By Kevin Coughlin
More than 100 people from the grassroots group NJ 11th for Change crowded outside the Morristown office of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) on Friday, in what they promised will be a weekly event until the Congressman schedules a town hall meeting.
“We have some really urgent questions. People are concerned. These are difficult times, and I think we believe that we should have the right to speak to our Congressman,” said Debra Caplan, a Montclair mom who organized the gathering.
“How can our Congressman represent us if he refuses to meet with us?”
Frelinghuysen, who breezed to his 12th term in November, was not at his Morristown office.
Staff member Anthony Pryer thanked the group for its courteous demeanor — protesters waved instead of shouting or cheering, and gave a chocolate bar to the staff–and said his boss “absolutely” was aware of their visits.
“I love the fact that you guys come in because you’re getting your voices heard. You’re doing the right thing. As long as you guys keep up this attitude we’ll have a great correspondence and relationship. I look forward to seeing you every time you guys come in,” Pryer told the group.
On Thursday about a dozen members had traveled to Philadelphia, where they hoped to encounter Frelinghuysen at a retreat for Republican lawmakers. They did not succeed.
So far, NJ 11th for Change has collected 1,300 signatures on a petition requesting a meeting with the congressman, Caplan said.
Slideshow photos by Bill Lescohier and Kevin Coughlin
Members of the group expressed concerns on Friday about Republicans’ vote this week to expand the anti-abortion Hyde Amendment. Frelinghuysen, who was Pro-Choice in the past and donated to Planned Parenthood, voted with the GOP majority for the amendment.
The group also questioned whether Frelinghuysen, the new chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, would support funding the Trump administration’s plan to build a wall on the Mexican border.
Others voiced fears about Republican plans to scrap the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
“I know friends who will die if they don’t have insurance,” said Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, 31, of Morristown.
Born with a congenital condition affecting her vision, hearing and cardiac health, Sjunneson-Henry said she would be in serious financial trouble without Obamacare and its requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions.
A local woman named Becky, who has boys aged 5 and 2, said she and her husband also fear losing Obamacare. It has allowed her to pursue an advanced degree, and enabled her husband to start his own business, she said.
“It’s incredible in this country how [the high cost of health] insurance can bring total upheaval for a family,” said Becky, who declined to give her full name.
Earlier this month, the group delivered paper bags with lumps of coal to Frelinghuysen, to symbolize the GOP’s lack of an alternative to Obamacare.
Caplan, 32, a professor of Yiddish theater at Baruch College in New York, said she never envisioned herself as a political organizer.
“The election galvanized me,” said Caplan, who has children aged 4 and 6. “I wanted to find out what was happening locally.”
She called Frelinghuysen’s office a couple days after the election, she said, and was assured it would be easy to speak with him.
“They never called back. I kept calling,” she said. “I want my voice to be heard.”