Representative Tenney has refused repeated invitations to meet with constituents and to attend town hall meetings on this topic, so there was a planned event near her office this morning to try again to get our message to her.
I arrived early and met up with several people in the hall outside her office. The office door was locked, but there was a doorbell and people, presumably staff, were arriving and being let in.
To our surprise, Rep. Tenney herself appeared, hurried past us, and tried to open the locked door, before a staffer arrived to let her in. She did not acknowledge that there were constituents of hers standing there with our signs about saving our health care.
Word got to us that a larger group had gathered down in the first floor atrium, so we went to join them, just as they were being re-located to the outdoors, with temperatures in the teens Fahrenheit.
But, we, the people, are intrepid and would not be silenced! We had our signs, some media coverage, leadership from Citizen Action, and a portable sound system. People were sharing stories about how the Affordable Care Act had helped them and what it would mean to their health and their lives to lose the health insurance and medical care access they had gained through the ACA, detailing specific problems with the current House Republican bills dealing with health care, and writing messages to deliver to Tenney’s office (despite it being so cold that our pens weren’t working). We were supposed to be able to deliver messages to the office in groups no larger than three people.
When I went back into the building to warm up, one of the longtime leaders in the Catholic social justice community was on her way to the office, so I joined her. While we were still in the hallway, a woman who was with the management of the building met us, saying that Representative Tenney was no longer accepting visitors to her office, that she did not want us there, and that she was calling the police so that we could not gather outside the building, either. (She also told us that Representative Tenney was in Washington, which was odd as it certainly looked like her entering the office an hour earlier and we had thought that the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the office was scheduled for today.)
We went back outside and stood our ground. We thought that the entrance plaza where we were gathered was public property and we were not blocking the entrance to the building, so we were within our rights of assembly, freedom of speech, and petition. Two police officers arrived, spoke to a couple of people from our group, and confirmed that we were fine to continue as we were.
Rep. Tenney is apparently not very familiar with the law.
By trying to silence us, she actually gave us an even stronger voice for our message as the rally went on longer than anticipated and will draw more media attention.
She also did not endear herself to the other tenants in the building because she had the management lock the main doors into the building, presumably to keep her constituents at bay. I’m sure the other offices, including the Chamber of Commerce, were not amused about the inconvenience to their clients.
So, Representative Tenney, I ask you once again to vote against any repeal of the Affordable Care Act and to take action to enhance the ACA by permanently securing Medicaid expansion in all states, by making a public option available to everyone, and by negotiating drug prices for Medicare and other public programs so that medications become more affordable.
My thanks to my fellow protesters, the great people of Citizen Action, the Binghamton police officers, and the kind people of Bistro 163, the new coffee shop and boutique that is tucked next to Metrocenter who gave us free coffee and a place to warm up.
And Representative Tenney, you will be hearing more from us, your constituents, on health care and many other vital issues.