Alex Mathews

Alex Mathews – writer, bared naked dude blah blah blah

“Political Thuggery, Plain and Simple”

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Today the Indivisible Group in the 48th Congressional district convened in yet another attempt to get the attention of Dana Rohrabacher, congressman in absentia. As has been customary, the doors to the congressman’s office have been locked, as the congressional staff sits behind the locked door. The Huntington Beach Police have been consistently called into service in anticipation of the group’s arrival, despite the fact that the group is merely making as best an attempt as it can to find someone in their congressional representative’s office to simply listen to their concerns. The focal point of the group’s activity is to engage the congressman to hold a town hall meeting where all of their concerns may find a forum. As the weeks have gone on, it becomes more and more clear that the town hall represents a demand that the congressman will evade and avoid indefinitely. It seems, however, that the interplay between congressman and constituents is more than a basic rejection of a request for a forum. The antics and tactics employed by the Rohrabacher staff to dismiss his own constituents is a tale of weaseling and strategy, of propaganda and press manipulation, of dishonesty and abuse of power. Pretty much what you might expect from a member of Congress, if you are among the deeply cynical, like myself. But I want better for my county, my district, my family and neighbors. Laying aside my cynicism, I want better from my government.

Today’s coverage of our action by the OC Register offers a strange narrative of a conflict that rises to the level of a “tussle,” as a two-year old girl was knocked down by a door that swings out into the hallway where the constituents were gathering to deliver snide Valentine’s Day greetings to their congressional representative who refuses to address their concerns. Apparently the staffer opening the door fell down and claimed injury—unconsciousness and paramedics and hospital visits. The incident is unfortunate, whether it is wholly exaggerated or downright false. Rohrabacher issued a press release calling his constituents a “mob,” who call themselves, “with supreme hypocrisy, by the name ‘Indivisible.’ In fact, they are bent on dividing the nation, defying the will of voters and undermining the legitimacy of the election. These holier-than-thou obstructionists will be held responsible for this outrageous assault. They are exposing themselves for what they are — enemies of American self-government and democracy.”

The piece in the Register does less damage to the face of the group, but the story certainly sensationalizes what should be a story of voters seeking representation and the conniving done by a United States congressman to both avoid answering to his constituents and to marginalize them by creating an inaccurate if not patently false narrative that paints us as outlaws and anarchists and agitators, playing on the strings of the cliché that energizes his base. When I downloaded the Indivisible Guide, I had no idea I would be stepping on these landmines of political warfare, nor did I anticipate that the game would be played by such dirty players.

As a fledgling group, we are still finding our way. We need to develop better internal communications to ensure that calls for action can reach the entirety of the group, and we need to be able to gauge our engagement. We need to help each other express ourselves in a manner that is constructive, and does more to further our cause than undermine it. We need to learn from experienced activists who engage successfully in peaceful resistance. We need to be very mindful of the fact that our friends in our congressional district want to prove that we are a fringe element and therefore have no credibility. We must be aware that the press can get it wrong. We must accept that peaceful resistance will expose us to humiliation and other vulnerabilities. We must control the narrative, always. We need to help each other take the higher ground as we fight together. We have to carry the flag. And I mean literally, every time we gather. It doesn’t belong to only one party, and when we do we show we are Americans, not a mob, and not enemies of America, but the remnant advocates for our democracy.

While I never could have anticipated the deviousness and wretchedness that we would be met with from our own congressman, this is the landscape we are operating in. To be accused of ‘political thuggery,’ as Rohrabacher did of us, is not a characterization that I will let stand. Not while his Twitter feed is a case study in actual political thuggery. Not while his staff is intent on painting his constituents as an outlaw mob. Not while the GOP is flaming out. Not while the Executive Branch is having a fire sale on decency and competence. Not while the rule of law seems to be impossible to energize our elected officials to seek. Not while we stand on our principles of decency and duty to our republic. So let us hold on to the fire, and channel our passion into the work of organizing, as we commit to demonstrating our standing as agents of good. We are not a mob. Nor are we political thugs. We came to end thuggery.

From the Resistance: One Issue, Indivisible

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All over the country, small groups of citizens are forming groups in their own congressional districts in an attempt to fundamentally oppose the Trump agenda. The Indivisible Guide offers a playbook for starting activist groups focused on local congressional districts in the hopes that such action can move the political needle. From personal observation, I have seen a cross section of progressives come together and stage weekly actions at congressional offices, only to find that these elected officials don’t much want to hear from a group of unhappy constituents. On our first visit to my congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, I was exhilarated by the mere presence of so many people I had not otherwise known, as we faced off with an unprepared staff who attempted to hand out constituent concern forms for us to fill out. Our issue of the day was the Affordable Care Act, and our spokesman attempted to object to the potential repeal. The mood was tense, but the group of Indivisibles behaved appropriately, for the most part, and we left having done our civic duty. The following week our numbers increased, but the Rohrabacher staff was prepared, for they refused to open the door, and the police were on hand in case there was some mass uprising. We left messages on their intercom system until the mailbox was full, and many members filmed the happening, and it garnered some local press that began in the crime blog of the Orange County Register, as well as a rather I-told-you-so account by Matt Coker of the OC Weekly. This fit with the national story, where similar groups were finding it difficult to impact their own congressional representatives. The phenomenon, however, made news, and for progressives forced to play desperate defense under a house majority, this was a very big victory. Yuuge.

As we look ahead, it is hard not to feel some sense of hopelessness in the face of the indecency of the Trump regime. As I observe the group dynamics play out, I see the diversity within the group itself, as well as the diversity of personalities. Some people are positive and optimistic, declaring small victories with glee. Others, like myself, are quietly pessimistic. Anger seems to look different depending on whose face you are looking at. So many people I meet are relatively inexperienced in activism, myself included, and I recognize in so many a beautiful and innocent idealism and hope, that I weep at the thought of it being stamped out by the Sisyphean task that lies ahead of us. I am like many of the 700-plus members of the Indivisible Orange County 48 group, having been awakened rudely by the 2016 election, and we are all wondering where justice is, where decency is, and where the rule of law is. We are all having to learn what works and what doesn’t when it comes to our political process. One thing I have learned is that timing is everything when it comes to channeling outrage with any expectation of creating change. Calling your senators and congressman is effective when you are in lock-step with their legislative schedule, and it helps to travel in numbers. Spreading outrage over too many issues doesn’t focus the action enough to penetrate the small ears of congressional staffers who will tally the vox populi. David Frum’s article in the Atlantic Weekly speaks to this problem in an astute manner. We will be more successful if we prioritize our asks, and the dissent will hold more power if we speak together. I reflect that the biggest injustices can’t be lost in the spread of the smaller ones, nor can we allow them to pass in the flux of the attack on our republic that seems to be happening daily. What happened to that Russian thing? Are we really going to let Trump’s taxes fall into the cracks if they might reveal a threat to national security or constitutional violations? Unless your congressman is the chair of a committee that has power of oversight, those are demands that basically fall on deaf and incapable ears. The point, however, is that our basic reasons for mobilizing are based at the very root of the problem. Pruning branches on the poison tree doesn’t rip it from the ground.

This is where the Indivisible model represents slow progress—a game of inches, and causes pessimists like myself to fret that the end-game is both far off and a far cry, as I demand results that will take years to accomplish. My congressman isn’t going to lift a finger to investigate malfeasance in the White House, the campaign or the election. He isn’t likely to vote for any measures that protect the environment. He isn’t going to work to take guns away from people who are mental defectives. He isn’t going to fight for a fair health care system for all. His voting record as recent as last week affirms this. No amount of visits to his office are going to change the fact that he does not represent the interests of most people in his district, whether they know it or not. A town hall meeting isn’t going to suddenly cause my congressman to become human. This is not an expression of defeat or pessimism, it is pragmatic. The idea, however, is that the constant pressure, the constant action, the constant vigilance, will shake loose the foundation. For it to be effective, it requires organization, focus and coordination. We have the beginnings of that structure, now it is time to execute. Beyond my pragmatism, I am profoundly idealistic about the future and what could be possible in America. We are told to pocket that idealism now, to forget about a progressive vision for policy, and defend against the barrage of insults to democracy, but I have to hold on to some of it today. I have to learn to take solace in today’s action, to gear up for tomorrow’s, and to take hope in the face of what feels too often like a hopeless assault. To borrow from Eduardo Galeano, I personally have to remember that the time for optimism is now, and I will save pessimism for better times.

The current environment in the political scene, if you oppose the Trump regime, is a difficult place to live, and I refer to the welfare of the people having to contend with it. Ridicule from the opposition is bait for the hooks of contention, suffering and demoralization. Ideological differences, when one comes face to face with, are frustratingly polarizing. The litany of absurdities emanating from the White House are fuel for outrage everyday. It is important to be aware of the emotional and psychological effects of these things. Developing habits that help digest the horror in a way that allows us to function happily is a challenge, but it is vital. There are good days and bad, and I am discovering that is part of the new stage on which we play our parts. Hopelessness does not fester when we act. We must remember we are part of a national upheaval, with localized groups acting in concert with each other to face down the same problem. Our effectiveness depends on our ability to speak as one nation, indivisible. So, what will we say?

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