GREENSBORO — A large crowd of energized and vocal opponents of the new administration’s policies attended Friday’s constituent service meeting in Greensboro, hosted by representatives of Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican who represents Athens, and the state’s two senators, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue.
Some were wearing the pink “pussy hats” worn during the recent wave of demonstrations in Washington and in cities across the country, and many held up hand-lettered signs. The room was packed, and most of the crowd—estimated by Greene County Sheriff Donnie Harrison at more than 500—was standing in the back and along the sides of the room.
After the staff members introduced themselves to the crowd, Josh Findlay, a Hice staffer, said that it was “the largest crowd we’ve ever had” at this kind of meeting. He then announced that due to the crowd size, meetings would be held individually in nearby private rooms. At this point people, in the crowd began booing loudly and howling that they wanted to be heard by the legislators’ surrogates, and sustained chants of “Hear our voice!” “Cowards!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” rang out.
Nonetheless, 15 minutes into the contentious meeting, the staffers walked through the crowd to the back of the packed room while one called a list of names of people with whom they would meet, speaking loudly over the chanting. An attendee then took the microphone and suggested that people who wanted to speak could come up to share their stories, and dozens of people began lining up to take their turn to speak. At that point, the meeting quickly took on the raucous mood of a university demonstration, as young, middle-aged and senior attendees shouted their support for the stories they heard from dozens of speakers.
Each speaker announced their hometown, and many had traveled 100 miles or more for the meeting. Many speakers were teachers, and they decried charter-school advocate and major GOP donor Betsy DeVos’ appointment as education secretary. One said, “We can’t let Trump sell out our children.”
One speaker covered the Hice-sponsored House Resolution 586, the so-called Sanctity of Life Act, an anti-abortion bill that deems that life begins at fertilization. The speaker voiced fears of criminalizing women who lose their children to miscarriage, and cited horrifying examples of women being closely questioned regarding the circumstances of their miscarriages.
A Hice representative who stayed behind to observe the meeting said he would take notes for the legislators but would not answer questions. The crowd noticed that he wasn’t taking notes and yelled at him to start writing, at which point he began writing in his notebook.
Some speakers called for President Trump to release his taxes. Others pointed to issues of conflict of interest, and referred to Eric Trump’s recent trip on Trump business to Uruguay, during which he enjoyed the protection of his Secret Service detail.
One speaker asked, to huge applause, “Did Hice vote secretly to do away with the House Committee on Ethics?”
An immigrant from India pointed to Congress’ reluctance to pass laws for gun control. A second-generation Muslim-American woman asked rhetorically, “When people say I should go home, I wonder where they mean for me to go?”
After about 80 minutes, a Hice staffer asked how many more people wanted to speak before the noon cut-off time, and more than 25 hands shot up.
Referring to the oppression she felt by the administration, one speaker said to loud and long applause, “We are in Egypt, and Pharaoh is sitting in the White House!”
After the meeting, which ran from 10 a.m. to nearly 12:30 p.m., an attendee was overheard to say, “At the end of the day, I think democracy is going to die, and we’re screwed.”
Editor’s note: The above account is by Athens writer Dan Jackson. The following comes from Michelle Golden, who also attended the rally.
About 400 people—approximately half from Athens—descended on Greensboro Friday morning in an effort to hold their Republican representatives in Washington accountable.
About seven representatives from the offices of Rep. Jody Hice and Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue introduced themselves—the congressmen themselves were not present—then informed the crowd that the meeting was not a town hall; it was an open office day, in which people could sign up to meet with the officials individually or in groups to discuss concerns privately. (Some might ask why they had booked a single large room if they weren’t expecting a town-hall style meeting.)
The crowd pouring out of the open doors of the Greene County Commission chamber was not happy about the announcement. Some expressed displeasure at the elected officials’ lack of town hall meetings and apparent inability to answer their phones.
Individual complaints changed to loud chants of “Hear our voice!” and “Do your job!” When the chanting started, all of the staff members walked out of the room. The chanting shifted to “Shame! Shame!” and then the familiar “This is what democracy looks like!”
Confusion ensued while the crowd debated holding a representative-less town hall meeting or demanding that the representatives return. A compromise was reached when one staffer from Hice’s office remained in the room to write down questions while the others conducted semi-private interviews.
What followed was pretty much what you would expect from a town hall meeting with few or no actual representatives present. Individuals from at least 10 counties voiced concerns about health care, education, ethics, finance, cabinet appointments, immigration, religious freedom and Planned Parenthood. A Hice staffer wrote down questions to take back to Rep. Hice, but didn’t actually answer any questions or otherwise respond.
It was clear that the crowd was mostly on the same page as far as the issues raised, but what wasn’t clear was whether anyone was actually listening.
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