Two huge white garbage trucks, three dozen police officers and an empty street. This was the scene in front of the Loews Philadelphia Hotel where the GOP was holding a party retreat this week, right beside which a crowd of thousands of protesters (myself included) had gathered to demonstrate against the politicians gathering inside. The protesters held hand-written signs that ranged from amusing to heartbreaking, depicting everything from political cartoons and quotes to the crowd favorite poop emoji. A makeshift booth had been assembled at the corner of 13th and Market (the closest the protest was allowed to get to the hotel itself) where the unarmed had an opportunity to let their creativity and anger out while the constant ebb and flow of protesters shouted chants. The crowd stretched from there, past city hall and continued for several blocks.
It was an astonishing show of solidarity with catharsis to spare. As the collected masses shouted "can't build the wall, hands too small" it was impossible not to smirk at how much that would irk the current commander-in-chief. And yet, right in between the mass of democratic outcry and the people they were protesting, there were those garbage trucks. A visual metaphor for the man responsible for stoking the anger and actively working to undermine and disenfranchise so many, the amusement quickly gave way to disappointment and worse. The shouts of "dump Drumpf" weren't audible, the crowds weren't visible, not to the people who most need to see them. And that's the big question.
In an era where the size of a crowd is the subject of national speculation and blatant fabrication, it's more important than ever that our leadership be exposed to the raw reality of the democratic response to their actions and words. But the clear pattern has been that the Drumpf administration and the Republican majority will ignore, understate and in some cases outright mock the overwhelmingly negative response the political environment has created. Worse yet is when the mechanisms that prevent lawmakers from having to confront their opposition are draped in the cloak of security concerns, it provides a rhetorical veneer that aids in the larger gas-lighting operation.
It's worth noting that we've been down this path before. The Bush administration was notorious for providing an unwritten policy to minimize the impact of opposition visibility by discriminating between supporting and protesting crowds in the name of security. The Supreme Court provided a unanimous opinion in 2014 on the case of Wood vs. Moss that found, in part, that such discrimination was a violation of first-amendment assembly rights.
So while Republican legislators and their supporters were tucked safely out of sight of protesters, those of us on the ground got to enjoy the view of a dump-truck barrier. Guess either way we'd all be looking at trash.