Funny thing. The more time goes by since last Thursday’s inaugural protest, the more fearsome and dangerous it seems to become.
We haven’t had any single item more outrageous than Sen. Dick McCormack’s employment of that fine old epithet “fascist.” What we have had is a proliferation of exaggerated characterizations and inconsistent rationales for why the Vermont Workers’ Center went too far.
At first, the ire was mainly concentrated on a single incident, in which a lone protester entered the chamber singing and chanting over the benediction. Regrettable and stupid.
But apparently Our Elected Leaders realize that that one incident fails to justify their reaction, because they’ve been using their creative powers to devise new ways the protest crossed some invisible boundary. I suspect that by the end of the month, the protest will be described as a cross between the Chicago riots, the nude scene from “Hair,” and the supercharged zombie attacks from “World War Z.”
Anyone who’s experienced real political turmoil would have to admit that the VWC was remarkably restrained. They did not, as many media outlets have reported, “disrupt” or “interfere with” the proceedings.
I listened on the radio, and I heard very little of the protesters — and I heard no interruptions in the proceedings. If those in attendance couldn’t hear, they could have asked that the sound system be turned up.
Recently, we’ve heard that some lawmakers felt uneasy about proceeding into the House chamber through a crowd, even though police officers lined their path. (And even though there was no hint of any violent intent by the protesters.) Indignant lawmakers have stopped referring to the benediction incident in favor of overly-broad depictions of the protest as loud or disruptive, which is only true if the expectation is library-standard quiet. We’ve heard references to possible fire-code violations — in a building whose last major fire was, I believe, in 1857. (We haven’t heard a peep from the police or the Sergeant At Arms about the fire code; that’s all come from opportunistic Republicans.)
Today we had the unedifying spectacle of Republican lawmakers threatening to walk out of the Governor’s budget address on Thursday should the protesters return, on the transparently specious grounds that they fear a stampede in case of a fire. Hell, those protesters are probably better organized than the assembled dignitaries. I suspect they’d be fully capable of calmly proceeding to the nearest egress.
We’ve also heard a whole lot of blaming the protest for potential security upgrades at the Statehouse. Which is ridiculous. First, because the protesters did not pose a threat to anyone with an ounce of common sense. And second, because enhanced security has been on the table for quite a while now — and will inevitably penetrate the hallowed halls. Because that’s just the way the world is these days. To blame it on that protest is utterly disingenuous.
Most of all, we’ve heard repeated appeals to respect and dignity and civility.
What this is really about is a set of crusty old traditions about the Statehouse. Voices are generally lowered, at what might be termed a “power mumble.” (It’s hell for old radio guys like me, with moderately compromised hearing.) There’s an unspoken expectation that men shall wear button-down shirts and ties. VWC members have one strike against them from the gitgo, since they dare to wear red T-shirts while roaming the sacred halls.
Playing by the unwritten rules is important to Statehouse regulars. The longer they’ve served (McCormack, a total of 22 years), the more wedded to Statehouse mores they become. And the more they resent it when the outside world dares to intrude.
They call it the People’s House, and accuse the protesters of disrupting the People’s business. But they themselves want everyone to treat it like a cross between a museum and a mausoleum.
It’s too bad when democracy — the People’s real business — gets a little messy and intrudes on what some consider sacred space. But I don’t feel sorry for them, not at all.
And those traditions? Throw ’em out with the trash, if you ask me.