I went to Washington, DC, for the final day of Democracy Awakening with the NC NAACP, and it was a glorious, frustrating, infuriating and affirming day.
The bus arrived in time for the rally at Columbus Circle, which was followed by a march to the U.S. Capitol, where about 300 or so people were arrested for standing on the steps of OUR building. While that was going on, the rest of the crowd of more than 1,000 people was pushed back 500 or so feet by the Capitol Police. It make the crowd look smaller when it was filmed by the few media outlets that were there to cover it.
I brought along a documentary film-maker, a 28-year-old student at UNC Asheville named Robin, who hasn’t done a lot of activism. She’ll do more if she continues to hang out with me.
After the rally, most of our group went to the Russell Senate Office Building, hoping to get some time with one or both of our senators, while Robin and I stayed to get some shots of Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the NC NAACP, and Rev. Dr. Cornell Brooks, the national NAACP president, as they gave statements after being released from custody.
The purpose of all this is to try and get Big Money out of politics. Once we do that, we can begin to fix the mess the uber-wealthy have created for the rest of us.
When Robin and I finally made it to the Senate Cafeteria, we were just in time to join the group for an appointment at Sen. Thom Tillis’s office.
Now, Tillis doesn’t care for us Moral Monday folks. He literally ran away from us a number of times when he was Speaker of the House in North Carolina. As a Senator, he has refused delivery of petitions from us, having a staffer tell us to mail it in.
I don’t think he expected the NC NAACP delegation to join the Democracy Uprising people, although I can’t believe how he couldn’t figure out we would hook up.
But, there we were, about 25 of us, ushered into a conference room where we met with a low-level staffer.
She proceeded to roll her eyes a lot and ask insulting questions. One example was when she asked where we get the money for public campaign financing. Vicki Ryder, a Raging Granny, member of the NC NAACP and fellow Moral Monday activist, suggested we could shut down the building of outdated and unnecessary fighter jets or shut down a few of the 1,000-plus bases we have around the world, and this staffer looked incredulous as she said, “Defense? You’re talking about eliminating the defense budget?”
Of course she knew no one was talking about eliminating the Department of Defense or disbanding the military. She just didn’t know she was talking to people who are well informed and not easily intimidated.
She didn’t look at people who spoke to her and her facial expression was one of utter contempt for all of us. She rolled her eyes at everything we had to say.
When we started to talk about giving the president’s Supreme Court nominee a hearing, she said something about “let the people choose.” Four of us at once said, “The people have chosen.”
I mentioned that Tillis had said right after Antonin Scalia died that blocking a hearing would be obstructionist, and she denied he ever said it.
But of course, we do have recording devices in this day and age, and we all know he said it and then backed down, probably under pressure from party leaders.
Several people said they remembered him saying it and she said, “no he didn’t,” as though repeating her lie would somehow make us back down. It reminded me of the Monty Python skit in which people could pay John Cleese to argue with them. It was that ridiculous.
“Yes he did.”
“No he didn’t.”
“I could look it up. He said it.”
“No he didn’t.”
(But, in fact, you can hear him say just that on the Tom Cralle Show at http://soundcloud.com/tylercralle. Scroll down to the first Thom Tillis interview and listen. I didn’t link to it here here because it comes up as a huge photo of Cralle, but type or copy and paste it into your browser, and there you have it. )
I came thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis close to saying, “You’re a fucking liar and you know it.”
Rather than show as much disrespect to her as she was showing to us, I clenched my jaw, picked up my camera bag and said politely, “Excuse me, I have to leave now.”
I walked out of the room to find more Moral Monday friends from the NC Council of Churches in the waiting room and in the hallway. A few seconds later, Robin emerged from the meeting. We warned them to take several dep, cleansing breaths before going in because they were going to need it.
“I wasn’t as nice as you were,” Robin said to me. “I’m so mad I’m shaking. How can people be so disrespectful. She was utterly contemptuous.”
What made the experience even more surreal for her was the dead possum on the wall that she kept hitting with her head. I really wish I had gotten a picture of that before I was told to put down my camera.
Naturally, we weren’t allowed to record any of this because, as Tillis already knows, recordings can come back and bite you in the ass.
Richard Burr’s people were no more in agreement with us than Tillis’s automaton, but they were polite and respectful. The staffer who met with us took notes, handed out his card and said, “This isn’t my area of expertise, but I will pass on what you have to say here and you can e-mail or call me with any more questions.”
I left that office knowing I disagree with the senator, but a bit less angry and frustrated than I had been with Tillis.
I left Washington once again fired up to register people to vote, to fight voter suppression, to fight Big Money and to work for a more just society.
As we say in the Moral Monday Movement:
Forward together! Not one step back!