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Wednesday, December 12, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Shawn Vestal: Hollering at McMorris Rodgers is rude and counterproductive

FILE - Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers speaks at the MLK Day march, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, at the Spokane Convention Center. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers speaks at the MLK Day march, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, at the Spokane Convention Center. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Here’s a revolutionary idea for the next time Cathy McMorris Rodgers takes the stage in Spokane: Let her speak.

I get it, hollerers – you find her infuriating. You consider her so egregiously bad, and find her support for this clownish and dangerous administration so disconcerting, that the social niceties no longer apply.

But hollering at Cathy McMorris Rodgers while she speaks – or demanding that she not speak at all – isn’t going to change anything. It isn’t “action.” If you see your cause as unseating her, it does you no favors with the less, uh, passionate folks you will need to attract to accomplish your goal.

Still, strategy isn’t the main reason not to holler. Courtesy is.

Perhaps you see hollering and booing as arising from the tradition of civil disobedience, of protest, of resistance. Perhaps you see it as effecting change. If that were true, things would have already been very, very changed – by all of the previous hollering at Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

For the past couple of years at the Martin Luther King Day Jr. celebration in Spokane, opponents of the congresswoman have raised their voices during her speech, and organizers – who, after all, invited her to speak – have scolded them afterward.

This year, Freda Gandy, the head of the MLK Family Outreach Center, said after the hollering, “OK, Spokane, it’s clear you’re still feeling a certain type of way. You know, your single most nonviolent right you have is your right to vote. I need you to execute that right, ’cause yelling and screaming at another human being on this stage will never bring about change.”

Then, when the congresswoman was invited to speak before last weekend’s Women’s March, a lot of Spokane liberals flipped their lids. March organizers later decided they wouldn’t air a video of McMorris Rodgers’ remarks, because they were only allowing in-person speeches.

There followed a massive gust of relief from people overjoyed they would not be forced to listen, for even one second, to a voice with which they did not loudly concur.

I sometimes wonder if Democratic hopes in the 5th House District have been so traduced by years of losing that some people don’t realize that shouting at Cathy McMorris Rodgers is what you do only when you can’t do anything else to Cathy McMorris Rodgers. When you can’t beat her in an election, say. When you can’t persuade her to vote your way on Obamacare or tax cuts.

It’s a gasp of powerlessness – an act not of people primed to win, but people so accustomed to losing that they no longer even try to win.

They holler.

In a year when Democratic chances in the House are as robust as they’ve been in recent memory, this distinction – between being in the conversation and standing on the outside of it, hollering – might be worth remembering.

I share some of the frustrations of the hollerers. I think that McMorris Rodgers and her team have devoted themselves to worsening health care, handing out massive tax cuts to the rich, playing politics with children’s health, and acting as a nice tight political girdle for a crude, bigoted, ill-informed president.

There are many, many ways in which citizens can make themselves heard on these matters. Some of them absolutely involve hollering, shouting, chanting, marching – good old disruptive citizenship. But why shout at her at an event where she has been invited to speak? Are minds changed? Votes won?

These responses have taken on a distinctly illiberal flavor. A speech-police flavor. There is a tightening circle of intolerance for disagreement on the left that has arisen alongside the passionate response to Trumpism; it sometimes overshoots resistance and becomes a near-complete inability to tolerate the notion that any other view is acceptable in the public square.

I’ve talked to people who regard hollering at McMorris Rodgers as a crucial form of activism. As speaking truth to power. These people ask: What else can they do, given that she represents policies and values they find so damaging? How else can they be heard?

I’ve also talked to people who see shouting at McMorris Rodgers as a grievous outrage. A tragic offense against civility.

It’s neither. It’s petty boorishness. If it’s a form of activism, it’s the lowest form – the least effective, the least useful, the least liable to accomplish anything concrete and the most likely to repel others. It’s Tea Party redux, the politics of the gut.

Compared to the power and impact of thousands of people taking to the streets, carrying signs and raising their voices, deploying their constitutional authority as citizens in support of their values, it’s puny and pointless.

And yet, on the flip side, if it’s an offense against civility in politics, it’s a Class-Z misdemeanor by the standards of the age, and one that someone on Team Trump should be prepared to face. McMorris Rodgers can handle it.

Still, next time, why not just let her speak? Look at your phone. Hold up your sign. Count sheep. Think about how very wrong she is, and how many other ways you might express that thought.

I promise: It won’t hurt at all.

 

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