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University Democrats protest Rep. Garrett town hall

Democracy Fair, rally held in response to limited capacity of meeting in Garrett Hall

<p>Both opponents and supporters of Garrett and President Trump gathered on the steps outside of Garrett Hall.</p>

Both opponents and supporters of Garrett and President Trump gathered on the steps outside of Garrett Hall.

The University Democrats held a democracy fair entitled “Tom, Let’s Talk” March 31 during Rep. Tom Garrett’s (R-Va.) town hall meeting on the South Lawn.

The motivation behind organizing the event was the limit placed on the number of people able to come to the town hall meeting. The town hall meeting held 230 people and used a lottery system to determine who would be able to get a ticket.

Garrett’s town hall was originally meant to accommodate 135 attendees, but expanded after working with the Batten School and local fire marshals.

The University Democrats worked to secure a larger space for Garrett to hold the town hall meeting, but he did not respond to the offer, according to Virginia Chambers, University Democrats communications coordinator and a first-year College student.

“We were really just appalled that Representative Garrett would be only addressing so few of his constituents,” Chambers said. “We believe that town halls are at the core of representational democracy, and we were really concerned that only 230 people in Charlottesville, which is an incredibly active district, would be able to get inside.”

“Tom, Let’s Talk” started with a democracy fair on the South Lawn, which featured booths for different interest groups. The University Democrats invited anyone who wanted to come to the Democracy Fair to reserve a table.

“We really wanted to encourage as much collaboration and talking between constituents and representatives as possible,” Chambers said.

Charlotte Gibson from the Charlottesville chapter of the National Organization for Women said she attended to represent women’s rights and protest Garrett’s administration.

“This is a fake town hall — very carefully controlled,” Gibson said. “I was there the day that he actually had appointments with people at his office and blew them off … It’s very clear that he really is trying to avoid meeting with the people.”

Others came out to show support for Garrett. According to Milan Bharadwaj, director of communications and recruitment for the College Republicans and a first-year College student, the College Republicans aimed to represent the voices of those who voted for Garrett despite a liberal campus environment.

“Tom Garrett won this district in a landslide margin, 58-42,” Bharadwaj said. “Because of the fact that college campuses in general tend to be very democratic, we as the College Republicans were afraid that people would get the impression that Tom Garrett’s supporters aren’t in the majority, as we are, so we wanted to make sure that the conservative Republican presence on campus is well-represented.”

After the Democracy Fair, the University Democrats moved to the Amphitheater across from Garrett Hall to hold a rally featuring speakers.

“We have the rally as well to show that we’re not complacent nor are we happy with his decision to not speak with his constituents in an open, transparent public forum,” Chambers said.

One of the speakers, Adam Slate from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, spoke about the need for productive discourse and encouraged attendees to “listen to each other more” and “embrace the diversity of people around us.”

“We are going to have to find common ground,” Slate said. “Remember that connecting with people’s anger is easy.”

During the democracy fair and rally, both opponents and supporters of Garrett and President Trump gathered on the steps outside of Garrett Hall. The protesters chanted “white supremacy’s got to go” and “immigrants are welcome here” while Garrett supporters donned Trump hats and waved Garrett signs and Trump flags.

Gwen Dilworth, University Democrats campaign and party coordinator and second-year College student, said the group hoped for a safe demonstration addressing constituent concerns.

“I certainly think that the number of people that come out will illustrate how many concerns his constituents have that aren’t being answered and aren’t being responded to,” Dilworth said. “I think that protest is a part of democratic discourse, and it’s great that both sides are expressing their concerns. I just hope that it remains civil and safe.”

The University Democrats ended the event by chanting the message they started with outside of Garrett Hall — “Tom, Let’s Talk.”