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The Daily Briefing: Activists host In Memoriam for the Sen. Rob Portman town hall that never was

(March 6, 2017) — About 200 people filled the rows of the First Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday night in honor of Sen. Rob Portman’s town hall that never was.

The In Memoriam, hosted by activist organization Indivisible Columbus, was a tongue-in-cheek gathering for local speakers to deliver eulogies on everything from immigration rights to facts, education, and representative democracy.

“One of the reasons we styled this event as a memorial is that we wanted to drive home the seriousness of what I see as our senator’s so-far complicity in the erosion of the fabric of our democratic republic,” organizer Meryl Neiman said.

“He says that he’s held town halls but a closed fundraiser or a speech at a manufacturing facility is not a town hall.”

Topics of discussion primarily revolved around Portman’s votes to confirm every one of President Donald Trump’s secretary picks.

“There’s no yelling, no anger,” attendee Susan Hyde said, in response to concerns conveyed by Republican senators and congressional representatives that town halls will devolve into protesting.

“People are legitimately concerned about the future of our country. I just wanted to tell him that I really do not approve of all his party before country behavior. He voted for all the cabinet people, just 100 percent.”

In an email, Portman’s press secretary said the opinions of every constituent matter to the senator.

“Whether it’s visiting with Ohioans at a drug treatment center, a factory tour, or a town hall meeting, Rob continues to have a very active schedule,” Benavides said.

“He’s also taken the time to meet with demonstrators around the state and will continue to listen to their concerns.”

Portman has held multiple tele-town halls, during which select callers can ask anonymous questions. The problem, Neiman said, is that answers are short, scripted and indirect.

At the end of the two-hour meeting, attendees filled out postcards with what they would like to say to Portman, and deposited them one by one in a faux coffin near the speaker’s podium. A vocal resistance choir sang “I Can’t Keep Quiet,” a song written by L.A.-based musician MILCK, that gained popularity at Women’s Marches around the country in late January.

“I think in the resistance moment, diverse unity not only goes together, it’s actually the strength that binds us together,” host and organizer Tom Cartwright said.

“If you just look around this room, and marvel at how everybody here has come together from diverse backgrounds in a spirit of common unity, that unity being love of democracy and love of human values, it’s an amazing thing to see.”