By Bill Mefford
Over this past weekend I saw a story of some activists in Kentucky who chased Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell out of a restaurant he was eating at with his wife. This kind of protest has been happening with greater frequency and it has some people worried over the blurring of lines between public and private actions. When the story about the incident on CNN finished the anchor remarked how disturbed he was to see this.
Now, I should say from outset that I have never chased a public official out of a restaurant before. Living in DC and having worked on Capitol Hill for ten years I have been, from time to time, in close contact with public officials, including some I strongly disliked. But I never yelled at anyone or tried to embarrass them. That’s due more to my personality (I prefer to not make a scene when I don’t have to) than a disagreement with the actions of a small group of activists today. I actually tend to agree with them.
Take the scene involving Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and the time she was chased out of a Mexican restaurant by activists who sang and chanted until she left. From the video I saw, no one crowded her or touched her in any way. They just sang and chanted. They told those in the restaurant who she was and what she responsible for: the systematic dismantling of immigrant families as well as systematic deportations of countless numbers of immigrants and migrants who hold Temporary Protected Status. She has been the enforcer of trump’s barbaric anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies so am I sad she did not get to eat Mexican food one night in a restaurant of her choosing? Hell no.
I was also not saddened to see Senator Cruz chased out of a DC restaurant recently either. Cruz supports some of the most inane and inhumane positions in the US Senate. But the one problem I had with the video footage I saw was that the activists crowded Cruz and made it difficult for him and his wife to leave. For those who do these kinds of actions (and yes, I am definitely open to doing them) you must be trained in nonviolence and always - ALWAYS - leave the focus of your protest an out. Let them leave without being crowded or touched in any way. The purpose is not to provoke them to violence, but rather, to mirror to them the harm they have caused others.
Regardless, these actions are still disturbing for some folks. In fact, when I have voiced mild support for such actions on Facebook I had people get quite angry with me. But here is why I not only understand the protesters, but actually and actively support them. These public officials - McConnell, Cruz, Nielsen, and so many others, are elites who are unresponsive to anyone but other elites. They have made themselves unapproachable.
I just finished reading Dark Money by Jane Mayer, one of the best books I have read in a very long time. It was a great read, but it is also quite haunting as it details the rise and powerful influence of extreme right billionaires like the Koch brothers and how they have used their immense wealth to work together to influence not just politics, but all of society. They have been actively engaged in advocating for their extreme libertarian vision where the rich and powerful are given freedom to pollute, cheat, horde, and do almost anything with impunity.
They want no accountability, no regulations, and even more, they want no one else to receive any help of any kind. While their corporations receive enormous tax breaks and have historically received massive tax loopholes with which to hide their money so as to not be taxed, these extreme right billionaires are enraged at the thought of a few individuals receiving any help from the government, no matter how meager and insufficient it is.
The Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, opened the floodgates to massive amounts of dark money in 2010. This ruling dramatically expanded the new “corporate rights” doctrine that has transformed the First Amendment in recent years, and exposes an already-corrupted political process to a new flow of billions of dollars of corporate money.
For example, Mayer details the Republican takeover of the North Carolina state legislature in 2010, which hadn’t been Republican since Reconstruction, well over 100 hundred years ago. While the dark money that poured into the election process through the Citizens United decision did not harm President Obama’s re-election bid in 2012, it has been devastating to fair elections in state and local races, like North Carolina where the gerrymandering was so extreme even the normally supportive Supreme Court got involved. North Carolina is having to redraw their district map, but in the mean time the extreme state legislature passed numerous harmful laws including the “bathroom” bill (aimed at not allowing transgender people to go to the bathroom according to their gender), massive tax cuts, and a dramatic increase in vouchers.
I am not talking about keeping Republicans out of state offices. This is so much bigger than partisanship. I am talking about such massive amounts of money into smaller state and local races so that those running against big money’s candidate have absolutely no chance and the big money candidate has absolutely no choice to listen to anyone but their donors. I am talking about a process that is so twisted and distorted by big money that democracy and fair representation have become arcane and antiquated concepts.
The process is twisted by the emergence of shell organizations which doles out the money and hides the actual names of the donors - like the Koch brothers as well as other billionaires with deep pockets and a commitment to overhaul the democratic system and enslave it to their agenda. And yes, I use the word “enslavement” on purpose. This is a small group of billionaires donating hundreds of millions of dollars to campaigns for people who sit in positions that are supposed to regulate the businesses of these same billionaires. So, instead of protecting the lives of those who live in their districts they instead protect their all-important donors who give thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and yes, even millions of dollars in dark money.
It is not an exaggeration that the United States is now an oligarchy.
With this in mind, let’s return to the protests in restaurants and public spaces directed towards public officials. While I again urge these protesters - these brave women and men - to do this nonviolently and to always allow the focus of their protest an out, I also totally understand why their disgust and anger has led them to this kind of protest. The anger comes from leaders who hold absolutely no deference to you or I, the voters. Dark money has given them power and they will always - always follow the money.
So, to Senator McConnell, Ted Cruz, Secretary Nielsen, and the many other elected officials who receive enormous sums of dark money, you can ignore your constituents all you want and feel indebted to the unelected oligarchy who are running this country, but we will find you in public spaces. We will sing and chant. We will respect you and provide you with space, but we will at least make your meal as uncomfortable as possible. You have simply given us no choice.