Rallies, chants and sit-ins. Taserings, arrests and forced removals.
That was Day One of the special session in Olympia, as lawmakers searched for $2 billion in budget cuts amid protesters who have converged on the state Capitol.
On Monday, teachers, health care workers and advocates for the poor and mentally ill were among the 3,000 protesters, most of whom were orderly. However, hundreds of people decided to hold more raucous rallies, which led to four stun gun incidents, four arrests and 30 trespassing warnings as the Washington State Patrol had to forcibly remove some protesters from the rotunda at the end of the day.
“This is not a protest; this is an occupation,” bellowed one demonstrator, echoing the sentiments of occupy movement folks across the country.
Well, OK. But if they really want to make an impact, they should follow the lead of veteran Capitol occupiers, such as legislative lobbyists and longtime activists. They don’t stage ostentatious rallies and then move on with their lives. Instead, they bend the ears of lawmakers year-round.
Sometimes, they win. Sometimes, they lose. But the effective ones never go away. If they can’t physically show up, there’s always phone calls, letters, emails and, of course, campaign contributions. In short, all of the communication tools that a democracy affords.
Unfurling a sign proclaiming a “citizens’ arrest” of legislators might deliver a psychic jolt to protesters, but it pales in comparison to the year-round attention lawmakers get from others. Short-term activists take up 1 percent of lawmakers’ time. The effective ones gladly fill the other 99 percent.
Want to occupy legislators and actually get something done? Be a persistent and polite advocate for your cause. Parachuting in to put on a show for the media won’t get it done because legislators know that you’ll soon retreat to your regular life. Complaining long after decisions have been made doesn’t work either.
There is no substitute for being constantly engaged if you want to influence the process. The last round of education cuts provides an excellent example.
The bulk of the money your school receives is determined during the legislative season, but most protests occurred months later. Lawmakers cut in the spring; schools bleed in the fall, and parents run to their district officials when it’s too late.
So, in a sense, it’s heartening to see such an outpouring in Olympia this week. To borrow a football cliché, it’s democracy in action at the point of attack. But if protesters want actual victories, they’ll need to eliminate the personal fouls and draw up a more thoughtful game plan.
Learn the process, find the entry points and become a constant presence in the minds of your elected representatives. Otherwise, they’ll just assume you’ve taken your ball and gone home.