's worth showing up for. (Holy cow, looks like a metaphor for writing!)
    It is so great that you did this.

    1. Thanks, Jenn. I like the comparison to the writing process. It's a marathon not a sprint is what the activists keep telling each other. It's what novelists tell each other too :)