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Progressive activists call for town halls in central, northern New York

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo
Members of the anti-President Donald Trump group CNY Solidarity Coalition have been leading calls in the Syracuse area for Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) to hold in-person town hall meetings.

A nationwide protest movement applying pressure on lawmakers to resist President Donald Trump's agenda has reached central and northern New York. The coordinated campaigns are starting to target local members of congress by pressuring them to hold town hall meetings.

Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) sounded frustrated when answering questions about repeated calls for him to host a town hall meeting for his constituents. He says those requests are largely coming from CNY Solidarity Coalition, an anti-Trump organization that recently protested in front of Katko's office over his refusal to hold an in-person town hall.

"This is a movement nationwide where the whole design is to get you in front of a camera with several hundred angry people and not let you talk," Katko said. "I’m not going to do that. I’m going to continue to talk to my constituents."

To avoid the so-called political theatrics, Katko and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro) are sticking to telephone town halls. Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) has no scheduled in-person town halls. Conversely, Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning), who is a Trump supporter, has several town halls scheduled. He says he welcomes any protesters.

Nationwide, the Republican lawmakers who are hosting these meetings are being grilled by their constituents. It's part of the Indivisible movement, an online guide helping activists model their protests after the success of the Tea Party movement that started in 2009.

"All elected officials want to avoid uncertainty and risk and you’re going to introduce more of that when you bring a bunch of people in and you have this live conversation at which the media is usually there," said Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University and host of WRVO's Campbell Conversations. "So, there’s a natural desire to want to avoid that."

Reeher says these events do mirror the tea party movement. For example, Tenney and Katko report getting bombarded with protest phone calls. But Reeher says part of the movement is also rooted in the Democratic Party's shocking loss in the last election.

"I think part of what is fueling this is the proximity to an election outcome that no one expected, arguably the most stunning defeat for the Democratic Party in its entire history, and there’s a reaction after that, a collective sense of 'what do we do now and we’ve got to do something.'"

Reeher says if these progressives want to enact fundamental change, they will have to sustain the movement to the midterm elections of 2018 like the tea party did in 2010.

"The question from here on in is how sustainable will this be," Reeher said. "What will this look like a year from now?"

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.