As of Tuesday, April 18, 2017
To the editor:
“Remember, we still live in the greatest country in the whole world.” This was how Greg Walden ended his town hall in The Dalles on April 12, only to be met by mostly unresponsive attendees who had already begun filing out, showing mixed enthusiasm to what should’ve been a reassuring statement.
It seemed like Walden’s last-ditch attempt at uniting the room through faith in an ideal that contrasted the testimonials of those attending.
Accountability and real dialogue are the recurring themes of what we’re calling for from Walden, and after experiencing his tumultuous town hall, I realize none of us are above that demand. What does it mean when I find myself smiling more at those I agree with, put off by the people who are clapping in opposition to my own preferences?
If a town hall is a chance to have a cathartic experience, to express disappointment and even anger in a safe, controlled space, then last Wednesday was an undeniable success. But how does real change come about?
I found myself considering what small gestures I might make in order to reach out to some of Walden’s few supporters sitting near me, but my train of thought was disrupted when I overheard one of them whisper to their neighbor: “Boy, I shoulda brought a gun.” Authentic connection is difficult.
Perhaps the one moment of authenticity on Walden’s part occurred in his response to the crowd’s loudest moment of objection: “Remember, this district voted for Trump by about 20 points.” It felt like I was hearing, finally, Walden’s real voice, a statement that came from his gut. I was relieved to see him be so direct, that he could in fact avoid tangential storytelling and just say what he meant.
But what does it indicate when we, a politicized crowd anxious to participate in substantial dialogue with our representative, can only receive directness in the form of a dismissal?
By reminding us that the general will of the room was not representative of the county as a whole, Walden reinforced the startling revelation that, in a democracy, even 49 percent can be treated as zero.