Here is the introduction to my book. Share widely and let the story find its way home to a proper publishing house. Happy travels, memoir. Meanwhile, if you want to read the next chapters, subscribe to Art As Social Inquiry’s newsletter
Working Book Title: The Making of an Accidental Advocate ©2014 Theresa BrownGold. All rights reserved.
Know this before I tell you my stories.
1973. I was 19. In Paris working as an au pair. What’s that? Most American teenagers don’t know about such things. The college dropouts, the ones suffocating in a life where the possibilities are out there. The ones desperate to know. Know what? That’s just it. We didn’t know what we were so desirous to feel, but we knew it was out there – anywhere but here. People like that, like me, we somehow happened upon words like au pair and latched onto them as our ticket to anywhere but here.
We celebrate our birthdays when we exit the womb. But are we not born when we muster the courage to ask the real questions? What is this crazy planet I’m on? The hellacious suffering? The hatred? The killing? Disease? How did I get HERE? What’s with this God-business? So much hatred and prejudice in God’s name? And after all that we die? What the hell??? What is real?
To ask What is real? is a kind of admittance that we suspect that what we’re seeing isn’t…real. A record playing at the wrong speed. Something just isn’t right. Why so much suffering?
Asking What is real? leads down dark hallways, and through doors that seem to open into deep, cold, desolate spaces–Where am I? — where we must give up all notions of space, time, and who we think we are if we are to survive the passage. We shed pieces of ourselves like a distressed plane dropping fuel to save itself. We give up what we think we know about everything. We are jumping off a cliff into identity-less-ness. We tussle with our psyches to let go of conditioned patterns that make us feel safe but also stuck. Sometimes the tussle feels more like a psychic bloodbath. Who will be left inside our heads? Maybe the one who can hear the answer to the question, What is real? We must know. We are willing to give up our identities to know. It’s S C A R Y.
If courage were measured by our tenacity to get answers to the big questions perhaps society would be more generous conferring the label success.
All education does not come with a diploma. Our great personal leaps and courageous stretches are interior personal accomplishments that often do not present outwardly. Most of the time we are the only ones who know what we have achieved save for a kindred spirit here or there. We are alone with our un-seeable successes that look like failures to the outside world. Our successes cannot be weighed, counted, measured, calculated, reasoned, or calibrated. Success becomes a holy word uniquely ours.
We may ask our questions at 15 in a fit of teenage angst, and then be told we’ll grow out of it. Or we get the subliminal message not to ask such things. Or we spend decades putting round pegs into round holes dutifully fulfilling our self-assigned roles until hardship, disease, trauma, disillusionment precipitate a mid-life crisis. THEN we finally ask, WHY ? I did everything right. Why? Our successes have failed us. We feel lost and empty.
I was fortunate enough to feel so lost and so cavernously empty at 19 that I quit college after a week. I chose the school for its field hockey team. I certainly had no idea what I wanted to do in life, and I gave myself every reason to hate school – the roommate, the beanie the freshman wore at initiation. The truth? Life’s big questions were running amok like hidden apps or viruses just below wakefulness. I followed the impulses I had yet to understand or identify.
I. Had. To. Run.
Quitting school was the start of my very long list of failures, and the beginning of a lifetime of no regrets. I held steadfast to the question, What is real? and ran headlong into impressive failures that unearthed even more questions and more failures like Russian wooden nesting dolls one inside the other.
At 19, the answers were out there in the pages of a teenage magazine. I read an article about a girl who worked taking care of French kids. Au pair. I made my way to Paris finding work as an au pair. A college dropout, babysitting for room and board, and $60/month in a city that could be very dreary at times, yes, I said dreary. Overcast, cold, and lonely winter days dragged on. I had no friends, no money to splurge on anything. I was taking care of two bratty kids who were acting out due to a freshly minted divorce. And they thought I was atrociously stupid because I couldn’t speak rudimentary French. The sass reached epic levels.
A recent letter writer said that Congressman Fitzpatrick was having real town halls. I believe the writer refers to an August 2013 weekend.Two town halls were held: Aug. 2 in Springfield Township and Aug. 4 in Salford Township. The “No Labels” event was also held that weekend, which many did not consider a town hall.
There have been no town halls since the two in August 2013. And the staff did not tell me about them when I asked for the town hall schedule. Why not? I wanted to go.
You see, I have been trying to publicly address my congressman about his misstatements about the Affordable Care Act. I believe he has been scaring constituents for political reasons.
For example, the congressman relies on seniors not knowing the difference between Medicare and the private, for-profit policies sold to seniors called “Medicare Advantage.”
The congressman says Medicare is being “cut,” and he is on the side of seniors. In fact, the opposite is true.
Medicare Advantage siphons money from traditional Medicare in the form of overpayments to private companies that sell the Medicare Advantage policies. The health care law looks to scale back these overpayments, characterized by the New York Times as “unjustified federal subsidies to the insurance companies.”
There are many examples like this where the congressman is not telling his constituents the whole story on an issue.
Let’s have as many town halls as the constituents want. We can discuss the public’s business for the benefit of everybody, not just individuals who meet privately.
First an undated photo of me on the front page of our local newspaper. Then my response in a letter-to-the-editor with portion edited out that did not see print. And there is always the question, “Did our local press self-censor at our congressman’s request?” Welcome to 2014. Read on….
“The newspaper pulled a 2013 story critical of the congressman’s lack of town halls under questionable pretenses. And now the editors print an undated photo that gives the reading public a false impression about the congressman holding real town halls.
These are just two instances in my personal experience where the congressman seems to be coddled by this newspaper.”
The article included this undated picture of me from 2011. I suppose my efforts to have real town halls with my congressman was topical? Oy Vey! Whatta picture!
But why run a 2011 photo of me at a town hall with no mention of my repeated and unsuccessful efforts to get to real town halls in 2013? (There was an event at a church that someone tipped me off about….Jeeesh, and that’s what we have to rely on in Pa-8? Informants?)
Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa-8) is NOT having town halls. Publishing a picture of me or anybody at a town hall as part of a recap of 2013 is misleading .
The Courier Times printed my response (since removed from the online edition) to having the undated, misleading photo of me on their front page. One paragraph from that LTE was omitted. The entire letter including the deleted paragraphs is here. Omitted paragraphs in blue.:
The newspaper ran a picture of me at a town hall with Congressman Fitzpatrick. The photo was not dated. That photo is from 2011.
Is that how far back the newspaper had to go to find a picture of the congressman at an unscripted town hall??? It’s 2014 not 2011. Publishing a 2011 photo is misleading when this issue of town halls is very topical in PA-8.
The newspaper pulled a photo from its archives of the one person most publicly critical of the congressman on the town hall issue, and has her at a town hall. This creates the false impression that the congressman is having town halls, and his critics are attending.
A DATED PHOTO FROM 2011 would have made my point: It has been a LONG time since the congressman really faced his constituents.
The congressman does not want to be caught at a real town hall. Informed constituents would challenge their representative to square his words with his votes. I would challenge him on his campaign of misinformation about the Affordable Care Act.
Calling the congressman out on his strategy of avoiding unscripted town halls is not personal. It’s the business of the people in a functioning democracy.
The newspaper pulled a 2013 story critical of the congressman’s lack of town halls under questionable pretenses. And now the editors print an undated photo that gives the reading public a false impression about the congressman holding real town halls.
These are just two instances in my personal experience where the congressman seems to be coddled by this newspaper.
A free, independent press sustains democracy. I would like reassurances that our local press holds fast to high standards of journalistic independence. Perhaps we could start the dialog with the printing of this letter. Let’s talk. Is our local press an extension of Congressman Fitzpatrick’s PR office?
Why all this business with town halls, the press, etc?
In trying to get to real town halls to address my congressman’s misstatements about the Affordable Care Act, I stepped into what I believe is a bunker mentality coming from the Congressman and his staff. Real discourse with the public is to be avoided. “Town halls” were held without proper notification of the public, and then they dried up altogether. I tried in vain to get advance notice of town halls. Finally, I decided to keep close track of town halls so I wouldn’t miss any. That effort became the Art As Social Inquiry project, Tracking Town Halls: Do Unscripted Constituent Public Gatherings Matter?
Throughout this piece, I reference the August 2013 disappearing article by Gary Weckselblatt, longtime respected reporter at the Intelligencer. That newspaper piece was critical of Congressman Fitzpatrick and his apparent unwillingness to meet his constituents at town halls. The article has since disappeared from the online version of the newspaper as well as another online outlet that picked it up, PA/NJ NBC News. Also, Mr. Weckselblatt, the reporter, has been removed from the newspaper’s political beat. The newspaper contends that the article critical of the Congressman contained “inaccuracies.” The source of those inaccuracies remains unknown.
Why is this important to me? I want our local press to go the extra mile to show its readership that they do not bend to the will of our congressman. It would help to know what the “inaccuracies” are that caused the editors to banish an article by a respected journalist, and one that, coincidentally was critical of the Congressman. It would also be helpful to know if this information — info that would cause a major news source in our region to censor its work — didn’t come with a little arm-twisting by the congressman or his staff. What are the inaccuracies in the censored article?
Citizens rely on a free press. Democracy is nothing but theater for public entertainment until it ceases to exist at all without a strong, independent, free press. (Open and unscripted dialog at well publicized town halls also helps.)
This letter-to-the-editor appeared in the Midweek Wire print edition. (No LTEs appear in the online edition.)
A COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER REACHING 239,700 HOMES IN BUCKS AND MONTGOMERY COUNTIES, PA.
I have gone to the trouble of keeping a log of town halls in Rep. Fitzpatrick’s district for many months so I can attend a few to talk about my representative’s positions on the healthcare law. The congressman’s staff did not tell me about two that happened in August in Salford Township and Springtown when I asked. I read about them in the newspaper. There have been no real public town halls since then that I am aware of.
After months of keeping a log, I have observed how politics is played in PA-8.
Constituents who want to challenge the congressman on the issues are political liabilities to be avoided especially at public town halls.
I suspect this congressman and many other representatives do not want to be videoed talking to folks at real town halls. They prefer events that are managed or staged where the dialog can be controlled. This, in turn, controls what the press sees. The press then feeds the congressman’s message to the general public.
At a real town hall, the congressman would be on the hot seat. He would have to answer for his statements on the healthcare law and his votes on the gov’t shut-down, for example.
We see the congressman visiting seniors, and tenderly talking to veterans. But he voted for Paul Ryan’s plan to alter Medicare by turning it into a voucher program that would hurt seniors.
And the veterans? The congressman uses every low-ball, incendiary Republican talking point about the healthcare law without regard to facts. Is he really working for the vets ? One out of every 10 vets will get health insurance because of the healthcare law.
So what is really going on in PA-8?
PA-8 is comprised of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Pleasing them all is difficult.
I believe our congressman’s answer to this political conundrum is image. Appear to be accessible by making many private appearances where challenges are less likely; avoid being challenged in public on the issues where substantive answers are required; and hope this strategy wins enough moderate voters to win an election.
Unfortunately, it seems that serving as US congressman for PA-8 in the House of Representatives has become one long press junket to keep a congressional seat.
Yours Truly has a guest opinion piece in our local paper, The Intelligencer, rebutting PA-8 representative Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick’s ideas about reforming healthcare.
With health care law repeal, many consumer protections would disappear
By Theresa BrownGold
Constituents familiar with my art and advocacy work often send me letters about health care they receive from our congressman, Mike Fitzpatrick. In some letters, the congressman mixes unhelpful talking points with his less well-known proposals. At times, the congressman even makes a strong case for Obamacare, albeit unwittingly.
The congressman says he wants to retain some of Obamacare’s consumer protections, such as keeping children on their parents’ policies until age 26 and providing coverage to those with pre-existing conditions (guaranteed issue). Who doesn’t? These goodies, however, need to be paid for.
By flirting with the notion of saving some of Obamacare’s consumer protections, the congressman should then list the consumer protections he’d discard by having the law repealed.
Here are just a few: no copays for preventive services, no dropping of coverage if you become ill (rescission), no more charging more for women, no more annual or lifetime caps on coverage and no more referrals for ob-gyn. Would our congressman get rid of accountable care organizations and medical homes that reward providers for outcomes, or the prescription drug benefit saving seniors billions (“closing the doughnut hole”)? How about transparency rules on the exchanges (easy to understand policies), telling the insurance companies they have to spend at least 80 cents of every dollar on actual care, requiring an outside agency to review exorbitant premium hikes, the SHOP exchange for small businesses, a limit to out-of-pocket expenses, essential health benefits (insurance policies can’t be too skimpy), subsidies to help lower-wage earners afford insurance and freedom from “job-lock” (stuck in a job for the insurance)?
And how would the congressman propose paying to repeal the Affordable Care Act? The Congressional Budget Office’s latest report says repealing the health care law would actually raise the deficit $109 billion over 10 years.
The congressman advocates selling insurance across state lines. This is an exceptionally bad idea. Insurance companies would set up in states with the fewest regulations and then be able to sell their skimpy policies to anyone in the country for cheap. Individual states’ insurance regulations and consumer protections would become null and void. He would, essentially, be nationalizing a new low standard for insurance coverage, squeezing states’ regulations out of the picture. Please note an insurance company can sell in any state now if it wishes to go through a state’s licensing process.
The congressman supports association health plans, where small businesses band together for greater purchasing power. What’s to stop businesses from doing that now? Chambers of commerce, guilds and associations have been offering insurance at group rates to their members for years. Furthermore, a business must shoulder the cost of joining that association before being allowed to purchase its group insurance. As far back as 2011, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported employer-based coverage has been dropping precipitously. That trend has not changed, even though group insurance through associations has long been available.
Obamacare, on the other hand, takes this idea of pooling purchasing power by establishing small-business exchanges called SHOP. Small businesses will be able to go to the online marketplaces and buy group policies with the purchasing power of large businesses. Small businesses have been paying about 18 percent more than larger businesses for group insurance. SHOP looks to remedy this disparity.
Congressman Fitzpatrick is an advocate for tort reform as a way to end the practice of expensive defensive medicine. Ten years after Texas passed tort reform, doctors are seeing their malpractice premiums drop, but more people are not able to buy insurance and get health care. The notion that tort reform will cause premiums to fall, thereby giving millions of uninsured folks access to health insurance, has been debunked by the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2003, Texas held the top spot with 25 percent of its population uninsured. Ten years after tort reform, Texas still claims that dubious honor.
Theresa BrownGold, New Britain Township, is a portrait painter and uses her art to start dialogue around social issues. As a Pennsylvania Health Access Network certified trainer, she gives presentations about the Affordable Care Act.
The Bucks County Courier Times recently printed a piece that examined Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick’s (PA-8) record on holding real town halls. Characterizing that record as dismal is kind. The article was critical of the congressman. The story was taken down by the newspaper.
The alarming question lingers: Did Rep. Fitzpatrick or his staff pressure the local press to remove the uncomplimentary article about the congressman not having town halls? (The removed article is below.)
Delaware Valley PA/NJ NBC News also picked up the article before Calkins Media censored the story. (PA/NJ NBC News has also removed the Calkins article since the writing of this blogpost.)
The Bucks County Courier Times piece garnered over 100 comments. Town halls or lack thereof have become a hot topic in PA’s 8th district.
The article was posted online…removed… re-posted…removed….and then just the video was put back up.
WHY did the press self-censor and remove the article? What happened from the time the piece was posted until the final removal?
The story was written by a respected and longtime journalist of the newspaper.
Many attempts by me and others to attend town halls appear to have been thwarted by a lack of information from the congressman about when town halls were actually happening. We felt our voices were muzzled by the congressman and now further silenced by the press that killed the article criticizing the congressman on his town hall policiy.
As one young person said to me, “Nothing disappears from the internet.”
The 8/19/2013 story has been retrieved (below). Please read, share widely and comment. How important are town halls?
8/22/2013 Postscript: The newspaper told me the story was pulled because of “inaccuracies.” What exactly are these inaccuracies and who brought them to the editors’ attention? Did Congressman Fitzpatrick or his staff have a hand in getting the article removed?
Fitzpatrick meeting strategy ‘muzzles’ critics
By Gary Weckselblatt Staff Writer
When he set out to reclaim the 8th District congressional seat he lost in 2006, Mike Fitzpatrick was part of a group of about two dozen Republicans interrupting an event held by Congressman Patrick Murphy, and demanding to be heard.
Health care reform had captured the angst of the tea party movement in 2009 and the crowd was adamant that Murphy, a Democrat who supported the Affordable Care Act, hold a districtwide town hall to publicly explain his position.
Murphy, who often held “Congressman on Your Corner” events at supermarkets, enjoyed greeting people in a smaller, more personal environment. Indeed, the meetings he was holding at the Middletown Township building the day of the GOP invasion were scheduled one-on-ones.
Fast forward four years and Fitzpatrick, now in his third term, is the one who citizens are demanding to hear from in a public forum. Left-leaning constituents are calling on him to hold districtwide town halls — as he did in 2011 — and stick to his promise, made after the 2010 election, to become “the most accessible member of Congress that anybody can remember.”
Instead, Fitzpatrick has developed a practice to strategically silence the opposition by limiting events to certain towns and forcing questions to be written out at many events, essentially squelching any back-and-forth with the audience in favor of his soliloquy.
He does indeed get around his district, working long days on summer recess, but his audiences of business, veterans groups, Scouts and schools are smaller, more targeted, and captive to his vanilla presentation.
The traditional town hall event into which he tried to pressure Murphy no longer takes place and it’s left some constituents feeling “muzzled” and “disenfranchised.”
‘Blow to the gut’
One woman who calls his office every workday for meeting information has been told he doesn’t have any that day only to find out later by Fitzpatrick’s postings on Facebook and Twitter that she has been lied to.
“I am feeling as though I suffered a blow to the gut,” said Theresa BrownGold of New Britain Township.
Several letters to the newspaper in recent weeks point to the frustration. One, by Carl Kemmerer, a Democrat from Springtown in Upper Bucks, described a one-hour meeting with about 40 people as “a waste of time and certainly not a town meeting.”
He said Fitzpatrick spoke for about 20 minutes and then took only three questions, which had to be submitted with names and addresses on 3-by-5 cards.
“It’s a disappointing thing when you’d like to stand up and ask a live question and get an answer in a timely manner,” Kemmerer said in a telephone interview. “You would hope that he would take as many questions and get as many views as possible. These events have become, quite frankly, staged that all you hear is party-line propaganda.”
That was the complaint at another recent event at the lower county campus of Bucks County Community College, where Fitzpatrick and David Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general, spoke about a congressional “problem-solving” group Walker founded called “No Labels.”
Pegged as a town hall, Fitzpatrick and Walker had no disagreements and their conversation allowed for only about six questions, all submitted on written cards.
“I have never been so disappointed with such a meeting,” wrote Rick Lutz, a former Republican and now a registered Libertarian from Bristol Township. “The people were totally controlled as to what questions they could ask, and that was done by having them write the questions on pieces of paper before the meeting. Otherwise, the people were to keep their mouths shut while the people running the meeting talked down to them.”
During the talk, Walker said the 8th District race was one of only 35 in the nation considered competitive. Fitzpatrick said he considered that a positive because a “more challenging district makes me a better representative. I have to listen and respect everyone’s opinion.”
The words have irritated those who contend he has refused to hear them.
BrownGold, a former independent who became a Democrat to vote in the primaries, logs the daily calls she makes to Fitzpatrick’s office seeking information about town hall meetings at artassocialinquiry.org. An advocate for health care reform, she said workers in Fitzpatrick’s office told her he had no public meetings on days when he did.
“Is the congressman’s staff deliberately lying to a constituent? I think so,” she said. “Why is this congressman deliberately trying to control who knows about his town halls? How long can he get away with it?
“We the constituents are powerless against the big PR machine a congressman has at his fingertips. He can ignore and lie to us and who is to know he is doing it? We are nobodies, and Fitzpatrick makes that point behaving as though we are not entitled to know when he is having town halls.”
Fitzpatrick said BrownGold’s arguments have no merit as she has spoken at several of his events.
“She’s engaged me more than most constituents,” he said.
Both parties guilty
Fitzpatrick is hardly the only politician unwilling to listen to the cries of the opposition. President Barack Obama frequents Leno and Letterman to connect with Americans through pop culture and softball questions rather than face the national press corps.
Republican opponents of Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, D-13, have criticized her for a lack of town hall events and debates during campaign season.
The problem runs nationwide, according to The New York Times, which reported that “Though Republicans in recent years have harnessed the political power of these open mic, face-the-music sessions, people from both parties say they are noticing a decline in the number of meetings. They also say they are seeing congressional offices go to greater lengths to conceal when and where the meetings take place.”
Terry Madonna, the Franklin and Marshall College political scientist, is not surprised by politicians maintaining their distance from potential verbal clashes. “So the tendency is to avoid any groups that appear hostile. Yeah, well, welcome to politics.”
Fitzpatrick is likely wary of planned disruptions at his meeting from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has targeted him among 17 House members, according to an internal email CQ Roll Call obtained.
But if anyone tried to turn an event into “Animal House,” the audience would likely turn on the agitator and yield the floor to the representative. If a majority, however, are in favor of a verbal beat-down, perhaps a legislator should rethink his or her policies.
Fitzpatrick said he is not ducking any of his constituents, and has “one of most aggressive schedules of any elected official in the region.”
He said some meetings are designed strictly for one particular town “so I can listen to what people in that particular town have to say.”
Mary Avino of Churchville said she waited eight months for a meeting with Fitzpatrick. He didn’t call her until the day her critical letter to the Bucks County Courier Times appeared. “His office has repeatedly ignored me and made excuses,” she wrote, adding, “we need a representative in Congress who will actually listen to and respect his constituents.”
Avino, who started Bucks Against Gun Violence, said she felt better after what she described as “an extremely effective meeting” with Fitzpatrick.
While saying “I feel very happy with his cooperation,” she said she left him with a bit of advice. “You’re getting a reputation that if you don’t agree with Mike Fitzpatrick he’s not going to listen to you. That’s not a good reputation for a congressman to have.”
My daily calls to Congressman Fitzpatrick’s office for the town hall schedule information for Art As Social Inquiry’s daily log, Tracking Town Halls: Do Unscripted Constituent Public Gatherings Matter? , is sometimes met with curt politeness.
“Nothing is scheduled as of right now,” I am often told. “As of right now,” implies that something could be scheduled 5 minutes, an hour, two hours from now. The staff technically fulfills their duty by giving me the “correct” information in the 60 seconds I am on the phone with them.
But any thinking person would connect the dots and ask, “Why is getting town hall information from the congressman’s staff so difficult?” It’s just information like any old movie listing,or the departure and arrival board at Philly International Airport.
Does the congressman not want us to know when town halls are? And what would be his reasons?
When asked about why we couldn’t know in advance about the August 3 “town hall,” where the congressman shared the stage with a representative from the group, No Labels, the staff told me they put the notice in the newspaper when they knew.
The town hall was scheduled at a college. Obviously the space was reserved in advance. Having helped organize events, I know all kinds of arrangements need to be made in advance — logistics with security, parking and other accommodations. Institutions work on schedules. A speaker from No Labels had to be booked.
For the congressman’s office to say that the August 3 event at a college was only confirmed when the notice went in the paper on August 2 really insults the intelligence of the average person to the point where one giggles at the silliness of the statement. We cannot run our lives that way, and who would believe that a congressman, a member of the United States Congress with schedulers in Bucks County and Washington D.C., would not know well in advance.
Fitzpatrick said representing a “more challenging district makes me better representative. I have to listen and respect everyone’s opinion.”
That comment didn’t fly with everyone in the crowd of about 80 people. Robert Mason of Levittown said he became “very angry” listening to Fitzpatrick. He’s one of several people who have called on the Republican to hold town hall meetings on major topics, including health care, immigration, and Social Security and Medicare reform.
“We’ve been after him daily,” he said. “Today, in an hour and 20 minutes, (by his count) there were six questions from the audience and four from the moderator. That does not represent the main purpose of a town hall. It hardly gives the opposition an opportunity to vent their frustration. Why is (Fitzpatrick) so adverse to talking to constituents with different points of view?”
Clare Finkel showed a reporter a printout of a Fitzpatrick newsletter emailed Friday afternoon that didn’t mention Saturday’s event. “I don’t understand what he’s afraid of,” she said.
So what’s up with the Congressman’s reluctance to have town halls and to let people know about them IN ADVANCE?