Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bearding the Lion

There was supposed to be a demonstration.

Over the weekend, I received an email from a national organization asking me to join a protest action at noon on Tuesday outside Congressman Bill Flores's Waco office. My new Congressman—my failed attempts to contact whom I have documented repeatedly on this blog—is one of the 87 Tea Party freshman Republicans whose unwillingness to compromise even the tiniest little bit has been driving the increasingly desperate standoff over the debt ceiling. I was so frustrated over the whole situation that this sounded positively cathartic. I said yes, and promptly received a packet of instructions and posters to print out. I figured I could even take pictures—maybe even videos—and post them here as part of my continuing documentation of my Congressman's lack of responsiveness to his liberal constituents.

On Monday I escaped with my family to Schlitterbahn, the huge water park in New Braunfels, and succeeded in not thinking much about the crisis that is threatening to bring our country to its knees. While stopping for dinner on the way home, I realized that President Obama was addressing the nation, asking Americans to contact their Congresspersons and insist that something be done. How appropriate, I thought; the demonstration tomorrow will be mobbed.

At 11:30 on Tuesday, I slogged on sunblock, got in my car and drove to 400 Austin Avenue in downtown Waco, the site of the large building that contains the Congressman's local office. I found a place to park and walked over to join the crowd. There wasn't one.

When I say there wasn't one, I don't mean there was a small crowd, or only a few demonstrators ready to chant extra loud. There was nobody there. I pulled out my phone and double-checked to make sure I had the right place. Sure enough, there was the address on the Congressman's website, along with an array of leading questions seeking his constituents' "opinions." ("Do you think President Obama will really use the money from his job-killing tax increases to pay down the debt, or will he just use it for further spending?") There was the address, and my GPS confirmed that I was in the exact spot where that address was located. I and nobody else.

I walked around the building a few times, hoping to see signs that other activists might be arriving. Every side was equally deserted. I sat down on a bench and waited. If nobody showed up by 12:20, I figured, I could probably assume the demonstration wasn't going to happen. I would drive home feeling disappointed and foolish, but at least I would have the rest of the afternoon free, and wouldn't have to spend it outside, where the temperature had already surpassed 100 degrees.

Stupid conscience. It wouldn't let me settle for that. I had driven all the way up there, and something inside me knew I was going to need to have an Amos and Amaziah moment of speaking truth to power before I left. With some trepidation, I entered the building, pushed the button for the elevator, and rode it up to the third floor.

The Congressman's office was the first door on the left. The door was large and made of glass, so it was perfectly obvious to the man and woman inside that I was looking for them and wanted to come in. No more dawdling. I opened the door and walked into the lion's den.

The woman was actually quite friendly, and wrote down everything I had to say. I, in turn, was polite, and spoke with quiet determination rather than anger. The man went off and sat on a couch and never said anything. After I'd said my piece, I shook her hand (which was still busy taking notes on what I'd said) and left. I had gotten one step closer to communicating with my Congressman.

Later that day I received a phone call from one of his field representatives, apologizing for not being there when I dropped by. We talked for a while. I offered to get together a group of local liberal Democrats for a conference to discuss our frustration with our lack of representation in Washington. I pointed out that the way that job-killing tax increases question is phrased pretty much trumpets the fact that the Congresman is only interested in hearing one kind of answer, and expressed my hope that we can break outside of that box.

The meeting won't take place for a few weeks, since I'm going on vacation soon. By the time it happens, the debt-limit nonsense might even be resolved. You can be assured, though, that I will find something to talk about, and that I will write about it here.

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