Town Hall Etiquette
Feb 8, 2012
Kristi Noem at the Rapid City town hall meeting. Photo by Cory Heidelberger.
I attended a town hall meeting hosted by the School of Mines, Congresswoman Kristi Noem and two Rapid City Tea Party groups last Saturday.
Hmm... Rep. Noem, Tea Partiers, and a grouchy leftist in the room... could be trouble, right?
I went in vowing to be on my best behavior. As I listened to the pregame chatter about our oppressive government, I reminded myself (and my friends on Twitter) that even if the folks around me were “sometimes confused, sometimes wrong,” we must remember that we are “all fellow citizens, all wanting what's right for America.” Instead of getting my hackles up and spoiling for a fight, I hunkered down in my seat, determined to simply take notes and pictures and let my fellow South Dakotans have the floor without any left-wing heckling.
My resolve almost failed. I made it through absurd statements that ObamaCare means citizens “no longer have any decisions over their health care” and that South Dakota's drivers license database represents looming tyranny (well, the database may not, but all the documents we have to haul in to get our licenses do!). But toward the end of the show, a fellow South Dakotan asked Rep. Noem why she was not outraged that President Obama had appointed two Muslims to the Department of Homeland Security. The man recited the atrocities visited on America by Muslim terrorists, thus implying that Muslims should not serve in our government.
This bigoted neighbor was right across the aisle from me, maybe ten feet away. I considered interrupting him. I considered calling him out then and there.
But I held back. I kept my seat. Whether it was South Dakota reserve, respect for quasi-parliamentary procedure, or just the fear that I was outnumbered, I didn't speak immediately in the face of bigotry.
Alas, neither did Congresswoman Noem. She addressed other aspects of the rambling question he posed and didn't touch the bigotry.
The town hall ended, and folks lined up to say a few words face-to-face and get pictures taken with the congresswoman. I had all the video and notes I needed to compose some blistering lefty blog posts.
But I hung around. After everyone else had gotten some time with the congresswoman, I got the chance to shake Kristi Noem's hand for the first time. Of all the complaints and policy criticisms I might have raised, I chose to ask her one question. I asked her if she would renounce the bigotry expressed by that questioner.
Rep. Noem said she believes in freedom of religion. She said we should not judge people by their religion. She rejected the idea that we can disqualify people from public service based on their religion.
Had I spoken up immediately, had I disrupted the meeting, I might properly have been tossed out. By holding my tongue and waiting to speak until others had spoken, I got the chance to change a blog headline from “Noem Countenances Bigotry” to “Noem Rejects Bigotry.” I'm glad I waited.
Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.