What You Can Learn by Listening

The Power of the Town Hall Meeting

Recently, I worked with a client who was having difficulty getting her colleagues to address some of the most pressing issues facing their community. Despite her many efforts to engage them, she was met with apathy or suspicion that she was trying to take over.

So I advised her to start small and concentrate on the district she represented, which had a serious issue with crime and blight. There were a lot of rental properties with absentee landlords, which resulted in neglected homes with an over abundance of trash, abandoned vehicles or construction debris piling up on the properties. The result of this neglect was an increase in crime, which was supported by the crime statistics from the sheriff’s office.

My client was inundated with calls for help, or complaints about a lack of police presence or code enforcement in the neighborhood. And while this was definitely a problem, it was also an opportunity for advocacy.

Working in cooperation with the sheriff’s department, we planned a town hall meeting. The sheriff was the keynote speaker, who spent over an hour taking questions from the audience of nearly 300 people.

We also invited local, state and federal leaders to serve on a “listening panel” at the meeting. Their role was simply to listen, ask questions (if applicable) and interact with residents before and after the meeting. And what a powerful message they heard…directly from the people in their legislative districts.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the attendees were excited that their concerns had been heard, and they were motivated to get engaged and make a difference in their community.

I share this story to demonstrate the power of the town hall meeting. It’s one of the best strategies to get lawmakers to participate, even those that may be unwilling to meet or talk with you, because they still want to talk and listen to their constituents. This format gives them the chance to interact with them in a positive and structured environment which they will appreciate.

Your Partner in Advocacy…Kathy