Chief Organizer Report: Protest by the powerless…congressmen
San Pedro Sula
In almost any work on social movements and social change organizations, authors are usually crystal clear: protest is an exercise of the powerless. Contemporary politics may be turning this world of certainty upside down.
In recent years we have already seen “walkouts” become popular among elected officials. In India that tactic was used several years ago for several weeks in order to prevent large retail companies from being able to modify the percentage of allowable investments over fifty percent in order to block expansion by big-box companies. In Texas, Wisconsin, and other states, we have seen outnumbered Democratic legislators decamp to parts unknown in order to prevent a quorum from being present to pass retrograde acts hurting women and others when their voices weren’t heard. During the Obama years we even had Republican Congressmen hold signs and break the rules of decorum in Congress by calling the president a liar or in other ways acting out. Heck, ACORN did this in 1972 when we controlled the majority on the Pulaski County Quorum Court.
Normally, we would be schooled to understand in high school civics classes, where they still might exist, that all of these electeds had a certain level of power. They even would have claimed as much. Certainly, they might want more and have their own gripes, but they were categorically not powerless like the poor or the rest of hoi polloi where such tactics were part of the customary repertoire of the voiceless seeking social changes.
Oh no, not now. The cap is off of that bottle! We’re now in the land of “no limits,” even in the halls of Congress. Everybody is ready to throw it up against the wall!
Thirty conservative Republican Congressman staged a classic protest move and pushed themselves into a closed-door hearing room to disrupt the testimony by a member of the State Department offering views to the House Investigations committee looking into the question of whether President Trump had committed impeachable acts. Once through the door they shouted and carried on, took pictures with their cellphones, which are also banned, and, lordy-lordy, engaged in scuffling, pushing, and shoving with other house congressman as they sought to disrupt the hearing. I can vividly imagine every moment of this action. I’ve run this play scores of times as an organizer. They didn’t stop the testimony, but they did delay it for a number of hours, and they did get press coverage, all of which is also about the best we ever get from similar actions.
Believe me, I get it. I understand the tactic, but I also understand something that they may not have realized. They just proved that emperor now has no clothes. Rather than tout their prowess and power, they have done the opposite, even to the extent that one of the leaders was Louisiana’s Steve Scalise, the Republican whip and one of the top two or three Republicans in the House. They were egged on by President Trump. I can remember when one might rank the president of the USA as the most powerful person in the world. No more! They want to line up in the demonstration area for national politics affairs, rather than in the room pretending to make deals and be masters of our universe.
The message they are sending seems clear. There are no insiders anymore. We’re all outsiders now. The country is a driverless car careening through the crosswalks, so pedestrians beware. Believe that at your peril of course, but the message is that no one is now in charge, we’re all on our own, and no one can block the door anymore.