Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The account of a citizen at the front lines of the immigration (non) debate

My friend, Tish, sent me this account of what happened when she and three of her friends who have been on the front lines in the immigration (non) debate called on their Senators prior to the cloture vote. She was afraid she'd "bore" me. I was far from bored, in fact I found it fascinating to see what she and her friends went through that day.

I'll not make any comments. Readers can form their own opinions and I recognize that it is only one citizens account, the other side of the story was not sought. ~ Jacke M.

Tish wrote:

The four of us met outside Lugar’s and Bayh’s offices at around 9 a.m. Our plan was to go into each Senator’s office and register our opposition to SB 1639, the Grand Amnesty, and to formally request that each Senator vote against cloture on that bill later that morning.

I expected to have the same experiences I’ve had in the past: a staffer takes notes of our points, our suggestions, and our requests, followed by a shaking of hands all around and a quick exit from the office; nothing but a semi-friendly exchange of time and pleasantries for all. That is not what happened at all.

The meeting in Lugar’s office, which was conducted with two Lugar staffers, Lane Ralph, Deputy State Director, and Bob Healey, Staff Assistant, started out with Cheree giving points of why we were against the bill. They listened politely – at first.

When I suggested that it was “sheer lunacy” (my words exactly) for our Senators to even be debating amnesty for 12 to 20 million illegals and doubling legal immigration at a time when our system couldn’t even keep up with our current immigration, Lane Ralph said that was my “philosophy” and dismissed me with a wave of his hand. He said, none too friendly, he wasn’t here to discuss philosophical issues. I said it was “reality,” not merely my philosophy and that the people of Indiana agreed with me. I said 90% of the people in Indiana are against amnesty and want our borders secured. He yelled – yelled – “80% of the people in Indiana want change!” He shook his head in a cocky sort of way as he said it. I came back with, “EXACTLY! Giving amnesty is what has always been done. It’s maintaining the status quo.” His intellectual response was, “No it isn’t.” “Sure it is!” I said. He then leaned toward me (he was sitting directly to my right) and condescendingly “explained” what status quo meant, as if to suggest I was too stupid to understand the term. He said it very slowly, as if he was speaking to a mentally impaired person, “Status quo means ‘no change’.” “Yes,” I said, “this will be the 8th amnesty in 20 years. The change people want is for current laws to be enforced.” How the idiot could even suggest with a straight face that giving amnesty is not the same ol’, same ol’ is beyond me!

At this point, rather than discussing something substantive, or doing his job which was to take notes so he could give our message to the Senator, he was more comfortable with insulting me yet again, as if pretending my comments were nothing more than the “philosophical” rantings of an ignorant, mentally impaired woman weren’t enough of an insult. He said, “That is an emotional issue! This shouldn’t be an emotional issue!” I said, “Excuse me, but it is an emotional issue for many and,” kind of laughingly, I said, “I’m not a robot; if you rouse my emotions, you’re gonna see them.” He said, “Well, perhaps you’d be better off discussing this some other place then.” Cheree said, “Oh? Where should we be discussing this issue?” He responded, “Emotional counseling.” I looked at Cheree with a “WTF?!” look on my face because I could not believe what I was hearing. The cat had my tongue! I was so shocked that I couldn’t respond.

Helen spoke at length about various things and the entire time she spoke, he would shout over her, as though he was trying to “out” her as ignorant or something. He would aggressively shout over her, throw out demanding questions as if trying to get her to reveal that she didn’t really know what she was talking about. I watched him as he did this, half thinking of striking him, and I noticed his hands were shaking as he yelled. I started wondering if he was, perhaps, a bit unstable because of the amount of outpouring from the public over this issue. Poor staffer, made to deal with the unruly, uneducated, unwashed pestilence called the “American people.” As the meeting progressed, he made it abundantly clear that was HIS philosophy!

When Cheree made the comment about the unusual process the Senate was taking in their attempts to shove amnesty down our throats, Lane Ralph practically jumped out of his chair and, condescendingly, shouted, “You’re wrong! That’s the system. That’s the way the system works! Republicans do it to Democrats when they’re in charge and Democrats do it to Republicans when they’re in charge! That’s our system and it happens all the time!” From all of us came the question, “Senators vote on laws they don’t read all the time?!” He continued yelling “No, they don’t read every word of every bill, but someone does! Senators read summaries of the bills.” He then went into a missive about how our government works. How amendments are made to make bills better or fix them when they’re bad, etc. Cheree said that Senators weren’t being allowed to offer amendments, that they were cherry picked by a select few. Again, he yelled “That’s how it works!”

At this point, Cheree, being every bit as upset as I was, grabbed the picture of her son and said that if that was the system, it was WRONG. She held up the picture. For a moment, I thought she was going to start crying. Bless her heart, she let them have it! “This is my son. He has served and bled for this country, and he’s still being treated at Walter Reed for injuries received in Iraq. He has to fight to get anything from the government. He was just turned down by our government for vocational rehabilitation. His chosen career was law enforcement, but now he’s blind in one eye because of his service to the country. The government is denying him help, but is trying to give rights to people who have broken our laws! Don’t you tell me what’s going on is “right”!" She slid the picture across the table and she was angry as hell. The only one who bothered to pick up Troy’s picture was Bob Healey. He asked a few questions about him, like how old he was, and laid the picture down. If my memory serves me correctly, Lane Ralph never glanced at the picture. He wasn’t there for anything but a fight, it seemed. I know I most likely have Cheree’s comments botched, but that was the gist of them. I felt like standing up and applauding when she was done!

I think it was at this time that Tina said that Senator Lugar should listen to and respect the wishes of his constituents. Lane Ralph began yelling something at her again, something about “hundreds of years ago when this government was formed, Senators were sent to do what they felt was best for their constituents.” I smarted off, “Oh oh, that’s a philosophical issue,” but he apparently didn’t hear me because he kept ranting. I interrupted and said things aren’t like they were 100 years ago and that Senators have the ability to learn how their constituents feel. I said a law should be introduced where issues have to be put before the people of the states and that Senators should be forced to vote according to the majority of their constituents. He whipped his head around to look at me, and demanded, “Oh! Like the 55 mph laws?!” Not sure what he was trying to get at, I said yes, maybe “sure”, I don’t really remember. He snorted, like he had “caught” me being stupid or something and yelled, “Oh yeah! People really follow THAT law, don’t they?” and turned away. Again I looked at Cheree and said quietly, “I’m ready to go. This isn’t getting anywhere.”

I didn’t get up to leave because I didn’t want to be rude or leave my group. I can’t remember much of what was said after that, except those times I smartassishly piped in, “And yet ANOTHER philosophical issue!” or “Oh, that’s your philosophy.” I remember I said that when he felt it necessary to give us uneducated four a history lesson in government and immigration, particularly at those points when he said everyone who had ever come to America was an “illegal,” that “we are all immigrants,” and that we didn’t know who the indigenous peoples of this land were, that it might even be the Hispanics who are coming here illegally. The man wasn’t there to discuss philosophies – except his own.

The point was made again that the Senator wasn’t listening to Hoosiers on this issue, as evidenced by his votes, and he blew his lid. He was glaring at Tina, I believe, and shouting, “Don’t we take your names, addresses and numbers when you contact us?! We don’t do it because WE want to, we do it BECAUSE THE SENATOR REQUESTS THAT INFORMATION!!! The Senator gets a list every day of those who contact us and why they contacted us!!!!” He was slamming the tip of his finger on the notepad in front of him as he yelled.

I finally had enough of his shouting, arguing, condescension and outright contempt towards us. I said, “That’s it!” and jumped up to leave. I knocked the chair over backwards. I said, “Sorry about the chair,” none too friendly, as I picked it up. I think I told Cheree I was going to the restroom, I don’t really remember. I just had to get away from that condescending, shouting maniac before I did something to land myself in jail. I stormed out, closing the door without taking any precautions to make sure it shut quietly. I found the restroom and my husband called seconds after I walked in it. As soon as I heard his voice, I started bawling. I hate getting that angry. And then when it makes me cry, which it always does, I get even angrier for not being strong enough not to cry. I hollered, vented really, in hubby’s ears for a couple of minutes and started working on calming down. I washed my hands, wiped the tears away, and left the restroom to walk around and compose myself. Once that was done, I headed back up to Lugar’s office. I walked in and went straight to the conference room. When I walked through the door, the shouting maniac, Lane Ralph, was standing there as the meeting was coming to an end. He said, “Oh, hey, I’m sorry.” It didn’t seem genuine in the least. I responded through clenched lips which had begun quivering again, threatening tears because I was so angry, “I didn’t come here for a civics lesson. I didn’t come here for a history lesson and I didn’t come here for condescension.” He turned around and walked away. I turned and shook Bob Healey’s hand and said, as Lane Ralph stood on the far side of the conference table, “It was a pleasure meeting YOU,” and thanked him for his time. The next time I looked over, I saw Lane Ralph leaving the conference room through a back door. Good. Prick.

The whole experience was a negative, infuriating one. It left me drained and shaking. I’m shaking now, just typing this brief and remembering.

While Mr. Healey was much more friendly and affable than Lane Ralph, he still approached us from the perspective that we were really just too stupid to understand how things really work. He went through a rather lengthy explanation of how the contacts to the Senator’s office are logged and sent to the Senator at one point in the discussion. What they refuse to understand is that no one cares HOW it’s done! If the Senator is going to ignore what the large majority of his constituents want anyway, it makes no difference HOW it’s done or even IF it is done!

None of us deserved the treatment Mr. Ralph unleashed on us that day. We did not go to our Senator’s office to argue, to receive a history lesson, a civics lesson, or to be dismissed as irrelevant and ignorant. Thanks to Lane Ralph, that is precisely what happened.

It was quite clear that these staffers were more interested in telling us HOW to think and intimidating us into adopting their stance rather than listening to anything we had to say. And when we said things they didn’t like or with which they disagreed, the tactic of the day was to shout us down and insult us.

When we left the office, we met outside to kind of gather ourselves and calm down before going to Bayh's office. We couldn’t believe what had just happened. I went to put some change in the parking meter because I had only filled up 40 minutes’ worth at around 9 a.m. The meter showed that my time ran out 59 minutes before. We had been in there for approximately an hour and a half.

I don’t know if Lane Ralph was merely at his breaking point because of the stress of his duties and the pressure from the public or not. I’m inclined to think his treatment of us is merely an extension of his boss’ view towards us, “Those pesky Americans! Why can’t they sit down, shut up and leave us smart people alone so we can do our job?!” They don’t realize that WE are their employers. I hope Hoosiers join me in reminding them at every opportunity that they WORK FOR US and WE PAY THEM. We aren’t their “subjects,” though it’s very clear that is how they would prefer it to be.

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