Last night, as I brooded over a surprise biopsy taken from the surface of my forehead that day, wondering whether I'd become a cancer statistic, my phone rang. I didn't recognize the number in the message line but did recognize the area code, so answered. The voice on the other end was hurried and self-effacing, inviting me to a phone town hall forum with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick on his recent trip to the border between Ukraine and Poland. Having seen him discussing this on the news last nighta serendipity since I usually don't watch MSM news, I said I'd participate and asked who was speaking. "Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick" was the somewhat garbled reply. So I hung on to attend the event, surprised, admittedly flattered, and wondering why I had been chosen for a one-on-one call from a member of Congress and a recent TV star.
Guest presenters included a retired brigadier general, a Ukrainian representative of the PA Ukrainian consul, and an official from the American Red Cross. Each gave a brief description of their relevant activities. The Congressman moderated in his fast-paced PA dialect. The audience included, first, women constituents wanting to receive Ukrainian immigrants and care for them and also help out from a distance, then men wanting to discuss weaponry in detail, where Mr. Fitzpatrick exhibited expertise--he had worked for the FBI in Ukraine before stepping up to Congress. Prospective weapons donations from three neighboring countries including Poland were specified. Mr. Fitzpatrick's discussion of his recent visit there was pretty much limited to how harrowing it was to witness the devastation and hordes of refugees--he said that 100,000 had passed through that border location that day alone (that seems excessive; maybe I'm inaccurate, not being at my wits' best in the evening).
One takeaway was the largely gender-determined responses from the audience. I don't know how many attended, but they were from the more affluent areas of Bucks County (Fitzpatrick also represents a portion of neighboring Montgomery County, also among the audience and far from indigent), so I deduced that they were probably mostly Republicans (moderates--clearly no MAGAs spoke up anyway) and that I'd been included in the forum at the last minute as a token leftie, a role I've played before in my home state, specifically in the context of diversifying a jury years ago.
The Congressman specified that any questions there was no time for would be answered by his office in Langhorne one on one, by him or a staff member. Then, hurried because the event had exceeded its one-hour limit, he tried to reassure us by reminding us that Putin would be up for reelection in 2024--huh? That was quickly contradicted by listeners. Then the "thoughts and prayers" meme followed and the forum ended.
Some background: Mr. Fitzpatrick's late brother, Mike Fitzpatrick (RIP), was the Republican Congressman from Bucks County, before part of Montgomery County was added; he was unseated--Bucks is a purple county considered a national bellwether--by Patrick Murphy, a Democrat and Iraq war veteran, for one term. He subsequently won back the seat for Republicans.
The addition of part of Montgomery County was a result of redistricting and added Democrats to the voter rolls, which probably brought Mr. Murphy into the fold for two years anyway. Directly preceding Murphy's victory, the election integrity community in Bucks County had been agitating for voting machinery that would allow for accurate recounts instead of the tapes spat out by direct recording machinery that merely duplicated the initial count when producing an "audit." Some of us had attended commissioners' meetings, vocally advocating this alternative, to the GOP-dominated three in charge as well as the COO. Their attitude toward us "broads" was condescending, somewhat amused and somewhat annoyed.
Well, the vote totals were close that November, with no way to conduct a recount. Murphy's victory was attributed to the addition of the portion of Montgomery County to the district. At the next commissioners' meeting, the late Congressman slithered in late, recently diagnosed with the condition that eventually led to his demise, and sat a few rows behind us looking pale and chagrinned. Rows in front of him and behind him were empty, a striking tableau of despair.
Meanwhile, the COO didn't take his eyes off of me during the proceedings. I had previously provided him with tapes proving that the incumbent voting machinery was totally incapable of effective recounts. I had prodded him until he requested this proof, which he at the time ignored.
It took years and persistent, heroic agitation and activism among my Bucks County EI colleagues (I had moved away to DC), but they finally succeeded and Bucks County now votes on Clear Ballot optical scanners that are accurately auditable, all other circumstances allowing for this. (That is, like all digital devices, they are hackable.)
This was what democracy looked like--in the US anyway. The event was stimulating if not terribly informative, and my mood improved. I gained hope for a benign outcome of the biopsy.