What Happened When I Tried to Meet With My Elected Representative John Boehner
Photo Credit: By United States House of Representatives (http://republicanleader.house.gov/Bio/) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This is a story that should be fairly disturbing. I am a 19 year old college student hailing from West Chester, Ohio. I set forth last spring (early April) to speak to my congressman—John Boehner—about issues that were incredibly important to me. At the time my family was in financial crisis. My father had been out of work for almost a year, my mother's hours had been cut, though her job didn't provide her with healthcare anyway.
Of course, I was having trouble paying for college. I attend The Ohio State University, which has one of the lowest tuition of any University in the state of Ohio—but it was still a lot of money. I had taken off the fall semester of my freshman year to work and hopefully pay some bills. I wanted to talk to Congressman Boehner because at the time a huge debate over student loan interest rates was going on. I wanted to tell him how much this mattered, how students like me would use the opportunity given—but we just needed a little help.
I was so sure I could do this. I was so absolutely sure that if a normal person worked hard enough, they could speak to their most local representative to Washington.
I was wrong. Dead wrong.
How I Started
I began by sending an email and making a phone call to the local West Chester office. When both responses resulted in the same exact letter of reply, I grew conscientious about whether Congressman Boehner was actually hearing anything I was saying. I began to get the impression that I was simply being sent the same generic response about Rep. Boehner working during college to pacify me, rather than because people actually cared.
This is when I decided I wanted to talk to him face-to-face. I knew it wouldn't be easy and that I wouldn't be given much time. I was okay with that. I know that with five minutes I could explain to the Congressman how important education was to me, and how we needed to offer lower interest rates, not higher. I sent emails asking to meet with him, underlining my concerns with college affordability.
I kept getting the same letters in the mail. The same generic responses.
A month had passed, and I was more than a bit angry. It was looking to be harder and harder to go back to OSU next semester, and my most local representative to Washington DC didn't seem to care.
I decided to call his Washington DC office and explain to them my desire to meet with Congressman Boehner. They seemed unsure about this request, but the aide on the phone was extremely polite and gave me the email address for the scheduling team. I was encouraged by this, it seemed like I was heading in the right direction.
On June 17th, 2013 I sent the following email:
To whom this may concern:
My name is Jake Geers, I am a student and community organizer who is the son of two hard working Americans. I have been working full time alongside my education and would like the opportunity to give a middle American perspective to the congressman regarding the student loan crisis in America. I am willing to meet with Rep. Boehner here in west Chester or in Washington D.C.
Please email me back with any questions. I understand the schedule may be full, and despite the pending deadline of July 1 I am fully open to speaking with the congressman any day after July 7th.
When I saw that I had a response back after only one day I was ecstatic! They replied so quickly, I was sure to have some date, at some time to offer me to speak with my elected congressman.
Thank you for your request, however, Speaker Boehner is unable to meet due to his demanding schedule. I apologize we cannot accommodate your request; thank you for understanding.
If you would like to meet with a member of the Speaker's staff, please contact #### ####### at (513) ###-####.
Please let me know if there is anything I can assist you with further.
All hope was not lost to me though. I replied back, making it a bit more forceful to show that I was passionate about this issue. I figured that they might reconsider it knowing I was a dedicated and concerned citizen. After all, I had offered to meet with Congressman Boehner in my hometown of West Chester, or even go to Washington DC.
Likewise, I apologize, and don't mean to be rude, but Mr. Boehner has an obligation to be my congressman before the Speaker.
Speaker Boehner spends so much of his time decrying the expansion of bureaucracy and big government that he (perhaps rightfully so) believes that our founding fathers would find to be a blight on our nation. I cannot help but wonder what the same founders would think about a nation in which a young citizen was unable to meet with his own elected Congressman.
I understand Congressman Boehner is a busy man, but I have presented him with an open availability (even going as far as driving miles upon miles to Washington DC) to discuss an issue that is tantamount to the future of our nation. I respectfully ask that you please reconsider.
Thank you for your time,
One week went by, and another, but no response. John Boehner wasn't listening.
What Happened Next
While on vacation I received notice of my financial aid awards for the next year. It had taken two months longer than usual because of the nonsense in Washington. The news wasn't good. Due to how the numbers panned out, I actually received less financial aid for the year in which my father had no job, than in the year he did have one. I called Congressman Boehner's office again, to yet another generic promise to pass it on.
At this point, three months had past in my quest to meet with Congressman Boehner. I decided to go out on a limb and contact an old friend in local media who I had worked with during a school levy campaign. I told him about my experience, and he listened to everything I had to say. He agreed to run the story, but he wanted to frame it under a more general story on student loans. That was fine with me. I hoped that some media exposure would, at the very least, have Congressman Boehner re-evaluate his procedures for seeing constituents (which at this point, seem to be to just "not").
Sadly, the story didn't carry any traction, and all the posted feedback was mostly negative (seeing as all people who receive federal loans are lazy, freeloading, losers who shouldn't go to college because their parents aren't rich. *rolls eyes*)
Upon coming back from vacation I spent most of my time trying to sort out my college finances, knowing that my Congressman had absolutely no interest in helping me.
A month later, however, an interesting opportunity came up. Organizing for Action was attending an open door session with a member of Congressman Boehner's staff in West Chester. I was invited to go, and I lept at the chance.
The format was a bit different that usual, which annoyed some people, but worked for me. I was excited to speak to a member of Boehner's staff who might directly relay my concerns about both education—and now accessibility to my elected representative.
The staffer was very polite, and sympathetically said that she understand where I was coming from. She said she would pass the comments up, and thanked me.
I was encouraged, though obviously skeptical. As I went back to college a week later, I wondered if anything significant would ever change because of my conversations with the staffer. When I came home to visit two weeks ago I found a letter waiting for me.
It was my fifth copy of the exact same "education" letter, with just a sentence on the top thanking me for attending an open door session.
So no, nothing changed (to save the suspense which I'm sure was building).
And finally, I called both the Washington DC and West Chester office of my congressman—Speaker John Boehner—in regards to this asinine debt ceiling (self created) crisis. Both brushed me off, but since the West Chester office was my second call, I was only then irritated enough to call her out on it.
I was tired of being told "thank you" and "have a nice day" while I was still talking. I was tired of being ignored, referred, and promised that people were listening. I told the aide on the line that I felt like, "nobody was listening to me".
"Why would you ever think that," she asked in reply.
Gee, I wonder why.
Why This Matters
I understand that some people may read this as some college student whining about their life. But I'm honestly not. Everything has worked out for me in terms of college finances. I have a lot of skill in dealing with the system, I have a strong work ethic that allows me to hold down two jobs, and I have just a little bit of sheer luck.
But the luck could have gone the other way. I could be sitting back at my house with no prospects of education or real jobs with a representative who could care less.
I've only ever lived in John Boehner's district. I don't know how it is elsewhere. I've heard that it is worse than usual here, but I honestly don't know.
If this is the norm, it needs to end. We the voters need to not put up with it. We need to demand representation. Quality representation.