Stealth Stops and Photo Ops Through Rural TX-10

Guest post by Michele in Smithville, TX

Have you checked out Congressman Michael McCaul’s Twitter feed and Facebook postings this week? Well, he’s on recess and back in Texas meeting with constituents, holding town halls, shaking hands, and kissing babies! Just kidding!! He’s making the rounds, but not with regular, everyday constituents. His stops are all highly orchestrated, under the radar, closed meetings, photo ops, and fundraisers.

Protestors holding a banner that says Repeal and Replace Representative Michael McCaulHe was at the Katy Fire Department on Aug 8th, posing with a nice shiny red fire truck in the back ground. Apparently, Katy is “a recipient of the SAFER Grant!” Yay! Go Katy! There are photos of his visits with the American Jewish Committee Houston Region, an un-named group in Prairie View. A visit to Harris County OHSEM, Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and then a stop in Fayette County to pose with the Sheriff’s Office and K-9 Unit. One photo op that’s missing is his stop in Bastrop.

Thursday August 1oth, McCaul had a visit planned in Smithville to meet with County Judge, Paul Pape, and other local elected officials and city managers. We hear the visit was to discuss recent disaster relief efforts from the fires and floods that have ravaged Bastrop County over the last few years. This meeting was changed at the last minute and moved to the Bastrop County Courthouse Annex in Bastrop and was to take place in the Commissioners Courtroom.

Protestors holding signs including This Nasty Woman VotesWhen we got wind of the venue change we alerted the local newspaper to the planned meeting being hosted by Judge Pape and they called him to confirm the new location and time. The reporter was told this was a private meeting. The public and the press were not invited. The reporter asked if it was legal to hold a closed meeting in the County Commissioner’s Court. Pape’s office said they would check with the local District Attorney. The meeting ended up taking place in Judge Pape’s office. We are told Pape, McCaul, and the mayors and city managers of Smithville and Bastrop were in attendance.

McCaul also had a fundraiser scheduled Thursday evening in Bastrop at the private home of a local business owner. This event was highly insulated and planned by Lilly & Company, an Austin based political consulting, campaign strategist, and fundraising group. Check them out. Pretty impressive clientele. Only select people were emailed an invite. Once you purchased a ticket through the website, you would get the location and details of the event.

Three protestors with signs including "Michael McCaul - Why Are you hiding? Meet with your constituents"We patiently waited until the Courthouse closed for the day and they turned the lights out on us. They may as well have yelled out, “Last call for alcohol! You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!” It’s a shame our Congressman is so scared to meet with a handful of citizens that he had to slip out the back door of the courthouse to avoid us. Sad!

What’s even more shameful, is our local elected officials were in on it.

So you’re meeting with a staffer. Now what?

During the Cornyn Stakeout last week, I, on impulse, walked into the Chase Bank Building, rode the elevator to the 15th floor, and knocked on the door to Cornyn’s office. Next thing I knew I was sitting face to face with a young staffer. Now what?

I had my talking points about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s–and especially John Cornyn’s–lackluster response to Russian election interference, but it seemed weird to launch into that. When there is a human being sitting a few feet away, the dynamic is very different compared to speaking on the phone or firing off angry tweets.

She may have been more nervous than I was. I’m a tall man in an Indivisible Austin t-shirt and for all she knows I am about to start shrieking at her, or worse. So I explained, calmly, that I was from Indivisible Austin, one of the organizers of the stakeout, and that we aren’t scary. I joked that most of the Indivisible activists look like our moms, and in fact, my mother is an Indivisible activist in rural Texas. (See, we’re not all Austin hippies, either.)

The staffer smiled, and let her guard down a bit. Sure, she was being paid to listen to my concerns, and we might disagree vigorously on many things; but it was clear that a human connection was forming.

I believe these human connections, seeking common ground, will save our Democracy.

Paraphrasing what I said:

On the AHCA

“Getting people to question facts is a hallmark of authoritarianism. When John Cornyn called CBO data ‘fake news,’ that sent a dangerous signal. The CBO score may not be perfect, but it’s the only data we have, and the Congressional Budget Office is as nonpartisan as it gets. For our Democracy to function, we need to have agreed-upon facts. If we can’t agree on facts, our Democracy dies.”

On withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord

“Sen. Cornyn signed a letter encouraging Trump to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. Cornyn and other Republicans like to point out that the treaty is not legally binding. But one thing we have learned from the Trump presidency is that norms and traditions uphold our Democracy far more than laws do. By withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, we send a message that we no longer take seriously the bonds, however symbolic, between the U.S. and our global allies. Additionally, climate change is a nonpartisan issue, affecting everyone. We can disagree about the means with which to solve the problem, but we first need to agree on the basic fact that it is happening.”

On Russian election interference

“The original purpose of the Cornyn Stakeout was to send a message to Sen. Cornyn that Americans take very seriously the issue of a foreign power interfering in our Democratic process. Sen. Cornyn’s seemingly flippant attitude toward his own committee’s investigation is inappropriate. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. If Russia, or any foreign power, is influencing our elections in any way, that is dangerous to both parties, and to our nation as a whole. We need Sen. Cornyn to take this issue more seriously.”

I spent 15 to 20 minutes sharing my concerns with the staffer, who was very professional and polite, and took notes that she said she would deliver to the senator. It is quite possible that she was seething inwardly, disagreeing with everything I said… but I don’t really think so. Human beings are social creatures and instinctively seek common ground. And it is much easier to find that common ground in person, than on social media or phone calls.

This summer we’ll be kicking off a series of “air-conditioned activism”* events, centered around meetings with congressional staffers. We’re planning a toolkit to make your meetings with staffers as effective as can be, and we would love to hear what has and has not worked for you. We would especially welcome feedback from staffers. Please email or leave a comment here.

*Many thanks to the Indivisible TX-25 Eanes / West Austin group for coining the term “Air-Conditioned Activism.”



How Your Voices Made a Difference Last Week: Paris Climate Accord

Courtesy of 5 Minute Activism

When Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement, people immediately mobilized…

  • China and all 28 EU states reaffirmed their commitment to fully implement the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • California, New York, and Washington formed a climate alliance.
  • More than 60 mayors of U.S. cities (including Pittsburgh) committed to adopting and upholding the Paris Climate Agreement goals.
  • Michael Bloomberg is coordinating a group of corporations, colleges, and mayors who are negotiating their own climate plan directly with the U.N.
  • Phoenix, Arizona announced plans to become carbon-neutral by 2050.
  • Protesters held rallies outside the White House and across the country.
  • Even got in on the action!
  • Both Paris and Montreal lit their city halls green.

…And pretty much the entire world will continue to take action against climate change:

  • India canceled the creation of huge coal power stations, moving instead toward more affordable solar energy—and announced plans to allow the sale of only electric cars by 2030.
  • South Korea is beginning to shut down coal power plants, in a move to combat pollution.
  • Shareholders approved a proposal for ExxonMobil to report on climate change-related risks, despite management’s recommendation to vote against it.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the grassroots progress forward, and the success of these movements in resisting Donald and the GOP’s regressive agenda, so I hope these positive signs offer some peace to your soul in trying times. Hang in there, warriors. We are our nation and our future’s hope.

How Your Voices Made a Difference Last Week: We Remember Those Who Fought Before Us

Courtesy of 5 Minute Activism

You marvelous patriotic people are keeping the heat turned up to 11 on Russia–and things are starting to cook:

  • Fired national security director Michael Flynn has taken the Fifth and refused to surrender his personal records regarding his possible collusion with foreign governments to Senate subpoena. Combined with his previous (refused) request for immunity, it’s growing ever clearer that there’s plenty to hide. The Senate Intelligence Committee followed up with two new subpoenas to Flynn’s businesses.
  • The Washington Post has learned that in March, Donald asked the heads of two U.S. intelligence agencies to publicly deny James Comey’s revelations that Donald’s campaign was under criminal investigation by the FBI. “The problem wasn’t so much asking them to issue statements, it was asking them to issue false statements about an ongoing investigation,” a former senior intelligence official said.
  • Oh, and remember that mysterious highly placed White House Trump adviser who was also coming under the FBI’s microscope for possible affiliations with Russia? Yeah…it’s Kushner. To be clear, that doesn’t mean he’s a target, or central focus, of the investigation, but a person of interest who may help shed light on the extent of Russia’s meddling into our last elections.
  • And in another sign that those with vested interests in Donald and his agenda are panicking, conservative blowhard and conspiracy theorist Sean Hannity showed his hand in a tweet this week. In trying without any evidence to connect slain DNC staffer Seth Rich with the hack of the DNC, rather than Russia, as all 17 intelligence agencies have agreed, Hannity openly revealed his endgame: to try to shift blame from and exonerate Donald. Yet another sign that GOP loyalists are feeling the noose tighten around their necks.
  • In other good news, Donald’s unconstitutional, racist Muslim ban was once again frozen by a federal court–this time on appeal–and once again the court cited Donald’s own words about the ban in defending its decision.
  • The White House backed down in the face of unyielding demands from watchdog agency the Office of Government Ethics (and public outcry) and has agreed to provide the ethics waivers the OGE requested for lobbyists lobbying in the fields in which they recently worked, against regulations, which it had previously refused to release.
  • In New Hampshire, voters flipped a reliably Republican house seat blue, and in Long Island (which Donald won by 23 points), voters flipped a state assembly seat Democrat as well.
  • The Supreme Court struck down racially gerrymandered districts in North Carolina this week. Following on the heels of three federal courts doing the same in Texas, this is a positive development for fairer representation in these artificially manipulated districts.
  • Advertisers are fleeing Sean Hannity’s FOX show in response to his dogged perpetuation of a baseless and debunked conspiracy theory about slain DNC staffer Seth Rich (even in the face of direct pleas from Rich’s family). It’s yet another brick in the FOX crypt, amid a flurry of other signs (like its recent third-place drop in ratings) that America may be fed up with the network’s stream of misinformation and propaganda.

How Your Voices Made a Difference Last Week: GOP’s Blind Support Is Crumbling

Courtesy of 5 Minute Activism

  • The Department of Justice has finally named a special prosecutor to oversee the FBI investigation into the possible collusion between Donald/Donald’s campaign and Russia. Former FBI director Robert Mueller is widely seen as nonpartisan and is respected on both sides of the aisle (his term as FBI head was even extended) as honest, trustworthy, and dogged.
  • If you worry that the relentless stream of toxicity pouring out of the White House will erode the will of the American people to fight back, fear not: Apparently the Republican administration and White House staff are equally exhausted and perhaps even more demoralized. From a highly sourced NYTimes article about the growing disillusionment with Donald inside the White House: “A dozen of Mr. Trump’s aides and associates…spoke candidly, in a way they were unwilling to do just weeks ago, about the damage that the administration’s standing has suffered in recent weeks and the fatigue that was setting in after months of having to defend the president’s missteps, Twitter posts and unpredictable actions.”
  • Republicans’ blind support of Donald is beginning to crumble. Republican Senators John McCain and Bob Corker have sharply criticized the president and called for investigation. Even Mitch McConnell has expressed exasperation with all the “drama” coming from the White House and said Comey needs to testify before the Senate publicly. Other MoCs continue to fall away from their willfully blind support in an effort to bail off the Titanic of this administration.
  • In a sudden flurry of action, the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees have asked the White House for all existing records of interactions between Comey and Trump, including transcripts of any tapes, after Donald threatened that some might exist. The Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees have asked for all Comey’s notes relating to the Russia investigation, and asked Comey to testify; as has the House committee that has called a hearing (finally) to find out whether Donald interfered in the FBI investigation. James Comey has agreed to testify in an open (read: public) hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
  • Rep Eric Swalwell has introduced a bill on the House floor called the Protecting our Democracy Act, which would establish an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate Russian interference. So far it has 199 cosponsors (but only two are Republicans).
  • When Donald’s administration put out a public call for people to state which EPA regulations they’d like to roll back, more than 55,000 people spoke out–overwhelmingly in support of the EPA and its current regulations, many even asking for more stringent measures to protect the environment.

How Your Voices Made a Difference Last Week: Payback Recess Success

Courtesy of 5 Minute Activism

How your voices made a difference last week: AHCA is one small battle in a war we are winning

Courtesy of 5 Minute Activism

The abysmal health care plan recklessly rammed through the House by the GOP was a hard pill to swallow.

But there’s ample reason not to despair.

This is only one small battle in the larger war we’re waging against the Republican administration’s gutting of our democracy. The bill still has to pass the Senate–which, within hours of the vote, had already promised to scrap it entirely and start over. If it passes, that bill will then have to once again pass in the House in its new form…and then be approved again by both houses. That’s a long road, with opposition at every step from us and an increasingly angry electorate that shows steadily growing approval of the existing Affordable Care Act. In fact, despite the GOP’s rabid emphasis on “repeal and replace,” the Affordable Care Act is proving far more popular–on both sides of the aisle–than they may have expected, a recent poll shows. Far more popular than Donald’s own approval ratings, in fact–55% of Americans approve of Obamacare, versus an approval rating for Donny hovering around a paltry 40%. And a broad swath of doctors, hospitals, and insurers have condemned the TrumpCare plan.
That means this recent legislation is likely to be an unpopular decision with voters–especially once the Congressional Budget Office report comes out in the next weeks (because the GOP didn’t think it important to wait for it, though they insisted on it for the ACA). By then most House Republicans will be officially on the record as having voted for a plan that the CBO report is likely to show will cost millions their coverage, and this hasty, ill-considered forced vote is likely to backfire in Republicans’ faces.

How do you like them apples? Here’s more good news:

For a guy who prides himself on his negotiating skills, Donald had to make so many concessions in his budget proposal to keep the government open that several news outlets assessed it as resembling “more of an Obama administration-era budget than a Trump one.” No border wall, half the military funding he promised, no EPA staff cuts and only a 1% budget hit to the department, and no defunding of Planned Parenthood were just some of the concessions Donny got out-negotiated into. In a statement the White House suggested that a government shut-down might be necessary if Democrats keep “mistreating” Donald and hurting his feelings. No, seriously

Mark Green, Donald’s second nominee for army secretary, has withdrawn from consideration amid an avalanche of outcry against his Islamophobic, anti-LGBTQ words and actions in the past

FOX News’s apparent culture of sexual harassment and racism faces yet another blow this week, when network copresident Bill Shine resigned amid yet another harassment scandal, this time for turning a willfully blind eye to complaints about sexual harassment and racism, and possibly helping to conceal it. And yet another lawsuit has been filed against the network, this time for gender bias, completing the network’s dubious trinity of sexual, racial, and gender discrimination

When Donald’s administration launched the entirely unnecessary racist-propaganda VOICE hot line for people who were victimized by a crime by illegal immigrants, the Twitterverse put out a call and you marvelous people inundated the ridiculous, racist hot line with reports of extraterrestrials abusing Earthlings.

How Your Voices Made a Difference Last Week: “I thought it would be easier”

Trump: I thought it would be easier
Trump says he thought being president would be easier than his old life (Reuters)

Courtesy of 5 Minute Activism

  • Republicans tried to ram through new health care legislation without proper vetting again this week. YOU all immediately called your MoCs in legions to tell them this haste and the shoddy replacement plan were unacceptable, and the vote broke down before it could be taken.
  • Remember the Department of Homeland Security, at the behest of the White House, going after Twitter to reveal the identity of a critic of Donald’s immigration policies, in a chilling 1984 moment? The DHS inspector general is not tolerating that unconstitutional nonsense and has launched an investigation into possible abuse of authority as well as “potential broader misuse of summons authority” within the department. With all of us holding the administration accountable, we can continue to enact these checks and balances to Donald’s abuses of power, even within the government.
  • Donald suffered another blow to his attempts to overreach his office when a federal court struck down his executive order withholding federal funds from sanctuary cities, stating that only Congress has the power to allocate those funds. Amusingly, once again the ruling is partially based on Donald’s own administration’s words–Donald, Atty General Jeff Sessions, and press secretary Angry Spicer.
  • Public and lawmaker resistance from both sides of the aisle put the kibosh on Donald’s ridiculous border wall plans in a proposed spending bill, to avert a government shutdown.
  • The committee that oversees granting congressional access passes to news media rejected alt-right platform Breitbart’s request for press accreditation, for failure to meet proof of non-lobbying connections. Breitbart “reporters” can still get into sessions, but must go through public access–it’s a small victory, but one that helps keep the extremist, incendiary, white-nationalist-driven propaganda site from being legitimized by this White House.
  • Thanks in part to unremitting pressure from voters like you, the House Oversight Committee launched an investigation into Michael Flynn’s potentially illegal payments from Russia and Turkey that he failed to disclose as national security adviser–and for which, documents released Thursday reveal, he did not seek the approval he was told to get.
  • Meanwhile another watchdog group, United to Protect Democracy, is suing Donald to find out whether he’s bullying civil servants into violating the law.
  • Finally, FOX News continues to be shaken by fallout from its employees’ actions–not just the $13 million payouts on Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment suits before his recent ouster, but now 11 current and former employees have filed suit for severe racial discrimination at the network. Perhaps FOX would appreciate a fitting Bible quote: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

How Your Voices Made a Difference Last Week: In which a sexual predator is relieved of his position

(Not that sexual predator. Yet.)

Courtesy of 5 Minute Activism

It was a great week full of progress, and ample signs of growing dissatisfaction with Republican leadership.

science march sign


How Your Voices Made a Difference Last Week: The Beginning of Donald’s Downfall

Courtesy of 5 Minute Activism

Once again this week there is much to celebrate and congratulate yourselves for in fighting against the co-opting of our country by Donald and his profiteering administration.
How Our Voices Are Making a Difference
  • As Donald one by one disavows his allies as quickly as their incriminating ties to Russia are revealed (Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, et al) Steve Bannon is losing influence and status in the White House faster than cockroaches scattering from the light. You’ve helped keep the heat on Donald and co. regarding his white-nationalist top adviser, and Bannon was removed last week from his (entirely inappropriate) post to the National Security Council. Infighting with Jared Kushner yielded a sharp rebuke and later a startlingly tepid defense from Donald.
  • Three organizations are suing the White House to gain access to the visitor logs, under the Freedom of Information Act, after the White House squirreled them away from public view–they are also requesting to know who meets with the president at Mar-A-Lago and Trump Tower.

Our progress comes in slow, incremental steps–but it’s blisteringly clear that keeping the heat on Donald and his far-right GOP defenders is curbing their most egregious actions and helping keep them in check. Don’t let up! Keep defending our nation and our democracy by letting your MoCs know that you are watching them, and holding them to the standards of our nation and Constitutional government.

Resistbot is a great tool for doing this easily, especially for those with limited time or bandwidth to make direct phone calls to MoCs. Text “RESIST” to 50409. They will find your elected officials and turn your texts into daily letters to Congress that are proven to be read and have an impact. All it takes is a few sentences from a real-life voter to get their attention. (And if you are inclined, throw them a few bucks–like so many of the wonderful resistance tools that sprouted up after the election, this is run entirely by volunteers and donations.)

Anything you do, even just donating, even just adding your voice to a petition, makes a difference. (But remember, calling, writing, and visiting your MoCs is the single most impactful thing you can do.)

Another wonderful new tool makes this easier than ever: Dial Congress is an extension for Google Chrome that turns news stories, Wikipedia pages, and Google searches into a congressional phone directory. From Slate, “If you’re reading an article that mentions any member of the House or Senate, the browser extension will highlight that person’s name. If you mouse over, say, a reference to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the phone number for her Washington office pops up on your screen.”