IRVINE, California - A handful of protestors assembled outside of Representative Mimi Walters' (R-CA) district office to protest a myriad of issues ranging from Trump's military involvement in Yemen to the need for financial transparency in the 45th Congressional District of California and beyond.
Many protestors took issue with Walters' loyalty to vote down party lines - particularly on the GOP healthcare bill. Although the bill was tabled the morning of the protest, dozens of protestors sporting bubblegum pink Planned Parenthood shirts and holding "I Stand With Planned Parenthood" signs were determined to make Mimi Walters aware of their discontent. Many had sojourned from similar protests held at Representative Rohrabacher's (R-CA) office that morning regarding the same issue.
This small sea of colorful and disgruntled individuals was bunched together in the courtyard outside of Representative Walters' office. A few police officers were present to direct traffic and clear the pathway into the office building.
One Canadian-American protestor, who was holding a sign about the importance of Medicare, claimed that thousands of people in the 45th Congressional District would lose healthcare if the GOP bill was to pass. Two other women expressed concern over the United States' delay in passing universal healthcare when every other industrialized country has already done so.
While I was listening to these explanations, other protestors exchanged a megaphone to invoke a political frenzy: "Mimi Walters, you're fired!" one yelled, "No ban, no wall!" chanted another.
These protests were met by College Republicans from nearby colleges who supported Mimi Walters and the Trump administration. They brought their own signs, American flags, Trump flags, and Make America Great Again hats to add some enthusiasm and diversity to the discussions instigated by the protestors.
I was proud to be among the dissenters (as a Republican), but I truly wanted to understand why the Walters protestors had sacrificed two hours out of their precious Friday evening to stand around and hold signs. I was looking for a good justification so at least I could say "Oh, that does make some sense if you look at it like that." I was genuinely desperate for the revelation of some new piece of information that would compel me to deeply research the issue and form a strong counterargument.
But I was disappointed.
I had conversations with over a dozen protestors of various ages who held signs expressing a variety of concerns. In nearly all of the discussions, they had picked out key words, written them on signs, and intended to keep repeating them rather than defend them.
Among such was a man garnering support for a petition which would require politicians to make their contributions publicly traceable. He confessed that he did not know where Mimi Walters actually stood on the issue of financial transparency nor had he made efforts to inquire but assumed that since she was "far right" that she must be in opposition. Republicans aren't inherently against transparency, he agreed.
Another younger gentleman with a neon green "RESIST" sign was resisting "authoritarianism" and "despotism." He argued that an authoritarian could be identified by his use of executive orders. He had to agree that allegedly non-authoritarian Obama also abused executive orders so then the issue quickly switched to trust. After conceding that he didn't trust her after the email scandal, the protestor confessed that had voted for Hillary Clinton anyway. So then his RESIST message boiled down his general impression of Trump. Finally, I had my answer: RESIST because Trump doesn't feel right for the country.
One woman was representing an isolated cause at the protest which was the preservation of the EPA. I asked which policies Mimi Walters had supported that harmed the environment or compromised the effectiveness of the EPA - no examples could be cited.
An older lady in a Planned Parenthood t-shirt approached me to inquire about how we could get inside Walters' office, but her sign was far more interesting: "Get your Russian hands out of my freedom." After asking which freedoms were compromised by the Russians, she cited that the right to assembly was being infringed upon since groups were being slandered for paying protestors. After asking for another example, she paused for a bit, looked around at other signs, then named a nearby sign's topic and promptly ended her explanation of freedom's deprivation.
Assumptions, perceptions, and strong feelings were prevalent, but no matter how well-intentioned, the protestors I encountered seemed unclear on the purpose of their protest. One young lady was holding a "I Stand With Planned Parenthood" sign and acknowledged that, despite the ineffectiveness of this protest to actually change anything, people should be politically involved because it is a good thing to do.
But regardless of the success or ineffectiveness of the Irvine protest, it was an important experience for a young Republican. It was exciting to exercise the right to free speech to engage the other side through conversation about relevant topics. It compelled me to be an attentive listener which increased and will increase the productivity of such political conversations.
To our freedom of speech and assembly, may we never take those liberties for granted, regardless of the political climate or our political identification.