Marc Friedenberg originally booked a smaller room at the Forum Building on Penn State’s campus to hold a town hall-type meeting with constitutes of Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township.
But the response was so big, the lecturer at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology said he needed a larger room.
On Saturday afternoon, the lecture hall that seats 369 people was filled to capacity, leaving only room for others to stand outside of the doorway.
Friedenberg said he organized the meeting as a way for people of the 5th Congressional District to have their voices heard in a public setting, with or without the congressman.
Thompson was informed about the meeting, but was not present.
“(Thompson) always has an open door for constituents who are interested in meeting to discuss the issues. While there are certainly constituents with valid concerns, many protesters have turned down an opportunity to meet with the congressman personally,” Thompson’s Communications Director Renée Gamela told the CDT on Thursday. “Although he has not ruled out hosting a town hall, Mr. Thompson will be responsible for organizing the event, not his political opposition.”
Thompson did not respond to comment Saturday.
“For people who’ve been trying to set up group meetings or small-group meetings with the congressman, for weeks and months now we’ve been hearing that it’s very hard to get a hold of him,” Friedenberg said. “His office has been largely unresponsive, so we’ve asked repeatedly for town halls. Protests have been held in front of his office in Bellefonte and the response has been that the congressman doesn’t want to have the town hall.”
Friedenberg said he helped organize Saturday’s event, which was co-hosted by IST Student Government, and included residents from Thompson’s district.
“We’re not protesters, we’re not political opposition, we are constituents and there are a lot of things that we care about,” Friedenberg said. “We care about health care, we care about the environment, we’re very worried about the way a lot of different issues in our country are moving right now, and we’d like a chance to at least know that we’ve been heard.”
Dozens of people stood at the front of the room and shared their questions and concerns with the crowd, and to a cardboard cutout of the congressman’s face.
“I’m here today to sound an alarm,” said David Werner, an optometrist with offices in Centre and Clearfield counties. “Our democracy is being threatened and our representative, Thompson, is AWOL. Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, independent, Green party, Libertarian, we must all stand together and take back our democracy.”
He said he is concerned that President Donald Trump is limiting basic rights, which Thompson isn’t opposing.
“Is he always going to be a Trump yes-man?” Werner asked.
When members of the crowd agreed or disagreed with a statement, they waved a red or green piece of construction paper.
Friedenberg said a recording of the meeting will be sent to Thompson with the hope he would publicly respond to questions.
“We’re looking for a response so we can better understand the thinking of our representative,” Friedenberg said
The next step, he added, is to continue to organize more meetings and to be more proactive in getting Thompson’s attention.
“I think think that there’s a lot of passionate citizens that the congressman may not have realized were so interested in seeing him and hearing from him,” Friedenberg said. “I think this event really sends that message.”