This weekend protestors confronted Senator Kyrsten Sinema, following her into the bathroom at Arizona State University, and letting her know they oppose her failure to support the reconciliation bill. The protestors made it clear they are her constituents and members of an Arizona activist group and simply wanted a meeting with their Senator, someone they directly helped get elected through their work on the ground.
Sinema later released a statement decrying the protest, calling the events “not legitimate protest” and declaring the protestors entering the building an “unlawful activity.” However, the fact is, that this sort of public confrontation is perfectly acceptable, in fact we need a lot more of it. And to the extent it’s unlawful, that’s the result of creating public spaces (particularly at universities) designed to make protest and demonstration anemic and ineffective. Free speech zones and the corralling of where protest is acceptable simply serves to protect people like Sinema.
The fact is, people like Sinema don’t need protection, people need more opportunities to harass them whenever possible. It needs to be stated, Sinema is directly responsible for a great deal of structural violence. Her failure to support the reconciliation bill and all the social investment it represents, all in order to avoid raising taxes on the wealthiest people and corporations in this country, cannot be decoupled from the real life material aid people so desperately need that is denied them.
It goes beyond the simple fact that Sinema’s wishes of means testing and no new taxes will directly cause millions of people to be left out of childcare, family benefits, and other programs. That alone is obviously enough to justify all sorts of protest, up to and including the bathroom intrusion. In fact, it not only justifies the protest, it makes it a political necessity. Especially considering Sinema has very deliberately opted to ignore her constituents, leaving her offices empty, appointments unfilled, and her calendar devoid of public appearances or town halls. Sinema has given constituents one option, and that is to find her and shame her in public.
The discomfort of being followed into the bathroom and yelled at by your constituents pales in comparison to the homelessness, hunger, and general depravity of the American status quo, which Sinema works tirelessly to maintain. And there needs to be some public accounting of who and how that status quo is maintained, which is exactly what happened when people confronted Sinema directly.
The hesitance and hand wringing this incident has inspired is a direct consequence of people failing to tie the perpetrators of structural violence to the consequences of their actions. It also puts a false notion of civility over real people’s lives. Sinema’s positions are violent. They directly lead people to worse life outcomes and a more difficult life. They directly lead to people’s deaths. And it’s important not to lose sight of that fact, people in power whether intentionally or just through inaction, are the perpetrators of structural violence. There is no need to be civil with people who have blood on their hands.