Frustration and disruption

We could see from the press table that a lot of people were filing into the Senate visitors gallery Tuesday morning (the 6th). It was kind of unusual because the large groups that file into the gallery at this time of year are usually school children, fourth graders making the only trip most of them will make for the rest of their lives to the Capitol (a sorry situation that might be worth a later observation.).
Then right in the middle of a Jamilah Nasheed rant against the right-wing policies of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a single voice called out, and again, and then there were more voices, and before long the demonstrators in the gallery had taken over the Missouri Senate.
President pro Tem Tom Dempsey called for order only to be met with more DISorder. Floor Leader Ron Richard called for the Senate to stand down until the gallery had been cleared. And for the next forty minutes or so, the demonstrators shouted, chanted, sang, prayed, and preached to the Senate, demanding passage of a Medicaid expansion bill.
There has been zero chance the Senate would do that and as Dempsey told us afterwards, the chances of it happening had regressed from “slim to none” to “slimmer to none.”
Demonstrations and rallies, in truth, are a dime a dozen, if not cheaper, at the Capitol during legislative sessions. Almost every day some group rallies in the rotunda or on the south steps before its members scatter throughout the building, names and office numbers in hand, to drop in on their Senator or their Representative to convince that person in five minutes or so to do the right thing.
Seldom do things go much beyond that. Many years ago, some gay activists shouted things during Governor Ashcroft’s State of the State speech (at least as we recall it) and a few years ago some demonstrators chained themselves to the House chamber doors.
“Days” promoted by various professions that bus in hundreds of members of the profession seem to have limited value. A lawmaker visited for a few minutes one day by a Veeblefetzer Mechanic who thinks the state should issue professional licenses to people in that trade is not likely to be as influenced as he or she would be if the mechanic and his or her cronies stayed in touch while the lawmaker was at home. Or threw a wad of money into the lawmaker’s campaign account.
But those events as well as the full-blown spectacle in the Senate this week have several purposes. One is delivery of a message. A second one is to keep the issue or the organization in the public eye. A third is to keep the constituency involved and enthusiastic.
But there are liabilities, too. And this week’s event in the Senate illuminates that side of the equation because the fundamental question is whether it did any good. Measured against the three categories in the previous paragraph, it did. But in convincing the Senate to do what demonstrators demanded, it failed. The Senate will still say “no” to Medicaid expansion this year. But after the Tuesday demonstration, it’s more likely to say, “Hell no.”
And that’s the gamble that demonstration organizers take. Organizers need to ask whether their actions, while making them and their constituency feel good, will actually antagonize those whose help they need or make those they hope will change dig in even deeper instead.
The Twitterverse during the event illustrates the point.
Representative Jeremy LaFaver called the group “people of courage willing to stand tall and make their voices heard.” Well, they certainly did that.
But Senator Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph, one of the Senators who is pledged to put up an impenetrable wall against Medicaid expansion, sent out a message accusing the demonstrators of “lawlessly stopping the proceedings of the Missouri Senate screaming and yelling.”
And Senator Ryan Silvey of Kansas City, who has tried to find a path to steer Medicaid reform and expansion through its opponents, was bitterly disappointed. “It’s incredibly frustrating, after all the work I’ve put in to solve the Medicaid problem, to be sunk by the very people I’m trying to help,” he said.
The demonstration was an hour of messages. Some were shouted. Some were tweeted. Some were implied and because they were only implied, the subtlety of that message might have been lost in the noise of the event.
Senate Minority Floor Leader Jolie Justus helped us find that message as we listened to the yelling, singing, and praying.
This demonstration was not led by political demagogues nor was it led by citizen rabble rousers. It was led by ministers. Not preachers, although there was some preaching. Ministers. People who minister to others. People whose calling is to serve and to lift up. They are people who understand the words, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” go beyond approving tax cuts despite a governor’s veto–which was happening in the Capitol while the demonstrators were rallying. .
They are more likely to see those who are poor and afflicted to whom Medicaid expansion is a matter of life.. And their training to be comforters and counselors cannot overcome their frustration with a system they believe sees policy and politics ahead of the people most in need of the spiritual hope the ministers offer. So what do these ministers have to lose by loudly challenging those they think have misplaced priorities? Silence is getting them nowhere.
And so we have something such as we had in the Senate on Tuesday.
Protestors sang as they were escorted from the gallery, “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Twenty-three were arrested.
When they were gone, debate resumed and continued well into the night. Nobody spoke during the debate of what had happened that morning. The Senate was not going to be moved either.
We call days like that “the American system of government.”

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