Those of us who live in the fifth congressional district of Virginia - a large district, gerrymandered to benefit republicans - are cursed with Tom Garrett, a pompous republican blowhard, as a congressman. This is his first term in office (and last, I hope) and since being elected has been snide, dismissive, insulting, and condescending to constituents. In the face of intense pressure to host a town hall meeting, he agreed to do so, but only in a tiny auditorium on UVA grounds. There were to be 135 seats, a third of which would go to republicans, a third to democrats, and the rest to students in the public policy program at UVA. A few days before he announced the restricted access to his town hall, a crowd of 1200 people gathered at the Charlottesville High School auditorium to voice their concerns about Garrett.
|VA 05 in dark green. Gerrymandered much?|
There was a loud outcry about the unfair ticketing arrangement, so the event was expanded to accommodate 250 people, with all tickets being distributed by lottery. Also, all questions would be moderated. Garrett refuses to acknowledge that the people who have been angrily speaking out at other town halls across the country have a right to be angry and has compared his liberal Charlottesville constituents to lying schoolyard bullies. He has mocked his dissenters on twitter and has also failed to appear at scheduled meetings with constituents.
So this bullshit town hall was scheduled for Friday March 31 and the University Democrats at UVA organized a rally to occur in the outdoor amphitheater, directly in front of the building where Garrett would speak. It poured rain most of the day Friday and was still raining when I got to the rally, where a crowd was shouting, "White Supremacy has got to go!"
I joined the crowd and it took me a minute to realize that a counter demonstration was also occurring. The Trump-supporting counter protesters tried to drown out our shouts with racist sayings of their own. They called us "liberal whiners" and were altogether hateful. For example, we chanted that immigrants are welcome here, and they started yelling for immigrants to go home. At one point, one of the Trumpers yelled at us through a megaphone, saying that white babies were going to become extinct because of homosexuality, abortion, and mixing of races. (I don't remember the exact words because there was a lot of shouting back and forth. He concluded lamely by saying, "well anyway all your babies will be aborted." There was also a man waving a large Trump flag and when he walked past me, I heard him quietly saying, "white supremacy, white supremacy." So these are the people who showed up to support Tom Garrett, while in the hall, he fatuously remarked that discrimination had no place in "Mr. Jefferson's University."
There was heavy police presence, with state and UVA police stationed everywhere, including sniper-style in every window of the building where Garrett was speaking. I don't think any arrests were made. There was a lot of shouting, but no violence.
I climbed onto a wide concrete balustrade to get a better view. An older man standing next to me was laughing as if the protest delighted him. I wasn't quite sure what to make of him, and then he turned to me and said, "I think the far right are all assholes and I think the far left are all assholes too." I murmured noncommittally and wished I had never climbed onto the balustrade. The man gestured at a row of students with an anti-Trump banner. "I bet none of them even voted," he said. This got my hackles up a bit, and I remarked that three of my children were young adults of voting age and all had voted in the election. "Well that's down to parenting," he said and then went on a rant about black young people, who he said didn't make enough effort to succeed, who were getting the same education as everyone else, and whose parents didn't raise them right.
I don't like confrontation, but I also couldn't nod politely at this speech. I pointed out that schools could hardly be considered equal across districts and he countered that people just needed to live where the schools were good. I mentioned housing discrimination and high cost of real estate. He agreed that things were "hard" for some people and then, as if to settle the matter, told me about how his kids had gone to public school in McLean, Virginia and how it was the second best school in the country and better even than private schools.
McLean, Virginia is an affluent town in northern Virginia and its population is nearly 80% white. YOU CAN'T USE YOUR EXPERIENCE IN A WHITE AFFLUENT PUBLIC SCHOOL AS A YARDSTICK BY WHICH TO MEASURE EVERYONE ELSE'S SUCCESS. Below is one of the brief videos I took. The inane chuckle and the yelling about voting at the very end are the contribution of my new friend from McLean.
Now I was disgusted with this man, so I hopped down and went to where the speeches were being given. Our friend Leslie Blackhall, a palliative care physician at UVA, was one of the speakers and she SLAYED. Her speech was focused on healthcare. When all of your patients are dying of cancer or heart failure, the cruelty of yanking health coverage from people is especially obvious. Dr. Blackhall was one of the group that had a scheduled meeting with Tom Garrett, for which he did not show up. When she finished speaking, amid the cheers, I heard the people behind me yelling, "Run for office!"
Now the event was winding down and it was raining again, so I walked two miles back to my car, which I'd left near my office since I figured there would be no closer parking. I am really glad that I attended this event and that so many others did as well, despite the rain. Later, I saw footage of the town hall meeting itself and the shouts of the protesters could be heard inside, which is what I was hoping would happen. Among us protester, I recognized parents of my children's classmates, UVA faculty and physicians, and the owner of a local coffee shop. I heard that the pro-Trumpers were an alt-right group who had been bussed here. So much for the Right's claim that anti-Trump protesters are paid and bussed in from afar.