Where’s the plan, Dan?
That was the message at not one, but two protests held just four days apart outside Congressmember Dan Donovan’s Dyker Heights district office, 7308 13th Avenue.
The first, held on the evening of Thursday, February 16, saw a group of 25 of his constituents braving the cold to contest what they dubbed a less-than-adequate attempt at an over-the-phone, or tele town hall, and formally request that their rep finally meet with them face-to-face.
“We’ve come out tonight to show our representative that we want to see him in person to talk about his actions as a congressman, the good ones and the bad ones,” said Costa Kokkinos, an organizer of the Thursday night sit-in, stressing that, while a great deal of Donovan’s constituents had no idea about the tele-town hall (held over the phone so to “avoid disruption” and allow the most participants as possible the opportunity to speak, according to Donovan’s office), a number of those who did either had immense difficulty getting on the list, or were outright never called. “We are just some of hundreds of thousands of constituents who are very angry at him and we just want to talk to him. We want a real town hall. We don’t want a tele-town hall.”
“After zero publicity from Congressman Donovan, no defined date or time, a labyrinth of e-mail confirmations and phone calls to get confirmed, some got on the call just to listen to our congressman field questions like a radio DJ taking callers,” added participant Daniel Hetteix, stressing that those who did receive a phone call to join the conversation were displeased with the questions that Donovan’s staffers chose for the congressmember to address. “The entire thing was Kafka-esque.”
A rep for Donovan told this paper that, while there were certainly “kinks” in terms of connecting constituents, an estimated 14,000 callers were successfully plugged into the conference call, out of 55,000 calls made.
“The tele-town hall is a great way to reach thousands of people in their own homes, whether they’re just getting home from work, or just picked up the kids from school,” Donovan’s press secretary told this paper, noting that the focus of Donovan and his office is “to ensure that people have the opportunity to speak without it turning into a shouting match. We really want to have these conversations and this open dialogue.”
In response to the alleged run-around given to constituents trying to sign up, Donovan’s rep said that the need to verify cell-phone (one of the many “roadblocks” addressed by hopefuls who attempted to enroll but were encouraged either to double confirm or instead use a land-line), was an unexpected bump in the road for Donovan’s staff, as they were “informed last minute by the service provider” that special permission would be needed.
“We’re hopeful that this won’t be an issue the next time,” the rep said, adding that Donovan’s team is “still working out the kinks,” and stressing that any constituents with questions for the congressmember are encouraged to visit Donovan’s website and see how they can set up a one-on-one either with the pol himself or with his legislative staff.
Thursday evening’s protest was hosted by South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance and Fight Back Bay Ridge, two community groups Kokkinos claims are quickly gaining membership from local constituents who are determined to resist regressive Republican policies in both Congress and the White House.
The second, held on Tuesday morning, February 21, saw more than 200 people outside Donovan’s office, this time with a more specific agenda: protecting the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“Healthcare is not a snowflake right, it is a human right,” contended a Bath Beach resident named Sarah, whose husband, now 40, was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC) – a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that can be treated, but not cured – at age 13. “The Affordable Healthcare Act quite literally saved my husband’s life.
“When the ACA finally passed in the midst of some of my husband’s darkest, sickest days, you could bet we were two of the very first people on board,” she went on, stressing that, at last, her husband didn’t have to self-medicate with home remedies like chicken soup. “Not only was he finally able to see a doctor, but he could immediately start on a course of infusions called Entyvio, the first and only product on the market developed for the treatment of moderate to severe UC.”
The cost of those infusions, Sarah said, was $28,000 per month.
“For the uninsured, that equals a heck of a lot of cans of chicken soup,” she said.
Sarah’s story mirrored those of many in the crowd, noted another protester, who turned to the person next to her with tears in her eyes and said, “That is so many people’s story.”
Though, protesters also used the platform to piggyback on Thursday’s plea that the congressmember interact with them.
“We have contacted Congressman Donovan’s office to share our views, but our requests for meetings and a town hall have been delayed or rejected,” said Sally McMahon, an organizer for Fight Back Bay Ridge. “If Congressman Donovan won’t let constituents express our views through proper channels, then we will rally in order to have our voices heard.”
Tuesday morning’s protest was also hosted by Fight Back Bay Ridge in conjunction with a number of other community groups from both boroughs encompassed by Donovan’s 11th Congressional District including Staten Island Women Who March and Staten Island 4 Change, among others.
On Tuesday’s turnout, Donovan’s Communications Director Patrick Ryan said, “Every American has the right to express opinions — it’s a healthy component of democracy. The reality is, the Affordable Care Act has caused families to lose their doctors, limited health care choices, and caused soaring deductibles and premiums. Some families can’t even afford to use their insurance because the deductible is so high.
“[Donovan] believes reforms are needed to create a working and stable healthcare system, and he has continually said that he will not pull the rug out from millions of people,” Ryan continued, stressing that, just last week, the congressmember co-sponsored legislation that would ensure that people with pre-existing medical conditions have continued access to coverage if Obamacare is repealed. “[He] will continue to meet with constituents to hear every perspective, especially as he works to put in place real solutions that provide quality and affordable healthcare for every American.”
Furthermore, the congressmember has already agreed to sit down with some of the week’s protesters, according to Ryan, who never formally addressed the crowd Tuesday, and was not present on Thursday.
Correction (2/22): A previous version of this article reported that crowds were in the “dozens” Tuesday morning. A final count from police, according to Lorie Honor of Staten Island Women Who March, was between 200 and 250 protesters.