Some Republican Congress people are claiming that professional protesters are being paid to disrupt their town hall meetings with constituents, including our own Rep., Steve King.
If that’s the case, I don’t know anyone who has any evidence to back this revelation up (not that evidence matters much in the current DC climate). Must be some cashed checks somewhere.
It is easy to understand the GOP’s frustrations. Barely had they finished celebrating their sweep to complete power in Washington, when this so-called “Indivisible” movement started gleefully shouting them down at meetings and raining all over the parade.
The mandate is not as complete as once imagined, especially when Iowa elected officials find themselves forced to defend the actions of their president.
“People come in and, you know, they are angry and shouting and on the borderline violent,” King said in an interview.
While we may not be buying the conspiracy theories, we have seen enough messages to know that the protests, if not paid, can indeed be orchestrated and planned, with organizers making sure that someone is assigned at each meeting to push the politicians hard.
Certainly, protest is a cornerstone of our freedoms, and our elected officials should be questioned aggressively and often on some of the volatile issues of the day. A wise leader understands that he or she does not just represent those who agree with them, and listens to and addresses concerns and criticism openly.
Yet the Republicans have a point.
Town hall meetings are opportunities for citizens to hear and question their elected leaders first-hand. Our statehouse people do them regularly, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you the last time we had a real, open town hall with our congressman or senators in Storm Lake, (not meeting with supporters or touring an industry or project site.) For a community, these unscripted face-to-face opportunities do not happen all that often.
If disruptions by activists become so raucous that the locals no longer get an opportunity to discuss the issues they are concerned with at a town meeting, or worse, they become afraid to voice an opinion in public, we will have lost something important to our grassroots political system.
We certainly have not gained anything if we make these meetings so confrontational that out elected officials become reluctant to venture out in their own districts, or only send some office assistant to hear concerns.
If having elected officials talk with constituents in a community becomes a security issue, it’s not the politician’s voice that is lost, it’s the people’s.
While the protesters are no doubt well meaning, and sincerely hope to have some impact on social issues that emboldened Republicans are pushing, it seems they are also being used to some extent.
The larger Democrat agenda is apparent - to make the party in power look bad enough in public repeatedly that they will be vulnerable in the elections in 2018 and 2020.
That’s politics. But these are not supposed to be campaign appearances, they are supposed to be town halls.
There is a way to question authority, and a way not to.
The way is passion, commitment, solid research and facts to back up comments/questions, waiting one’s turn to speak, and civilized debate that respects the office these people serve.
The wrong way is mocking, intimidation, or trying to drown out anyone who disagree with you.
At one recent meeting with Senator Grassley, a man in the audience screamed “Shut your hole!” at a woman who was trying to speak.
That’s not how we do things in Iowa, buster.
At another, Grassley supporters booed and jeered a woman who was trying to ask a question while wearing an Obama logo cap - to his credit, the senator lectured the crowd for its rude behavior. “I hope that whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, liberal or conservative, I hope that we’re going to be Iowa nice and respect each others’ opinions,” he said. “So let her finish.”
None of this is new, of course.
Campaign appearances by presidential candidates are routinely “seeded” with a busload of supporters to praise the candidate, wave friendly signs for the news cameras or ask a set-up “softball” of a question, and sometimes are countered with pre-organized opposition attendees to ask questions intended to trip up or embarrass the candidate.
And you may remember a time when the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party followed the same strategy Demo activists are using this season, flocking their faithful to town hall meetings of leaders they opposed. Around 2009, Democrats like Nancy Pelosi had coined the term “astroturf” for those people - as in fake grass roots.
What comes around, as they say, goes around.
All it takes is to goad a leader into an angry, unwise response. Force them to lose their cool in front of cameras for one moment, and a career can be killed. It might be a proven strategy in the political trenches, but it’s not a very effective means for real communication between the public and its leaders.
Politics is what it is.
But let’s keep it at bay at least long enough that regular people can ask a fair question.