WASHINGTON – Rep. Tom Reed can expect to face some strong resistance at his four town hall meetings in the Southern Tier this weekend.
But it sure won't be spontaneous.
In fact, a group called "Indivisible of New York's 23rd District" – which is connected to a national movement organized by former Democratic congressional aides – has published a two-page "plan of action" for progressives who will be attending Reed's meetings.
The guide calls for people to ask Reed tough questions aimed at making the Republican congressman from Corning look bad.
"We want to trap Reed in appearing as if he doesn't care about his constituents," the memo said.
And that's not all. The memo calls for progressives attending Reed's event to avoid looking too vehement or too progressive, in hopes of appealing to more conservative members of the audience in Reed's right-leaning Southern Tier district.
"He will be far more concerned if we can appeal to his supporters with our informed resistance!" the memo says. "THIS is our goal."
Told of the group's plans, Reed, R-Corning – the only Western New York member of Congress to routinely meet with constituents in the free-flowing town hall format – was suspicious.
"It's disturbing," he said. "It sounds like a proactive, extreme attempt to cause disruption."
The Indivisible plan of action calls for peaceful resistance – and warns that some right-wing groups may try to cause disruptions at the events. In that case, the memo says, members of Indivisible should work to de-escalate any conflicts.
Moreover, the Indivisible plan calls for progressives attending the rally to play down their progressiveness, particularly when it comes to President Trump – who won the counties hosting Reed's town halls by more than 20 points in November's election.
"Do not mention or criticize Trump," the plan of action said. "Those who approve of Trump and love him feel threatened by us. We want to build bridges, not burn them. We want to appear concerned and respectful, not judgmental or uppity. At the same time we want to show our strength and are willing to fight for our convictions."
Making references to "the morality of Christianity" in questions could help progressives at the meeting, as could dressing decently, the memo said.
"No progressive political messages on clothing, no Cornell swag," it added.
It's possible that some of the progressives at the town hall meetings will have Cornell University, in the liberal bastion of Tompkins County, in their hearts and minds.
The website for Indivisible of New York's 23rd District – Reed's district – shows that four of the six members of the group's organizing team are from Tompkins County, where Cornell is located. The others are from Seneca County and Tioga County, which are nowhere near Reed's Saturday town halls.
Activists from Tompkins County are most likely to show up at Reed's town hall in Fillmore, in Allegany County, because it's closer to Ithaca than Reed's earlier town halls in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, said Reanna Lavine, a member of Indivisible of New York's 23rd District organizing team.
She noted that Reed has not held a town hall in the Ithaca area, but that constituents there are anxious to talk to him about the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act and other issues.
Lavine acknowledged that the memo's language about "trapping" Reed is "a little harsh," but she stressed that her group's plan is more about asking the congressman tough, detailed questions.
"People haven't felt well-served by Tom Reed," she said.
Other groups, such as Planned Parenthood and Southern Tier Action Together, are also planning to attend Reed's town halls to ask him questions.
Southern Tier Action Together, an Allegany County group, offered advice to those attending on its Facebook page.
"Don't sit with members of your group during the town hall! Spread out so that you appear larger than you are," the group recommended.
But Indivisible appears to be the largest progressive group organizing people to attend Reed's town halls, which will take place at these times and places:
- 9:15 a.m. at the North Harmony Senior Citizens Center, 5377 Stow Ferry Road, Ashville
- 11:30 a.m. at the Pine Valley VFW Post #2522, 7117 Route 83, Cherry Creek
- 1:45 p.m. at the Humphrey Fire Department, 4591 Humphrey Road, Great Valley
- 4 p.m. at the Allen Town Hall, 4949 Klein Road, Fillmore
The Southern Tier Indivisible group is one of many around the country that sprang up in response to the "Indivisible Guide," a best-practices guide in which former Democratic congressional aides explain how to best influence Congress.
It's unclear, though, exactly how much influence the Indivisible movement has had on recent town halls held by members of Congress across the country. In some cases, those town halls have become unusually raucous, often pitting people concerned about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act against Republican lawmakers who, like Reed, want to do just that.
Indivisible wants to "build a vibrant community of angelic troublemakers," the group says on its national website.
And in putting its plans for Saturday's town halls online the group gave Reed a blessing for which he is grateful.
"Obviously I appreciate the heads-up," the congressman said.