The student organizers behind the “March for Our Lives” are planning a series of town hall this weekend and will use empty chairs to symbolize lawmakers who were invited but who don’t attend.
As of Friday morning, 33 Democratic lawmakers had pledged to take part in “The Town Halls for Our Lives” events in their home states. No Republicans had committed. There is a list of town halls and confirmed guests on the website TownHallProject.com, a nonpartisan group that encourages constituents to interact with their lawmakers and has partnered on the project.
The town halls this weekend are timed to coincide with the return of lawmakers to Washington, D.C., after their two-week district work period. The student organizers have pushed to keep their agenda in the public arena after hundreds of thousands of students descended on Washington last month to demand action in the wake of multiple school shootings, including the February 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
There are more than 100 town halls scheduled in 34 states with more than 70 to be held in GOP-held districts and approximately 30 events scheduled to be held in Democratic-held districts.
Lawmakers want to avoid town halls, said Princeton Professor Julian Zelizer, in the “hope that the fervor for new regulations eventually goes away. But the risks are high. This time legislators are ignoring the youth of the country, from both parties, who have the sympathy of much of the nation.”
There are 16 events scheduled for Florida alone, with Democratic Reps. Kathy Castor, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Frederica Wilson, and Ted Deutch scheduled to attend the ones in their districts.
Several of the events are taking place in House districts that will be crucial to determining which party controls the House of Representatives next year.
And, in some of them, when the GOP lawmaker won’t attend, their Democratic opponents have been invited.
For example, in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock has not confirmed her attendance but six of her Democratic opponents have, according to the organizers.
Additionally, Republican Reps. Mike Coffman in Colorado, Peter Roskam in Illinois, and Mia Love in Utah have all been invited to town halls in their districts.
Some Democrats have not pledged to attend events in their states. For example, embattled Sen. Claire McCaskill has not confirmed her attendance at a Saturday event in Kirkwood, Mo.
There will be a town hall Saturday in Speaker Paul Ryan’s home district. He has not confirmed his attendance but one of his Democratic opponents, Cathy Myers, has.
Republican lawmakers have held town halls in their districts over recess – GOP Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin just held one Thursday – but none has RSVPed specifically for a Town Hall of Our Lives event.
David Hogg, a Parkland, Fla., student who has become a powerful public voice in the wake of the mass shooting that left 17 of his classmates dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, has tweeted his encouragement to his followers to attend one the weekend events.
It was Hogg’s suggestion that if GOP lawmakers won’t attend, that their opponents should be invited, organizers said.
The Town Hall Project’s website includes instructions on how to organize a town hall with a goal of holding “a congressional Town Hall in every district in America.”
Additionally, the march organizers encourage supports to register to vote and educate themselves about the issues.
The hesitancy on the part of GOP lawmakers might be understandable, considering the reaction some faced at town hall meetings last year on health care. New Jersey Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur faced an angry crowd for five hours last May. There is no Town Halls for Our Lives event planned for his district.
Rep. Tom Garrett of Virginia told ABC News last year he had received specific threats against his life, his wife, and even his dog, which led to him having a heavy security presence at his town hall meeting.