The effectiveness of certain kinds of protest will always be up for debate. From violent altercations to boycotts, sit-ins and marches, each method has some history of success and failure that differs among participants, observers, and the object of the protestors’ scorn. So naturally, a group of activists pursuing Senator Kyrsten Sinema around the Arizona State University campus over the weekend and—controversially, somehow—briefly following Sinema into a public restroom to note that their family members were deported—is bound to prompt some pearl-clutching.
On Sunday, social justice organization Living United for Change in Arizona uploaded a video of activists asking Sinema to defend her opposition to President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, an ambitious package which promises additional covid-19 relief, an extension of the Child Tax Credit, the creation of millions of clean-energy jobs, the revitalization of the nation’s infrastructure, universal preschool, free community college, an extension of covid-19 economic relief, and more. The Biden administration intends to pay for the multi-trillion dollar bill by making wealthy Americans and corporations pay higher taxes.
Democrats at large support the bill, but two Senate Democrats, in particular, are busy holding up any significant advancements: Conservative Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sinema of Arizona.
The two have been in lockstep, opposing any modicum of progress since Biden entered office and insisting that means testing and smaller budgets suffice in solving decades-old problems and systemic inequities. But it’s Sinema’s unique brand of amused aloofness that grates in a way that Manchin’s inherent stubbornness does not.
LUCHA’s video shows a group of activists waiting outside Sinema’s classroom. When she emerges, they ask if they could talk to her briefly about the importance of the Build Back Better plan.
“Actually, I’m heading out,” she says, scurrying away from them and heading to a large bathroom with multiple stalls. A couple of members follow her inside.
“We knocked on doors for you to get you elected,” says an activist named Blanca. “And just how we got you elected, we can get you out of office if you don’t support what you promised us.”
Cue the sounds of toilets flushing.
The Build Back Better agenda also provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a point that hit close to home for Blanca. In the video, Blanca tells Sinema that she was brought to the United States as a child, and that her parents were deported in 2010. Her grandfather recently died in Mexico, but Blanca couldn’t go to her funeral due to her immigration status.
“There’s millions of undocumented people just like me who share the same story or even worse... because of SB1070 and because of anti-immigrant legislation,” Blanca said. “We need to hold you accountable to what you told us, what you promised us that you were going to pass when we knocked on doors for you. It’s not right.”
But apparently, the only thing “not right” was following Sinema into the bathroom.
Fox News, predictably, published a headline asserting that Sinema was being “stalked.” Right-wing goons Jack Posobiec responded to LUCHA’s video by tagging the FBI. NBC’s Senior Capitol Hill Correspondent Garret Haake tweeted, “If you think this will be effective in moving Sinema, ask yourself when the last time was that you took unsolicited advice from a stranger in a bathroom.” It’s clear he’s never been in a woman’s club bathroom. And even The Nation’s justice correspondent, Elie Mystal, insisted, “There is absolutely no upside to protesting people while they’re in the bathroom.”
Then there’s Sinema’s take: In a statement, she described the incident as “not a legitimate protest.”
“It is unacceptable for activist organizations to instruct their members to jeopardize themselves by engaging in unlawful activities such as gaining entry to closed university buildings...and filming students in a restroom,” Sinema said.
Given these reactions, one would think that an angry activist kicked open the bathroom door while Sinema was taking a massive dump. Instead, they just sort of stood around in a public space, politely but firmly demanding that Sinema to do the job they elected her to do. Even President Biden was seemingly unimpressed by all the whining, telling reporters during a Monday press conference that “It happens to everybody... it’s part of the process.”
He’s right. And for all the pearl-clutching, few are providing a more effective and safe alternative to what these activists did. They told Sinema, to her face—and through a door—that she was failing them and why. There was no violence, no rude language, nothing. Just a few constituents following their representative into a large bathroom to air their grievances. What should they have done instead? Call her office and direct their ire through a receptionist like surely countless Americans do each day? Write her a letter she won’t read? Vote her into office again and hope that, this time, she’ll deign them important enough to listen to?
But maybe it’s easier to act like a public bathroom is a sacred place than criticize the fact that Sinema decided to hide from her voters like a coward.
Meanwhile, publications will likely continue to busy themselves marveling at the ease in which Sinema refuses to back down from her convoluted principles. But outside of the beltway bullshit, voters who saw her as the lesser of any number of Arizona evils in the voting booth have to contend with the fact that they might as well have stayed home and let her Republican competitor win. At this juncture, it’s hard to see much of a difference.