Thursday, March 23, 2006

If You Work in Government, Then Dealing with the Inconvenience of Democratic Protests Is Part of the Job

Chris Wage has a very fine response to the ADAPT wheel chair protest at Capitol Hill and the Bredesen administration's rather disingenuous attempts to discredit the protest by referring to it as a "national group of professional organizers."

I've already said my piece about using sectionalist sentiment--in this case with the label "national group"--to question the legitimacy of protestors. I think it is both irrelevant and prejudiced. However, the Tennessee official responsible for the above reference, TDOT Commissioner Gerald Nicely, is obviously intending "professional organizers" as an implied smear, too.

But I don't understand where the smear is. Chris took issue with the claim that they were professionals. My response to Nicely would be, "So, what?" So, what if they might be professional organizers who protest at the state house for the rights of their interest group? Is Mr. Nicely implying that if organizers get paid to organize, then their actions are illegitimate? And could we not imply the same of hiring leaders for TDOT? If members of ADAPT desire to use organization funds to pay a smaller group of leaders to represent them (just like Tennesseans choose to pay bureaucrats to run offices like TDOT), where is the harm in that?

I have no doubt that members of the Bredesen administration meet regularly with lobbyists who are hired guns for corporations and manufacturing groups. Are mercenary lobbyists for big business better than generally low-paid (the annual salaries that I see advertised for organizers are in the high $20's) professional organizers? Nope; they're worse. ADAPT may be in your face, but corporate lobbyists are behind your back. Does Commissioner Nicely paint those high-paid lobbyists ugly with the same brush he tars ADAPT? I doubt it. Lobbyists are monied interests; all ADAPT has is protest and civil disobedience.

If Mr. Nicely thinks that salaries that probably average on the low end of the scale are enough compensation to make people sit in the cold rain, face derision from some state workers who just want to go home after a long day, become the subject of Bredesen's scorn in the mainstream media, and eventually be dragged off in cuffs quite possibly to jail, then he has been spending too much time in smoke-filled rooms with the lobbyists who are infinitely worse than a small band of annoying protestors who shut down traffic on a couple of streets. Like them or not, those people have some sense of conviction that is their compensation for what they are doing; and even if we disagree with them they deserve our respect. And they deserve more honest treatment from this administration.

And government employees, among whom I would include Gerald Nicely and Phil Bredesen, better get used to social protests when government services to common people get cut, while well-mannered lobbyists win special consideration for their clients behind the scenes. You folks are just going to have to deal with it or move on to something else. To paraphrase the insightful thoughts of one no less inconvenienced government worker to a TV reporter: it's the democratic way. She understands her line of work. But those who want to work free of protestors (professional or not) ought to find a more tame career in the private sector.

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