Our local media outlets may wish to pretend they don't exist, that concerns about Russian hacking of elections, President Donald Trump's tax returns and the lack of a single-payer health care system are really shared by a preponderance of grass-roots voters and not just a well-organized activist group. But their members dominated last night's town-hall meeting in Redding hosted by Rep. Doug LaMalfa.
They are the Mount Shasta-based Indivisible Shasta, the north state chapter of the well-funded national left-wing network of experienced demonstrators that has held protests and disrupted town-hall meetings and other gatherings across the country.
One of their organizers, retired marketing specialist Jeanne Steele of Dunsmuir, was handing out signs and talking points to hundreds of people standing in line before the meeting at Sequoia Middle School.
"I've been here since 3:30 talking to people in line," Steele said. The doors opened at 5, and the meeting started at 5:30.
"This is a resistant group of resisters," she said.
The time in line gave many a chance to show larger signs that wouldn't be allowed in the auditorium, and they were ubiquitous. Retired teacher Judy Champagne of Redding held a sign pleading with the federal government not to deport the parents of "DREAMers."
"I have empathy for these families," Champagne said, noting that she is also a mother.
Nearby, retired U.S. Forest Service employee Nancy Van Susteren of Mount Shasta (who is married to the cousin of Greta) held a sign indicating that she was not paid to be there -- a reference to reports that some protesters at Trump rallies were paid $12 an hour.
Group organizers at the Redding event said they were working out of a guide provided by Indivisible, which has some 250 field offices nationwide. The group claims the guide is written by former congressional staffers on how to make members of Congress listen. If you look at their list of actions at town-hall meetings, virtually everything was checked off last night.
Again, from CNS News:
[W]hat's happening at so many congressional town halls is clearly laid out in Chapter 4, which advises Trump opponents to:With Erin Ryan there, speakers didn't have such an easy time not giving up the mic. But I digress ...
-- Get there early: "Meet outside or in the parking lot for a quick huddle before the event. Distribute the handout of questions, and encourage members to ask the questions on the sheet or something similar."
-- Get seated and spread out: "Head into the venue a bit early to grab seats at the front half of the room, but do not all sit together. Sit by yourself or in groups of two, and spread out throughout the room. This will help reinforce the impression of broad consensus."
-- Demand real answers: Lawmakers are "very good at deflecting or dodging questions," the guide says. "If they aren't giving you real answers, then call them out for it. Other group members around the room should amplify by either booing the MoC (Member of Congress) or applauding you."
-- Don’t give up the mic until you’re satisfied with the answer.
-- Keep the pressure on. "After one member of the group finishes, everyone should raise their hands again. The next member of the group to be called on should move down the list of questions and ask the next one."All of these things happened to varying degrees last night.
-- Support the group and reinforce the message. "After one member of your group asks a question, everyone should applaud to show that the feeling is shared throughout the audience."
-- Record everything! "Assign someone in the group to use their smart phone or video camera to record other advocates asking questions and the MoC’s response. While written transcripts are nice, unfavorable exchanges caught on video can be devastating for MoCs. These clips can be shared through social media and picked up by local and national media."
-- Reach out to media, during and after the town hall. "If there’s media at the town hall, the people who asked questions should approach them afterward and offer to speak about their concerns. When the event is over, you should engage local reporters on Twitter or by email and offer to provide an in-person account of what happened, as well as the video footage you collected."
-- "Ensure that the members of your group who are directly affected by specific threats are the ones whose voices are elevated when you reach out to media."
I asked some of the organizers to opine on comparisons between their group and the tea party, which gave members of Congress (including LaMalfa) what-for during the Obama administration.
"The techniques that the tea party used were successful," Steele said. "We are using similar techniques, but we are more inclusive and nonpartisan."
Van Susteren added that Indivisible Shasta has no interest in getting involved in local efforts, such as when some tea party groups got behind the State of Jefferson movement.
"We focus only on federal legislation," she said.
Look, we (being the Capital Press) will have no problem being fair to these folks when they make coherent, well-articulated points about issues important to agriculture. For instance, I included Van Susteren's concerns about a proposed budget cut to the USDA in my news article today on the LaMalfa gathering.
But for local media to cover a meeting and not mention the group that dominated the meeting is an oversight at best. Their organizing efforts before the meeting couldn't be missed as you were entering the theater, and you got a sense for just how numerous they were when they all shouted "Indivisible!" during the Pledge of Allegiance.
People tend to complain about their members of Congress for myriad reasons, often deservedly so. But to not report the activist component at these town-hall gatherings leaves at least the impression that the constituency at large is angry, nearly to the point of revolution. And that's just not accurate.