Saturday, February 11, 2017 || By Michael Romain || OPINION || @maywoodnews
My name is Michael Romain and I am the journalist who was summarily told to leave a gathering of the Oak Park-River Forest Republican Organization, held at Good Earth Greenhouse in River Forest on Feb. 10.
I had RSVP’d hours prior to the event and was allowed entry when I showed up, roughly 30 minutes before you arrived, so I was at least able to glimpse some of the people you might consider your base.
They were all white and mostly middle-aged and older. I was ostensibly out of place — one of two African Americans in attendance, from what I could tell. The photographer who accompanied me, a Hispanic whose parents migrated from Mexico to the US seeking a better life — who would be considered a threat by the leader of your party — rounded out this minority.
But over the years, I have taught myself to recognize human beings when I see them. So, while I noticed this apparent racial incongruity and even felt some of the quizzical stares my presence attracted, I did not feel unwelcome. I spent a good part of my childhood and adult years in River Forest. I’ve fallen in love with this place. I was home and these people, for all intents and purposes, are my neighbors.
And they treated me splendidly. One of the first people to greet me at the door, as the event’s organizers checked for my name on the guest list, was the president of the local elementary school board — a man I respect and admire.
Before I even knew his political affiliation — and, quite honestly, I won’t simply presume to know that much now just because I saw him at a Republican event — I knew his love for Oak Park and his passion for education. We’ve met many times for coffee. And at Good Earth, I had the pleasure of meeting his beautiful wife, who flattered me when she said she actually reads what I write (for better or worse).
I was introduced to the only Republican on the Cook County Board of Review Commissioners, a man who has the utmost respect for you, Peter, and who told me so. I did not doubt his sincerity. And I did not doubt his decency. He invited me to some of his tax appeal seminars he hosts and, despite his proud fiscal conservatism, a philosophy that presents all kinds of problems for me, I may likely attend one or two.
After getting kicked out, I encountered a Republican radiologist who I’d interviewed over the phone when he ran for Congress last year in the heavily Democratic district where I live. He lost, but I wish he’d have fared a bit better because I agreed with the central theme of his campaign: congressional races need more two-party competition and would-be congresspeople should be forced to confront, and compromise with, a range of opinions, life experiences and political philosophies. That too many aren’t forced to do so has produced the likes of you, Peter, who apparently run away from forging consensus when push comes to shove.
Despite being mostly white, middle- to upper-class and Republican, the humanity inside of Good Earth was textured, diverse, complicated and authentic. It merited your attention, regardless of my suspensions that it was more than their innate humanity that brought you here to this affair.
But the humanity outside of the room merited your attention, too; perhaps even more so, since these people may be most affected by your decisions. These people holding signs and chanting outside of Good Earth are also decent and complicated and authentic human beings.
They are not, as you may be wont to think, paid agitators. They are doctors, retirees, stay-at-home moms. They are Democrats, but they are also Republicans. Some of them are more organized than others. Some live in your district. They are not astroturf dissenters.
They are people whose metaphorical lawns, their sense of ownership and agency, have been trampled on by the likes of you. They are people who feel that you aren’t listening (really listening) to them and that if you are listening, you simply don’t care what they have to say or how they feel or whether they live or die.
Many of them, Peter, are angry because of the aloofness and ignorance in which people in your positions of power — on both sides of the aisle — govern. For too long, this country has been held hostage by businessmen and politicians who have no skin in the games they play with other people’s lives.
Peter, your campaigns have been enthusiastically endorsed by the Tea Party, the closest analog of the current state of national outrage sweeping the country. The Tea Party, with its embedded racism, nationalism and xenophobia, paved the way for Donald Trump. It was the kind of protest movement that you’d probably sooner run toward than away from.
The Tea Party was a movement that was started by people who were legitimately angry and outraged, but whose message was exploited by wealthy propagandists looking to ride this wave of outrage into power and, ultimately, to the goal of lower taxes and fewer obstacles to even more wealth. The little people in this movement got what in return? Email scams?
Nearly a decade ago, instead of seizing the opportunity to actually empathize and learn from their plight, Democrats largely ignored those Tea Party protesters and Republicans used and abused them. Peter, you got several more terms out of the deal. Now, when the protesters are not of your kind, you shut them out, but not so much that it hurts your image as someone who, at least in front of a reporter’s camera, supports free speech and the right to dissent.
“The way that we’re interacting with opponents today, the ability of people to come out and express their views, we celebrate that. People can come out and let their views be heard. We’re free to meet now. We’re free to gather freely and have a discussion with one another,” you said to a crowd inside of the Palatine Township Republican Organization’s offices as the dissenters (those who might prove helpful to the discussion) were locked outside.
That detachment has brought this country to the breaking point and eventually, Peter, there will be no leaving out of the back door. You and the likes of you will be forced to confront the world you have made; instead of always running away, like chastised children.
Uninformed, your staffers consider the people who have started to protest outside of your appearances agitators, as if being legitimately terrified for their lives is not enough to bring even middle-class white professionals, your kind of people Peter, to action.
You, Peter, have turned down multiple requests from legitimate and well-respected civic groups to host town halls. You have claimed that you won’t hold public meetings of more than 25 people; even though there were definitely more than 25 people inside of Good Earth and you definitely appeared to address more than 25 people in Palatine. All of this begs the question: Is the matter really the kind of people, rather than how many people, you’re willing to meet with?
If you had stopped to listen to any of those people outside of Good Earth, for instance, you’d have realized that they were are not political radicals. One woman said she even entertained voting for John McCain in 2008, that is before he selected Sarah Palin to be his running mate.
Another woman, a doctor still wearing her white robe (who, unlike you, cannot simply gerrymander and cherrypick audiences in order to avoid facing the consequences if she violates her oath and actually does harm), this doctor simply wanted to appeal to your ego. She told me that her strategy was to deliberately avoid antagonizing you. She said that you can be a “hero” if you saved the Affordable Care Act.
Peter, this is the type of person your extreme sensitivity, your ideological zealotry and your emotional fragility has driven to protest. That you perceive these people as ‘the opposition’ as opposed to the people you represent is a sign of your own radicalism, not theirs.
If you, and your fellow party members, continue to treat them as dangerous radicals, you will turn them into the radicals you now, errantly, imagine them to be. And when that reality comes, you will not be able to escape it. VFP