This is what Democracy Looks Like! (The Purpose of Protest)

12/20/2017 02:04 pm ET
Young people blocking the door of Senator Jeff Flake, awaiting his arrival to share their frustration regarding the coming ta
Allison Berkowitz, 12/18/17
Young people blocking the door of Senator Jeff Flake, awaiting his arrival to share their frustration regarding the coming tax bill

Donald Trump sure does have a way with timing, doesn’t he? He attacked a civil rights icon on Martin Luther King day, he hosted the NRA at the White House on the 5th anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, and today on the last night of Hanukkah he plans to sign this atrocious, immoral tax bill into law. Well, a major theme of the holiday of Hanukkah is trying to find light and power in times of darkness and feelings of powerlessness. Having spent much of this month protesting the tax bill, I feel compelled to share some of the stories of the everyday Americans I've been fighting alongside whose words did not get as much attention as those of our GOP representatives. In doing so, I hope to remind my friends and neighbors that we are not powerless, far from it. Also, that there is a time and a place for protest, and this is it.

The first story I bring you is that of Reverend Janet Edwards who was visiting the nation's capital from Pennsylvania this week. When asked why she was demonstrating against the tax bill, she said, “Micah, in the Bible, tells us that God wants us do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. For me, this bill violates every single one of those. It is absolutely not justice. We know that because it is robbing the poor to enrich the already rich. It is not kindness, because it’s cruel to people by throwing in the destruction of Obamacare as a step to the destruction of Medicaid and Medicare. And it is so clearly not walking humbly with God. Because God is absolutely clear in the Bible. He stands with the widow, and the orphan, and with those who are poor, and the oppressed. This is why Jesus was crucified, and for me, this tax bill is crucifying Jesus again. I could not stand by and watch that happen.”

Rev. Janet Edwards
Allison Berkowitz, 12/19/17
Rev. Janet Edwards

Next, I bring you the words of 83 year old Ruth Zalph, visiting the District of Columbia from North Carolina. I spoke with Ruth after she was released from jail on Monday, 12/05/17. She had been arrested during non-violent civil disobedience (or “CD” moving forward) to draw attention to the tax bill. When asked what she was doing there, she shared, “We did not get Medicaid expansion. And a friend of mine‘s son died because he didn’t have it! What we need is cradle-to-grave, Medicare-For-All. We are an industrialized country and most industrialized countries have good healthcare, they pay less, and the quality of their health is better. So, the insurance companies are making a killing and the American people are not. In our economy this should not be the case!” Below is a photo of Ruth in Washington DC on Monday, 12/18/17, raising her hand in response to the question, "Who plans on getting arrested in non-violent CD today?"

Those raising their hands were answering affirmatively to being ready to participate in non-violent civil disobedience that d
Allison Berkowitz, 12/18/17
Those raising their hands were answering affirmatively to being ready to participate in non-violent civil disobedience that day to draw attention to the bill

Going back to this blog’s title, let’s talk about the purpose of protest and CD. Many people have contention with it and ask why people would do such a thing. Why would someone choose to get arrested? Why not try other means? The answer to that is we've done it already! We have called our Senators and Representatives until we've been blue in the face. We've written them e-mails and postcards and arranged formal visits (or in the case of my Representative, Andy Harris, in spite of my numerous calls and e-mails, I have been unable to even get a formal response as to whether or not he could be available to meet with me.) As one could imagine, after trying so hard to do it “the right way,” many people believe coming here, demonstrating this way, and getting arrested is the last tool in their toolbox to express the dire nature of the situation to their sisters and brothers across the country.

And make no mistake, this is not fun. It is hard work and inconvenient. During a gathering on Monday morning, Mari Cordes in town from Vermont, said that she makes sure to let her nursing board know ahead of time when she plans to participate in "CD" so it won't interfere with her licensing. When asked whether or not helping professionals should be protesting this way, she said, "I think this is one of the most healing things a nursing practitioner can do.” I am sure there are many other ways Ms. Cordes would have preferred to use her time. She's a mother, grandmother, and full time Nurse back in Vermont. But she felt compelled to be here.

Mari Cordes with her granddaughter
Mari Cordes with her granddaughter

Speaking of a worthy use of time. On Tuesday morning as we prepared for another day of protesting the bill, Ben Jealous - former NAACP President and current Maryland Gubernatorial candidate - and Ady Barkan - a Director at the Center for Popular Democracy - joined our group to help energize us for the long day ahead. As you may have seen in the news, Ady is actively dying from ALS, and felt this tax bill was detrimental enough to our country that he wanted to spend some of his precious remaining days on earth, here in Washington, DC. This week he has spent most waking moments speaking with Congressmen and Congresswomen, getting arrested, and drawing attention to this shameful bill. In the photo below he is kissing his son after having shared the following. "My body's disintegrating, but being in this fight allows me to transcend my body and become part of something bigger. Which means that regardless of what happens to me, I get to keep on fighting with you, for many years and decades to come."

Ady Barkan, with his son
Allison Berkowitz, 12/18/17
Ady Barkan, with his son

Then there is Lisa Beaudoin, the mother of a child with serious developmental disabilities whose family relies on our country's entitlement programs - like Medicaid - for their livelihood. She put her physical safety in jeopardy on Tuesday afternoon. While standing on the Capitol steps pleading with Representatives to vote no, she encountered a Fox newscaster and cameraman. When she interrupted a live broadcast to share how many Americans will be harmed, she was physically assaulted by the cameraman as he tried to get her out of the view of the camera (and was promptly arrested afterward.) When asked why she chose to do such a bold act, she stated, "I can not allow the 16 million Americans who are voiceless, who have developmental disabilities and can not come here to tell the Congressmen themselves, that this tax bill is going to irrevocably harm them by death by a 1000 cuts to Medicaid and Medicare... Embedded in the tax bill are these horrendous cuts... This tax bill is going to lead to invisible deaths to people with disabilities, and the sick, seniors, and other vulnerable people in this country." 

Lisa Beaudoin, a few feet from the Capitol
Allison Berkowitz, 12/19/17
Lisa Beaudoin, a few feet from the Capitol

The last person's message I'll leave you with is Linda Sarsour - one of the organizers of the Women's March - who participated in a "Die-in" in the US Senate on Monday night. Shortly before it began, she shared, “As a Muslim-American I come from a community where I feel I don’t belong... I come here because I have so much solidarity among you... Many people in this country aren't ready for us - don't want us to be as unapologetic as we are. They want us to cower to those in power and we say no! We say, 'This is our country!' I’m willing to take all the attacks I get. I will not cower to those who tell me who to be, and how to be, and how to show up! To those people, I say, they are in store for something they have never experienced before in 2018. There's a tactic that people in our opposition have used historically: divide and conquer. Do not allow them to divide us! Stay strong, stay together, keep fighting - every day - because we deserve it!" 

Linda Sarsour, moments before the “Die-In” demonstration in the US Senate on Monday night, 12/18/17
Allison Berkowitz, 12/18/17
Linda Sarsour, moments before the “Die-In” demonstration in the US Senate on Monday night, 12/18/17

We may have lost this tax reform battle - not due to lack of effort but as a result of those elected in 2016 - but we have a choice to make. We can throw in the towel and continue to let our representatives tear our nation apart and throw its working and middle classes under the bus. Or we can stand up, work together, and repair as much of the damage as possible next year by taking our government back! I know many of you reading this are probably thoughtful individuals who haven’t thought of running - or maybe even following - a political campaign for public office. Well guess what? If Donald Trump can be President, you can do and be ANYTHING!

Protesters marching to the Capitol on Monday, 12/18/17
Protesters marching to the Capitol on Monday, 12/18/17

If you're feeling any of the sadness, fury, or anything in between which myself and so many others are feeling today, I say to you: put it to good use! Take that energy and use it to help flip Congress in the midterm elections next year! Let's send out a blue wave - of energized, everyday Americans to our state capitals and our nation's capital - so powerful that it shakes the earth beneath the feet of the people who are responsible for this abomination of a tax bill (and ones with the same spirit at the state level.) Today, just as I said on November 9th, 2016, I invite you to cry, and scream, and grieve, for as long as you need to. Then get up, and let's get to work!

The “Die-In” demonstration mentioned above which took place in the US Senate on Monday night, 12/18/17
Allison Berkowitz
The “Die-In” demonstration mentioned above which took place in the US Senate on Monday night, 12/18/17
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