Congressman’s Staff Encounter Hundreds of Protesters at Library

Thursday, February 16, 2017, 11:53 am
Alice Dreger

Above: a portion of the long line waiting to speak to Rev. Bishop's staff at the Library this morning

Representative Mike Bishop’s staff were met by hundreds of protesters this morning at the East Lansing Public Library as Bishop’s staff members came to have one-on-one meetings with his local constituents. Bishop, a Republican, represents the 8th Congressional District including East Lansing, a city that leans heavily Democrat.

East Lansing Public Library Director Kristin Shelley says that she counted 360 people at the Library for the event, using a clicker-counter. Hundreds of people stood on line to meet with staff, with most unable to do so during the allotted one-hour period. Bishop sent two staff members for the event. About 40 additional protestors gathered outside along Abbot Road.

Bishop’s staff ended up leaving after the scheduled hour to the sound of dozens of remaining protestors loudly chanting, “Do your job!” Shelley asked people to remember they were in the Library with patrons trying to use the Library.

Since the election of Donald Trump as President, Democrats have been showing up at Republican town hall events to object to various cabinet nominees, to defend the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as “Obamacare”), and to call for various investigations of Trump and his past and present staff members. Locally, Bishop has been encountering near-constant protest on social media and by telephone of members of a Facebook group calling itself Indivisible Michigan 8th District.

As ELi reported earlier this week, today’s event was not designed as a town hall but was instead set up instead as a chance for constituents to speak individually to Bishop’s staff.

Kris Parnell, founder of protest group Indivisible Michigan 8th District, was present and told ELi the group now has over 1500 members. She said the group includes people concerned about the ACA as well as Trump’s relationships with Russia and his failure to release his tax returns.

Rev. Kit Carlson of All Saints Episcopal Church met early in the scheduled hour with Bishop’s staff, along with other members of the Interfaith Clergy Association of Greater Lansing. According to Carlson, Rev. Alice Townley, who is also a member of the All Faith Alliance for Refugees, presented data “on the ability of Lansing to absorb and welcome and integrate refugees into our community.”

Carlson said they want Bishop to partner with them “in a way that still protects American security while really drawing on the strengths of the American people to be that shining beacon to the rest of the world.”

I walked the waiting line to ask if anyone was present who supported Bishop or his views, and no one identified himself or herself as such. Outside the Library, however, I found a Bishop supporter who had come to the Library to use the Maker Studio and who was surprised to find the protest. He did not wish to be identified by name but spoke to me at length. He said he did not want to be named because he was concerned about the “thug-like” behavior of people who disagreed with his views, and he said nothing like this had happened after Barack Obama was elected.

A local resident, the man identified himself as a free-market capitalist who believes the ACA is a disaster. He said his own daughter’s insurance premiums under the ACA have gone up three times and that his experience with single-payer state-run insurance in Europe was that it leaves two classes of people—those given inadequate care by the state and those who could afford good care.

The man said he was also disturbed by attempts by people on the left to silence people who disagree with them. He said he would do what he believed they would not—“defend to the death their right” to express themselves freely. He also told me he thought it was unfair to people in this country legally to have jobs go to people in this country illegally. He said he hoped that if East Lansing pressed the idea of being a “sanctuary city” that the federal government would defund East Lansing at every opportunity.

Penny Swartz of Okemos told me she came to the Library because she is “in great fear for the health and well-being of our country.” She said that she had not protested since the 1960s but she felt now it was urgent for her to protest again.  She described herself as a “Cold War baby” and said she was “quite concerned about the potential collusion with Russia regarding the election results but also business interests.”

Last night, Bishop held a “tele-town hall,” by telephone, at 7 p.m. Those interested in participating registered in advance and were to be given an automatic call to be connected to the event. But based on named reports collected by East Lansing resident and immigration attorney Amy Maldonado (a critic of Bishop), numerous residents of East Lansing tried to access the telephone meeting without success, in spite of registration in advance. Others report trying to ask questions but not being given the opportunity. One person reports she was called even though she did not sign up.

Several people who were connected to the telephone event report having had staffers ask them in advance their location and what their question would be, and then not being chosen to ask a question. Nevertheless, according to those on the call, there were questions asked that were critical of Bishop’s stance. Issues raised included the Affordable Care Act, the possible privatization of Medicaid and Medicare, and Russian interference with the election. Those on the call say that Bishop said the call was “authentic” and that there was “no screening of calls.”

Bishop has been blocking critics on Twitter, the social media messaging platform, when they’ve questioned his policies and activities. Bishop has recently argued on Twitter with Laura Olabisi, an Associate Professor in the Department of Community Sustainability at MSU.

After Olabisi used Twitter to call on Bishop to “come out of hiding,” Bishop asked her on Twitter, “Is this what the University pays you to do? Just wondering because it seems like you spend a lot of time sending me very childish, mean spirited tweets.”

To this, Olabisi responded, “How is this childish or mean-spirited? It’s calling on you to hold a town hall meeting, which many other reps do.”

Bishop answered, “That’s not what you said. Are you being paid by the University to communicate with me in such a manner?”

Olabisi replied, “I don’t understand the question. You are my elected representative, and I contact you with my concerns as any constituent would. I currently have a lot of concerns related to this administration’s impact on both professional and personal aspects of my life and our Lansing community.”

Bishop answered, “Not like any other constituent would. One-way, condescending messages are not the norm. Suggesting that I’m hiding from my constituents is a flat out untruth and consequently, insulting.”

Bishop’s staff would not speak with reporters from East Lansing Info at today’s event.


Note from Alice Dreger (reporter/ELi Publisher), February 17, 9:30 a.m.: Managing Editor Ann Nichols notified me that a number of readers object to the characterization of hundreds of those present at this event as "protesters." Protest is defined as "a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something." I walked the waiting line seeking anyone who was present to agree with Rep. Bishop or to support him. Everyone asked indicated they were there to object to one or more issues. As noted above, I found one supporter of Bishop at the Library, but he had come to use the Maker Studio and was unaware that Bishop's staff would be there that day.

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