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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Stacking Town Hall Meetings

The New York Times offers a valuable bit of background on congressional town hall meetings: activists try to stack them to their advantage.

“We need you to show up in force to make sure the far left doesn’t drown out the debate!” Tea Party activists said in an e-mail alert intended to fill as many seats as possible at a gathering that Representative David Schweikert, a freshman Republican from the Phoenix area, held Wednesday night in a police substation in Tempe.

The e-mail said the liberal group was at work lining up liberals to stack the audience. Indeed, is one of numerous groups across the political spectrum that have been busy organizing partisans to attend public meetings, but Mr. Schweikert still faced a generally supportive audience. Generally.

“It felt like it was me and a couple of others against everyone else,” said Ms. Gennaro, an artist and an independent, and one of a handful of critics in the audience who grilled Mr. Schweikert. “Next time, I’m going to bring more people with me.”

Every public meeting has similar nuts and bolts: the chairs, the sound system and, increasingly, with the debate over budgeting at a fever pitch, the big screen used to blow up multicolored pie charts and graphs showing government spending gone wild.

The big variable determining whether a meeting will resemble a graduate policy seminar or degenerate into a shouting match is the makeup of the audience.

Who will fill the chairs, and spring out of them to take the microphone and comment vociferously on the overhead projections, is no accident, as a glimpse behind the scenes at several meetings in Arizona last week made clear. Long before the member of Congress in question strides out in front of a crowd, activists are at work trying to shape the crowd.