Following weeks of protests and demands from Gainesville constituents for a community meeting, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) has agreed to a town hall at 10 a.m. on March 4 at Countryside Baptist Church.
The town hall is the direct result of constituent meetings, calls to Yoho’s D.C. and Gainesville offices and a direct meeting with Joy Pitts, chapter head of Indivisible Gainesville, said Carrie Webb, public relations director for the group.
“It’s an epic win,” said Webb. “It’s a huge, huge win.”
The event — which Yoho’s office denies was scheduled in answer to weeks of protests — will be a joint venture between Yoho and Indivisible, a group founded to “resist the Trump agenda” by employing tactics used by the Tea Party in their opposition to former President Obama. The Gainesville group is just one chapter of the Indivisible movement springing up in cities across the U.S.
The movement takes inspiration from a document called the “Indivisible Guide.” Compiled by ex-congressional staffers, the guide discusses the methods used by conservative grassroots movements to gain political traction in the last decade.
“He had originally scheduled a town hall for Gainesville in April, but his constituents wanted something sooner,” Webb said. Yoho may still hold another Gainesville town hall in April, after hosting this earlier event.
Brian Kaveney, communications director for Yoho’s D.C. office, said Indivisible was not the sole host of the event, but is working with the representative.
He denied hearing from Yoho himself that this meeting was the direct result of the protests that were held for several weeks outside his Gainesville office.
“Normally he has these town halls every year,” Kaveney said. “The reason we hadn’t had one was the lack of location. The fact that people are protesting or raising their concerns—that didn’t cause it.”
However, Kaveney said, although Yoho is not overly worried by them, recent coverage of contentious town halls hosted by Republicans in the House and Senate during the congressional recess havs not escaped Yoho’s notice.
“I’ve seen the videos online, and it reminds me of 2009, when the Affordable Care Act was about to be voted on,” said Kaveney. “They were concerned and worried, and it’s déjà vu for me, as a staffer. But you hope there’s a dialogue, that there isn’t just a shouting down.”
According to Yoho’s office and Indivisible, the town hall was originally scheduled to take place in the Fine Arts Hall at Santa Fe College, but the college had to pull out due to issues of safety and insufficient staffing.
In addition to a location better suited for the scale of the event, the organizers hope to keep the dialogue efficient by selecting specific questions in advance.
“Because of the size of the venue and how many people are coming, we decided to do the questions ahead of time,” Webb said. “This way, we get through a broad spectrum of questions. We also had a discussion about an open mic at the end of the town hall, which will happen if time permits.”
Indivisible Gainesville’s website has a page for visitors to submit three questions on three different topics from a list of 10. Ranging from healthcare to election reform, question topics were chosen based on community input on issues considered most meaningful.
“Your questions should be sharp and fact-based, ideally including information on the [member of Congress’] record, votes they’ve taken or statements they’ve made,” the web page said. “Questions that tell personal stories are the most compelling, but these stories need to be told in a clear, concise, and brief manner.”
The organizers said they are looking for a moderator to run the meeting.
“[We’re] definitely looking for someone with name recognition who will be fair to the constituents,” Webb said. “It was imperative to us that we find a moderator who would be a neutral voice, but who would also hold Yoho accountable… He’s very aware that this is going to be something of a controversial, hard town hall. He knows what he’s getting into. We’re super grateful.”
Kaveney agreed that Yoho was prepared to address the community’s concerns.
“He welcomes the input from the community and the individuals he represents,” Kaveney said. “He’s just looking forward to having a dialogue about the issues.”
Pitts voiced similar hopes for the meeting.
“My ideal situation is that he hears us,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll change his agenda by any means. But he needs to know he’s representing everyone in his district. When he’s making big decisions like the ACA repeal, we want to be in the back of his mind – these people who spoke to him.”
In the midst of the protests at Yoho’s office, Pitts said she represented Indivisible alongside groups like the Alachua County Labor Coalition, the Women’s March Ocala/Gainesville chapter and Gainesville: City of Resistance in meetings to demand a town hall. Eventually Yoho met one-on-one with Pitts about a meeting in Gainesville, an area Pitts and Webb identified as a more progressive region of Yoho’s constituency.
Pitts said getting Yoho’s attention consisted of “pressure, consistent pressure.”
“He hasn’t done anything publicly here,” Pitts said. “I told him the issues are going too fast with this administration to be putting this off. At least give us an opportunity to speak. Our nation was founded on some basic principles, and we want to make sure that those principles are upheld.”
Pitts said Yoho agreed to the town hall over a week ago. She said she hopes the meeting helps the greater community gain a sense of involvement.
“We’re in a time in our nation where it’s critical not to turn a blind eye,” Pitts said. “You have to be engaged in what’s going on.”