Working at the Oregon State Capitol, protests become a regular part of life. This is especially true during legislative sessions. Every group you could imagine has its own lobby day and busses people from all over the state for some sort of rally or protest.
I always try to make it a point to go check them out, if I can. If people care enough about something to take time out of their day to come to the capitol to be heard, I figure the least I can do is try to listen.
That’s just how it is when you work at the most public building in the state. But such a high level of accessibility has its upsides and downsides.
Sometimes it can be amusing.
The first legislative session I worked was in 2005. An Alaska resident went and bought a bunch of cheap beer to advocate for a higher beer tax in Oregon. His entire argument was that our tax is so low that it encourages underage drinking.
This man was kicked out of the capitol by the Oregon State Police after it was discovered that he was handing that beer out at legislative offices—some of which were staffed by underage interns. I was among those that he handed half-racks of beer to as a TV news crew followed, but was 24 and over the legal drinking age. Of course, there’s no small degree of irony in a guy saying that beer is too easy for minors to obtain getting in trouble for handing it directly to them.
Sometimes it can be scary.
During the February 2016 session, a bill was being passed to honor former Senate President Brady Adams (R-Grants Pass). I had gotten to know him during my days as news director of the Grants Pass Broadcasting Corporation and thought the world of him. He was a pillar of that community until his passing last year.
Because I had such respect and admiration for him, I wanted to be on the Senate floor when he was honored. Adams was praised for his character and good deeds by Senators from both parties.
All of this was rudely and inappropriately interrupted by a group of protesters who stood in the gallery unfurling banners and shouting slogans. Another group did the same in the House while a third was causing a similar disruption outside of the governor’s office.
It didn’t take long to realize that we were sitting ducks down there in the Senate floor. They could have easily hurled projectiles at us, or much, much worse. And this went on for what seemed like an eternity. Going back and reviewing the video footage, I could see myself in the bottom of the screen, visibly agitated and wondering why this was being allowed to continue.
No arrests ever resulted from that disrespectful disturbance.
Maybe that’s why an anonymous e-mailer felt empowered enough to send a message to Senate Republicans weeks later threatening mob action at their homes. It appears to be the same kind of mob action being done in Portland in the aftermath of the 2016 election.
More recently, Second Amendment activists staged an open carry protest on the capitol’s front steps. The sight of men armed with guns scares some people who work there or know people that do and makes them feel nervous and unsafe. Many people who support the ability to protect your family in your own home draw the line somewhere between there and having guys display their firearms at the state capitol building.
The OSP were there, as always, and thank God for that. Their large presence that day may have seemed a little excessive. At one point, it almost looked like there were as many police officers as protesters. There was a whole line of them beyond the revolving front doors, and another cluster visible from there, up above and in front of the governor’s office.
I went outside to see what the fuss was about, and there was an effigy of Governor Kate Brown. It was obvious what was going to happen next so I went back to my office. The overwhelming OSP presence made much more sense.
That particular act, which is an implied threat of violence, seemed to accomplish little but make Brown more of a hero and martyr to her supporters. Anyone would be hard-pressed to say that it drew more people to the cause.
It reminds me of a book that everyone in politics should read, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. This would be the polar opposite, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. If nothing else, it’s a great example of what not to do.
My thirties have taught me virtues that I lacked in my twenties. Among them are humility, temperance and tact. The key to tact is simple—Don’t be a jerk. There’s not much else to it.
Sometimes the protests happen elsewhere.
A protest in rural Burns over the imprisonment of some ranchers turned into a prolonged siege at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. That all ended over a month later with many arrests and one occupant shot by police.
After spending most of the year in jail, the occupiers, who started as protesters, were found not guilty on all charges.
And just to think—many people commented on online news stories about the standoff that the government should just use predator drones to kill them all on site without due process.
I was at a dinner event the night the verdict was read. The keynote speaker was the U.S. Attorney, whose office had handled the case. Both his work and private cell phones rang off the hook as he spoke, interfering with the PA system. It’s easy to imagine that some of those calls may have been from people wondering what had happened on what could have been one of the worst days of his life.
The people in Portland protesting the election of Republican Donald Trump by damaging other peoples’ property need to remember the Golden Rules of Tact:
Don’t be a jerk.
Don’t jam up roads and public transit so people can’t get home or to work.
Don’t destroy things that aren’t yours.
What makes it worse is that this is happening on a holiday to honor those who fought for Americans’ rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. Once again, tact is important.
History shows that there can be consequences for these kinds of things. I wasn’t around for the 1960s, but I could just imagine all those anti-war protesters being aghast when Richard Nixon was re-elected in a landslide in 1972.
Nixon did it by being the Law and Order candidate. As protests went from peaceful to violent, Middle America did not like what it saw and demanded a return to Law and Order.
These kinds of protests are probably not the kind of thing Barack Obama wanted as part of his administration’s legacy. But if the public wants more Law and Order and a Trump administration can deliver it, these protesters may end up with eight years of their worst nightmare. And no amount of protesting will be able to stop it from happening and may very well guarantee it.