Protesters keep putting pressure on Donovan
Demonstrators demand congressman hold town hall
Republican members of Congress are feeling the heat from angry Democratic constituents this week as residents face off with lawmakers at town halls across the country on such issues as the Affordable Care Act and the policies of President Donald Trump.
U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan (R-Southwest Brooklyn-Staten Island), the only Republican in New York City’s congressional delegation, is no exception. Like other congress members who are currently on hiatus from Washington, D.C. and are back in their districts, he has become the target of protesters.
On Feb, 21, members of Fight Back Bay Ridge, a new grassroots organization formed in the wake of Trump’s election in November, held its second protest rally within a week outside Donovan’s Brooklyn district office on 13th Avenue. Protesters gathered to call on the lawmaker to hold an in-person town hall and to work to maintain the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Fight Back Bay Ridge also conducted a sit-in outside Donovan’s district office on Feb. 16, the same night the congressman conducted a telephone town hall and fielded questions from constituents.
Sally McMahon, who founded Fight Back Bay Ridge with her daughter Mallory, said a telephone town hall is a poor substitute for an in-person gathering.
“A telephone town hall is not a dialogue. The questions are pre-screened,” McMahon told the Brooklyn Eagle. “If Congressman Donovan won’t let constituents express our views through proper channels, then we will rally in order to have our voices heard.”
At the Feb. 21 rally, which Fight Back Bay Ridge organized with the group Staten Island Women Who March, protesters focused on two issues; Donovan’s reluctance to hold an in-person town hall and the ACA. Members of the Bay Ridge Democrats also took part in the protest.
The speakers included residents who offered passionately pleas for keeping the ACA and talked about how it saved their lives.
“One woman spoke about living with multiple sclerosis,” McMahon said. “We would like the congressman to save the Affordable Care Act, not repeal it.”
President Trump and Republicans in Congress have repeatedly stated their desire to repeal and replace the ACA, also known as Obamacare.
Donovan recently announced that he is co-sponsoring the Pre-Existing Protection Act of 2017, a bill that would guarantee health insurance coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions, even if the ACA is repealed.
“Patients suffering from serious conditions shouldn’t be forced to choose between receiving medical care or going bankrupt,” Donovan said in a statement.
The Feb. 16 protest was organized by Fight Back Bay Ridge and the group South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance.
One participant, Daniel Hetteix, expressed his frustration with the telephone town hall.
“After zero publicity from Congressman Donovan, no defined date or time, a labyrinth of email confirmations and phone calls to get confirmed, some got on the call just to listen to our congressman field questions like a radio DJ taking callers,” he said.
Sally and Mallory McMahon decided to form Fight Back Bay Ridge right after Trump won the White House. ‘We were sitting around crying about the election results. But we knew we couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. We started to do outreach in our neighborhood. We had our first meeting in November,” Sally McMahon said.
Fifteen people attended that first meeting. Things quickly mushroomed from there. The group now has 300 members on Facebook.
“Everyone is looking for some way to make their voices heard,” McMahon told the Eagle.
McMahon said that if Donovan does not host a town hall meeting within the next few months, Fight Back Bay Ridge will hold one without him.
Patrick Ryan, Donovan’s communications director, said the congressman is always willing to meet with constituents and that he has an open door policy. But Ryan also said Donovan does not want to hold a town hall where people are yelling and where there’s no give-and-take.
“Congressman Donovan is in constant communication with his constituents, granting meetings with every single person or group that requests one, and that will always continue. Sadly, we have witnessed the true goals of a small percentage of people who are getting their tactics from a distributed manual on how to shout, name-call and disrupt. There’s an important distinction between sharing opinions and shouting down people who have different views. That’s not civil, not respectful and not productive, and we are not going to participate in a circus,” Ryan told the Eagle.
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