NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — No, The Checks Aren’t In The Mail

Sorry to disappoint you, but no checks are in the mail.

A standing-room-only crowd showed up for Rep. Kevin Cramer’s Fargo “Coffee with Cramer” town hall last week. Let’s call them “lively.” Trouble was clearly brewing. They packed a local coffeehouse to pepper him with comments and questions about health care, the bungled travel ban, the Great Wall of POTUS and the Cabinet’s billionaire assault on everything from public education to the environment.

And they left later that afternoon with exactly the same change in their pockets that they’d come with -— less the cost of a cup or two of coffee. Contrary to rumors right-winging their way around the media and Facebook, no one was paid to be there …

… except, of course, Rep. Cramer himself.

This ludicrous preoccupation with “paid protesters” seems to be a standard response whenever Republicans face constituents who disagree with them. We heard it used — with no evidence whatsoever — to damn the opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline. We heard it used to dismiss the millions who stepped up — in pink pussyhats, no less — for the Women’s March on Washington and its sister marches from coast to coast.

We’ve heard it announced as fact, in the most authoritative of tones, by everyone from POTUS and Wayne LaPierre of the NRA (who asserts *someone* is paying protesters $1,500 a week) to State Rep. Randy Boehning, who wondered on Facebook how many of those who came to Cramer’s kaffeeklatch were “bought and paid by Obama’s new organization.”

No, they weren’t. But no wonder right-wingers are dreaming up conspiracies. Members of Congress and the Senate faced unheard-of crowds when they went back home during last week’s recess, and to their horror, they weren’t full of smiling faces. Some politicians ducked and ran, like the Texas tough-talker who canceled the meeting in his home district because he feared he’d be shot like Gabby Giffords. Others blustered their way through, complaining mightily of an insidious and unfair plot against them.

What just happened here? It says a lot about the majority of embattled Republican politicians that the first question on their lips was, “Who paid them?” Those who showed up here in Fargo have been having a good laugh at that one.

I wonder if that suspicion isn’t what psychologists call “projection” — the urge to defend yourself against your own worst impulses by blaming them on others. (Which raises an interesting point of speculation: How do those Republican crowds get there?)

To his credit, North Dakota’s Cramer added an unplanned date to his schedule and met them face to face. He seems to relish the give-and-take … make that, “push and shove” … far more than his senatorial colleagues. Neither Sen. John Hoeven nor Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has shown any appetite to date for hearing what their riled-up voters have to say.

No nefarious billionaire pulled strings to turn Cramer’s town hall — normally a more congenial snoozer where he does most of the talking, in person or on the radio — into an all-out news-making fracas. No one had to organize their wrathful minions and direct them to bedevil poor, innocent congresspersons. It blossomed spontaneously.

Indivisible F-M is nothing like a tight-knit army of hard-core political strategists that Republicans invariably blame. The local contingent began with a Facebook page set up by one Fargo woman a couple of days before the inauguration, inspired by a 24-page Google document, widely shared online, titled “Indivisible: A Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” While several former Democratic staffers composed the little guide, it’s squarely based on the playbook pioneered eight years by a very different grass-roots movement -— one the Republicans know a thing or two about: the Tea Party.

“Indivisible’s” key advice: One thing is ever foremost on politicians’ minds — re-election. Showing up in force scares them, and numbers count as much as content. That certainly worked before, when unexpected hordes of Tea Party activists turned the tide of public discourse starting in 2009.

The writers behind “Invisible” were watching back then from their posts on embattled moderates’ staffs. Tea Party techniques, they know too well, do work … do work both ways.

When Nicole Mattson of Fargo couldn’t find a local chapter on the website indivisibleguide.com, she started one herself on Facebook. In its first week, Indivisible F-M gathered 700 members. In the six weeks since, Nicole estimates it’s grown to 3,500 or so via closed groups on several social media platforms. Almost all, she says, are from the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Nicole is no hardened political operative. Her partisan involvement was, and is, minimal. Nor is some shady megabucks mastermind pulling Indivisible F-M’s strings. It’s loosely run by an all-volunteer, all-local organizing team. Beyond urging members to contact their representatives on pressing issues, they seized upon the suggestion to talk to them face to face.

They started by reaching out to North Dakota’s congressional delegation to request town hall events in Fargo. “So far, the only one who has responded is Rep. Cramer,” Nicole says. Team member Lisa Cook worked with his wife, Kris, who manages his schedule, to set up last week’s gathering. “Mrs. Cramer went out of her way to make time in his schedule to come to Fargo last week,” Nicole reports. “She has been nothing but kind and gracious to work with.”

That brings us to Thursday. The smallish cafe was mobbed, inside and spilling out onto the sidewalk. Retired folks stood crowded together with much younger activists; the timing — 1 p.m. on a workday — perhaps minimized middle-aged participation.

While some media later characterized it as a hostile group of raucous, revved-up liberal opponents, the crowd also included a generous number of equally rude and highly vocal Cramer and POTUS supporters. The ruckus was clearly bipartisan.

Talking afterward on WDAY, Rep. Cramer — who does adore a good fracas — conceded that actions like the discordant Fargo town hall may, in fact, affect the national GOP agenda. “I think it does have some impact,” he said. “In some respects, it should. If people are genuinely concerned in large numbers and their members of Congress are listening to them, it should inform how the congressman thinks. It did inform me.”

He added, “Some members of Congress get squishy easily. They forget that their context should be the 700,000 people they represent — as opposed to a loud minority. The loud minority matters, but you need to put it in perspective.”

Perspective, though, is a shifty platform for prediction. Eight years ago, a strident, angry minority of voters field-tested these very same tactics. As the Tea Party coalesced, it was ultimately able to stall an earlier president’s agenda. Then, as a different horde of angry partisans with Lipton’s Tea bags dangling from their brims outshouted the majority, they took on a far more popular president. No. 44 had been elected the previous November by the greatest number of American voters in history – 69.5 million – and with 365 electoral votes. Today’s Indivisibles take on the popular-vote-losing POTUS 45, who managed to amass only 63 million votes for a nonlandslide Electoral College win of 306.

So, can sincere grass-roots passion succeed again? That was tea. This is coffee. We’ll see.

One thing, though, is dead-on certain: Republicans, you can lay to rest your fetish of for-profit protesters. No checks are in the mail, and no one is cracking open the champagne.

One thought on “NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — No, The Checks Aren’t In The Mail”

  • Thomas A. Davies March 2, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    Wow you outdid yourself this time Nancy. Great article. Crazy Kevin will be whining in his diapers when he reads this—and you know he will. All Hail Queen Nancy..


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