What does transparency have to do with cheese?

(White House)

The day after President Obama’s final State of the Union address, top officials from his administration and members of Congress took time away from their normal activities to engage with the public on social media using the hashtag #BigBlockofCheeseDay.

Most could not resist using puns related to cheese in their responses, and Labor Secretary Tom Perez wore a cheese hat for the occasion. Despite the humor, they were observing a tradition that dates back to 1837, when President Andrew Jackson invited the general public to a White House reception to help consume a 1,400-pound (635-kilogram) block of cheese, and engage with their elected representatives. The event has become a symbol of how citizens can hold officials accountable.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez answers questions from the public on “Big Block of Cheese Day.” (White House)

The television show West Wing popularized the occasion by having its fictional White House staff take a day each year to meet with Americans who would not normally get the chance to ask questions or express their concerns in person.

For the third year in a row, officials of the Obama administration took questions over Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr about anything from immigration to climate change.

In a sense, “Big Block of Cheese Day” happens every working day in the United States. Citizens have multiple avenues of communication, and they can expect a response. Officials and their staffs constantly respond to letters, phone calls and requests for information.  Private meetings with officials and elected representatives are also arranged. On the local level, the public is encouraged to air their views at town hall events and meetings of city and county councils.

What is your preferred way to get your voice heard?