Summary of Dianne Feinstein Town Hall on 4/17/17
On Monday, Senator Dianne Feinstein held the first town hall of her 25-year tenure in the Senate. This happened thanks to public pressure from Indivisible groups all over the state and thousands of phone calls from constituents like YOU! Approximately 600 people attended the event at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in San Francisco, and the Senator answered questions for just under an hour. Members of local Indivisible chapters made up a large proportion of the audience, and several of our members were randomly chosen (by a raffle ticket system) to ask questions.
The event was widely covered by national and international press, and virtually every story included mentions of or interviews with our members (see Mother Jones, SF Chronicle, KQED, SF Magazine, Pacifica Radio, Mercury News, Shareblue, and Singtao Daily for just a few examples). In addition to live-tweeting, Indivisible SF also livestreamed the town hall on Facebook and Periscope. The streams have been viewed almost 10,000 times either live or by replay.
Sen. Feinstein took about sixteen questions on topics ranging from Syria to healthcare to dark money in politics. The crowd was engaged and vocal, energetically showing their approval or disapproval of the Senator’s remarks. (We printed and handed out signs that said “Agree,” “Disagree,” “Thank you,” and “What are you doing about it?” to voice our opinions in a respectful and non-disruptive way.)
There was a range of reactions among attending Indivisible members to the Senator’s answers. Many were disappointed that she appeared to be more focused on describing her past accomplishments and on explaining Senate procedures rather than on offering future action and providing words of encouragement or empowerment. Others were more hopeful that while she was cautious, and at times defensive, she heard our concerns and would use her knowledge of the Senate's political intricacies to resist the Trump agenda.
Town Hall Question highlights:
Several questions centered around the possibility of U.S. engagement in war with Syria or North Korea. The Senator declared that North Korea is an “acute danger for us” and supported President Trump’s recent missile attack on Syria. Danny D., a member of Indivisible SF, pleaded emotionally with the Senator to “devote every ounce of energy unrelentingly to seek alliances for a diplomatic solution,” eliciting a standing ovation from the crowd.
When asked whether she would support Senator Bernie Sanders’ single payer healthcare plan, the Senator stated, “I am not there yet.” Chants of “Single Payer Now!” from the audience briefly followed.
The Senator stated that she supported a carbon tax to encourage people to move toward renewables and was confident that California would lead the way in showing the world how to “sustain 40 million people with clean energy.”
Although she seemed unfamiliar with the idea, the Senator said that she would “look into” the idea of open source voting, a suggestion raised by Indivisible SF members Kaitlyn Y. and Brent T., to prevent any outside influence on our voting results.
One of our members, Mingjing H., asked about conflicts of interest within the Trump administration. The answer to this question was one of the few to which Feinstein gave a truly satisfying answer when she outlined three ongoing actions:
Her staff is looking into violations of the emolument clause.
The Senate is looking into a method by which they can stop payment for Trump’s sons’ business travels.
Senator Richard Blumenthal is looking for “contributions” for a court case to force divestment.
When Indivisible SF’s Master Steve told the tragic story of the brutal treatment of his mother and grandfather at the hands of the German Nazis during World War II, the usually raucous audience became still and quiet (watch the video). Until, that is, Master Steve asked Feinstein whether she would draw a red line and stand up against the fascists in the White House, for which he received another standing ovation from a very moved crowd. The Senator responded by saying that Master Steve had “given [her] an idea” and asked for his name and number, leaving the crowd confused as to why she had not used this opportunity to condemn Nazis, fascists, and anti-Semites. In the days since the town hall, Senator Feinstein has personally reached out by phone to Master Steve, asking for a written copy of his story to hopefully present in a hearing on hate crimes next Tuesday.
Senator Feinstein was outwardly defensive when Aram F., one of our members, stated that “this time, which is not normal in the least, calls for higher leadership” and requested that she “speak loudly and declaratively, not just in [her] deliberative body, but in public.” (He received a standing ovation, too.)
Although the Senator was on the stage, and her staff were responsible for the planning the logistics of the meeting, it was very clear that this town hall would not have happened without Indivisible groups.
Indivisible SF suggested a ticket lottery to ensure that each attendee had an equal opportunity to ask a question, and her staff accepted and implemented our suggestion. We were specifically credited with this idea on the event invitation. This is a huge win for us, because it meant that there was no pre-screening of questions beforehand and questions were asked directly by the audience. Indivisible SF, Indivisible East Bay, and other Indivisible groups spent enormous effort convincing her staff that her constituents deserve to speak to their Senator directly.
Indivisible East Bay & Indivisible SF members volunteered and helped with registering attendees and ushering.
In response to a question from Stand Up SF, another local Indivisible group, the Senator agreed to hold another town hall on a weekend during the summer, so that more of her working constituents can attend.
The fact that this town hall happened shows that our everyday activism and engagement in the democratic process works. Without your phone calls to her office and the relentless persistence of Indivisible groups across the state of California, Sen. Feinstein might well have spent the April recess meeting privately with interest groups. Instead, her constituents were able to have their voices heard directly, in a public forum. The Senator’s responses were heard by the press and broadcast to the world.
This is how we hold our elected representatives accountable. We elect them to be our voices in Washington, and they need to hear from us directly. This is what democracy looks like.