The few dozen people who met up outside Congressman Darrell Issa’s office on December 20, 2016, were, like millions of Americans, still processing the shock of a Republican victory in the presidential election.
They knew something had to be done, and Issa’s close call in the congressional election gave them hope and, most importantly, a tangible target to protest. His smirking and sneering leadership in Republican efforts to devalue the basic concepts of truth and fairness for partisan gain, his early embrace of a candidate who encouraged the worst in the American zeitgeist, and his confrontational style, all made him a logical choice.
One year later, Issa’s Vista office is the location of largest, most sustained weekly congressional protests in the nation. A core volunteer group of thirty oversees an average weekly attendance of close to 400 people. They show up at 10am and disperse one hour later. Every week. That’s what I call dedication.
Here’s a short time-lapse video of a typical event outside Issa’s office
This core group meets regularly, selecting a weekly theme and providing relevant props and follow up information, like policy postcards to be mailed to the congressman. Every attendee is signed in, providing a reliable method for head counts and a means for continuing communication.
A big part of the group’s success has been its willingness to be creative. Props, a musical playlist, parody songs, and signs keep the demonstrations fresh and exciting. Each week’s event includes a symbolic, leave-behind gift to Issa’s staff.
“We couldn’t do this, week in and week out, if the people of District 49 weren’t so determined to persevere,” said Ellen Montanari of Solana Beach, first-time protestor on 12/20/16 and lead organizer of the rallies. “Our coalition of groups, and hundreds of individuals, return again and again because these rallies fill them with joy and hope that democracy still works in America. We have become a family of happy warriors and will continue to protest until Darrell Issa is replaced with someone who truly represents the people.”
There have been challenges along the way. Behind the scenes maneuvering by the congressman and his supporters have led to permit conflicts and unfortunate actions by public officials.
The American Civil liberties Union came to the aid of organizer Ellen Montanari after Vista officials attempted to add permitting conditions restricting the activities of the weekly demonstrations, including holding her financially responsible for law enforcement costs. Those restrictions didn’t come to pass.
The appearance of an inflatable chicken with Trumpian coif, donated to the effort by the Hub Project’s #NotOnePenny campaign, reportedly led to a phone call from an irate Issa to San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore. A rash of traffic enforcement tickets followed shortly thereafter, aimed at vehicles being driven or parked by protestors.
Here’s a snip from my coverage of that day:
In keeping with their weekly theme, protest organizers obtained a 20-foot tall inflatable chicken, complete with Trump hair styling, and arranged for a plane to fly overhead towing a banner “Not One Penny in Tax Cuts for Issa and the 1%.”
The San Diego Sheriff’s Lieutenant at the scene was upset about the arrival of the chicken, which was tethered on the sidewalk, telling protest organizer Ellen Montanari “code enforcement” would be called as the inflatable fowl represented a public “hazard.” She indicated a willingness to speak with those officials but didn’t offer to remove the chicken.
Shortly thereafter, the street was blocked, by Sheriff’s Deputies doubled parked as they inspected parked vehicles along the road–many of which did belong to demonstrators–looking for excuses to write tickets. And citations were written… …for missing front license plates, wheels not turned enough to the curb to meet the deputies’ liking, and even to a passing motorist who –gasp!– honked her horn in solidarity with the demonstration.
Recipients of these tickets proudly displayed them to photographers, leading to additional publicity for the weekly protests. Each and every one of the violators appealed the summonses.
Supporters of President Trump organized counterprotests, but the numbers on their side remained small. Would-be confrontations were nipped in the bud by volunteer monitors, legal observers, and videographers. A friendly rivalry replaced what could have been a publicity nightmare.
Despite conspiratorial claims by Issa and his supporters, the expenses of running these rallies have been covered by in-kind donations along with pass-the-hat style fundraising for traffic cones, newspaper ads, and other rally-related costs. Participants are encouraged to bring items to donate to charities, such as canned food for refugees and diapers for homeless families.
The Tax March’s #NotOnePenny campaign also donated signs and Tshirts, and underwrote partial costs for mobile billboards and airplane banner messages.
Political party functionaries, campaign staff, and candidates regularly participate in the weekly protests, but are not given a platform to speak to the crowd.
Flip the 49th PAC, which has been on the receiving end of publicity recently because of financial support by various celebrities, is a separate organization formed in May focused on separate voter canvassing and GOTV efforts. And yes, as Issa’s spokespeople are quick to point out, there is overlap between the groups in terms of participants. My guess is the Congressman was shocked to discover protesters could walk and chew gum at the same time.
“No other weekly resistance effort in the country has shown more passion, resilience and impact than the anti-Issa rallies,” said Kathy Stadler, organizer of San Diego County Indivisible. “The greatest challenge faced by organizers across the U.S. is resistance fatigue. Indivisible 49 and its all-volunteer team, led by Ellen Montanari and Misty and Tim O’Healy, excel at sustaining engagement and enthusiasm. The ‘secret sauce’ in Vista is that participants integrate solemn purpose with creativity and fun, and share a close community – whether chanting together with a record 880 protesters, or hosting a ‘die-in’ and dressing as zombies to save ACA. Issa helps sustain motivation by continuing to vote against his constituents’ interests and by disdaining them, most famously by viewing voters from the roof. Indivisible 49, and its coalition of allies, force Issa to hear their voices, and promise to force him out of office in 2018.”
(The quotes used in this article were included in a press release from Indivisible.)
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