Anti-Trump protesters pack Perdue, Isakson event

Protesters packed a meeting with aides to Georgia's congressmen in Greensboro on Feb. 10, 2017. Greg Bluestein, gbluestein@ajc.com

Protesters packed a meeting with aides to Georgia’s congressmen in Greensboro on Feb. 10, 2017. Greg Bluestein, gbluestein@ajc.com

 Greensboro, Ga. – The protests that have rocked Republican events across the nation arrived in Georgia on Friday when Donald Trump opponents turned a mundane “mobile office hours” with aides to three GOP lawmakers into a stand against the new president.

Hundreds of protesters flocked to a “constituent service day” for U.S. Sens David Perdue and Johnny Isakson and Rep. Jody Hice in this east Georgia town, cheering as one speaker after another railed against the three Republicans and the Trump administration.

The three lawmakers were not at the meeting, which was designed to give residents a chance to hash out grievances about passports and Social Security claims with congressional staffers without driving to Atlanta. The half-dozen or so aides to the lawmakers were clearly caught off guard by the size and organization of the protesters, and briefly walked out of the room to chants of “Shame!”

 


 

A few minutes later, Hice aide Josh Findlay returned to listen to each of the speakers and jot down notes about their concerns. More than a dozen people spoke, with many voicing their fears about the fate of the Affordable Care Act, Trump’s immigration order and his education policies.

It was the latest in a wave of national protests that rocked GOP events after Trump’s inauguration, and left-leaning activists and other critics of the president targeted Friday’s session – one of the first congressional events since the election – as a chance to make a statement.

“I’ve never called my Congressman – ever – until four or five weeks ago,” said Ron Denham, who echoed many of the speakers in voicing complaints about getting busy signals or voicemail boxes when trying to call their lawmakers. “These people need to represent us and our voice needs to get louder and louder and louder.”

 

Democrats see the pressure as a sign of a nationwide awakening spurred by Trump’s inauguration. Millions protested in women’s marches around the nation on Jan. 21, while his immigration policy led to another round of rallies at airports. Now, Trump’s critics are transforming the typically low-key congressional events.

They’ve filmed Republicans ducking hostile encounters, held raucous rallies outside the town hall events and commandeered microphones inside them to unleash their frustration. One California Republican needed a police escort to cut through a ring of protesters surrounding his event. And an angry crowd drowned out Rep. Jason Chaffetz at a town hall Thursday in deep-red Utah.

Many Republicans – elected officials and otherwise – have been dismissive of the movement. They contend that the Democratic groundswell would not connect with average voters in Georgia, which Trump won by 5 percentage points.

“This makes me very concerned for the country,” said Jay George, a Republican in Greensboro who sat through the protest, at times visibly upset with the speakers. “There are big differences of opinion in this country and they all need to be heard. But when this country has suffered for so long, we need to give Trump a chance to prove himself.”


It’s impossible to tell now whether this burgeoning movement will have a lasting impact, like the tea party response to Barack Obama’s election that triggered a wave of Republican wins. But left-leaning groups across the state have reported a spike in donations, volunteers and potential candidates for elected office after Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

They have held their own raucous town hall meetings, flooded the phone lines of GOP lawmakers with phone calls and protested outside their offices. And on Friday, at least 200 people – many from metro Atlanta and Athens – packed a cramped Greene County government building to unleash their frustration at Trump to GOP aides.

Among them was Caroline Keegan, a University of Georgia graduate student who told the crowd the $30,000 healthcare bill she tallied after she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease was covered under the Affordable Care Act because she was under 26. But she worries how she’ll pay the $5,000 monthly bills when she graduates if Republicans dismantle the law.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” said Keegan, adding: “I don’t know if I’ll be able to access my healthcare. I feel like I’m being condemned to choose between death and debt.”

Many other speakers were critical of Trump’s immigration policy, his Cabinet appointments and his foreign policy pronouncements. But the protesters saved their strongest words for GOP congressmen, who they said were failing to stand up to Trump.

“It’s not just progressives and liberals. Because I’m not one,” said Heidi Morton of Smyrna. “There are a lot of conservatives and Republicans that can’t stand Trump. And Republican politicians need to know their constituents are out here.”

Even before the event started, the senators’ offices said it was never meant to be a traditional town hall meeting.

“Staff from our office periodically hold ‘open office days’ alone or together with other congressional offices around the state to assist constituents in interacting with federal agencies and to be available in person for those seeking to express views or concerns to Sen. Isakson while he is working in Washington,” said Isakson spokeswoman Amanda Maddox.

Perdue spokeswoman Caroline Vanvick said the senator’s goal is to “help as many Georgians as possible who have casework concerns and need assistance dealing with federal agencies like so many of our veterans and seniors.

She added: “If organized groups want to manufacture protests and continue to be disruptive, it will only deny those who really need help.”

It was a veiled reference to several groups that helped organize speakers and marshal convoys to Greensboro. One of the largest was Athens for Everyone, which held a Thursday evening meeting to discuss talking points and delivered dozens of protesters from the college town, a Democratic bastion in Hice’s otherwise conservative district.

The scope of the movement unnerved some local Republicans who wondered why there wasn’t a more forceful GOP response.

“Trump hasn’t had a honeymoon period, he hasn’t been given the opportunity to have a fair shake,” said Gee George, who was also at the meeting. “But what strikes me is that this is such an organized group. Where is the other side? Why weren’t more Republicans here?”

The Trump critics, meanwhile, said this was far from their last event. Smaller protests have already been planned outside the offices of Isakson and Perdue, and bigger gatherings are in the works.

“This is what America looks like,” said Atlanta activist Lukis Newborn as he surveyed the room. “This is the new norm. This is what a movement looks like.”

More: Georgia Democrats try not to ‘waste’ anti-Trump movement


 

 

Reader Comments 0

12 comments
Darrow
Darrow

FantAstic!!!  I am sure there Wii be many more Repgnant denials and blaming others.

Jag1000
Jag1000

Just whining malcontents.  Ignore them.  Placating them will not get you any votes from that side, and will lose you ours.  The voters overwhelmingly elected you to implement Trump's and the Republican's agenda.

Jga
Jga

@Jag1000 So I guess the tea partiers were whining malcontents?

MDK2014
MDK2014

@Jga @Jag1000 You folks don't understand that the Tea Party was one issue- Taxed Enough Already! This nightmare of protestors can't even identify an issue they agree on and when you tell them who the sponsors are funding the myriad of causes, they argue and tell you it is not true.  This chaos will never gain steam. 

quickdigits
quickdigits

Did you see the bald guy in the pink in the first video? Was he just The Most Adorable Freakin' Liberal You've ever seen in your life?? Ya Right....Yuck!

Magwat
Magwat

@jamesrust  Only if you call the right of Americans to protest as written in the Constitution anarchy.  So no, it's not anarchy.

JoeWisenbaker
JoeWisenbaker

Those who pretend to represent our views as citizens, voters and tax payers should have the obligation to hear our concerns about the way Congress is doing business.

MDK2014
MDK2014

@JoeWisenbaker They did hear the concerns, out with the old and in with Trump, House and Senate as well as Governors!  Let them do what they were elected to do!  You can run against them next time if you want but you are just making noise now...they are going to do what their state elected the to do!!!