By Tia Lynn Ivey
Hundreds of protesters descended upon The Greene County Commissioner’s office during a ‘open office day’ last week to demand answers from three Republican elected officials: State Senator David Perdue, Senator Burt Jones, United States Representative, Jody Hice.
None of the representatives were there, but their staff fled the conference room while being shouted down by protesters for refusing to take public comment or answer questions. The crowd held up signs and chanted “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and “Do your job!” as staff members retreated to the back offices. Greene County Sheriff Donnie Harrison allowed protesters to line-up and speak one after another for over two hours. Only one staff member, Josh Findlay sat in on the protests to take notes. The others remained in the back offices and agreed to see small groups privately to take down their complaints.
Several left-leaning groups from Morgan County attended the event, including Patsy Harris, the president of the Morgan County Democratic Party. Other protesters came from Greene County, Athens, and Atlanta.
While protesters raised a host of issues, ranging from their dismay over the election of President Donald Trump, his cabinet and secretary appointments, the recent controversial Travel Ban, immigration, fears over growing racism, Islamaphobia, and sexism, global warming, an increasingly adversarial Russia, abortion rights and gay rights. But the central issue raised by protesters was the promised repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is also known as Obamacare, by their Republican representatives. Protesters demanded Republicans reveal their replacement system to the public or leave the ACA intact.
Protester after protester shared their healthcare stories, claiming the ACA has “literally saved our lives.”
One University of Georgia student, Caroline Keegan, who is battling Crohn’s disease, expressed her fears that if the ACA is repealed she will be left with an unbearable choice. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” said Keegan. “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.”
Others echoed Keegan’s sentiments, pleading for Republicans to reconsider their stance on abolishing the ACA.
As the protest went on, other protesters spoke about various issues they want to see their representatives address.
One UGA student shared her experience as an American-born, second-generation Muslim woman in Georgia, who has been told to “Go back where you came from.”
“Where am I supposed to go? This is my home,” she said, asking her representatives to stand against Islamaphobia and represent her voice. Other urged their representatives to acknowledge the threat of global warming, while others chided representatives for ignoring their constituents all together by avoiding holding Town Halls. Senator Isakson and Representative Hice took rhetorical brunt of the protests, with attendees slamming them for their positions on healthcare, education reform and comments they made about in past about LGBTQ people and Muslims.
“Despite the phone calls, the voicemails, the Facebook messages, the emails – Johnny Isakson still approved (Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos,” said Michelle Golden, a Gwinnett educator. “When is he going to start doing his job and listen to the people?”
Others criticized Isakson, accusing him of planning to “gut” the ACA, Medicaid and Medicare.
Another protester railed against Hice, accusing the representative of harboring “antigay, anti-science, and anti-Muslim” views. He cited a quote from Hice’s 2012 book, in which Hice argued against the Islamic faith having constitutional protections.
“Although Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology,” Hice wrote. ”It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.”
Protesters responded with chants of “Vote him out! Vote him out!” One speaker noted Hice ran unopposed in the last election. “We have to get involved and run against these people.”
The staff of the officials did not speak publicly at the event, but their offices released statements afterwards.
“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 Senator Isakson while he is working in Washington,” said Amanda Maddox, a spokesperson for Isakson.
“Our 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. If organized groups want to manufacture protests and continue to be disruptive, it will only deny those who really need help,” read a statement from Perdue’s office.
However, according Tim Denson, presidents of Athens for Everyone, one of the groups who orchestrated the protests, the reason people are pouring into these open office days is because their requests for Town Halls have been ignored. “We just want our voices to be heard by the people who represent us,” said Denson. Many of the protesters noted their calls, emails, and requests for public forums have gone unanswered by Perdue, Isakson and Hice.
“We just want our representatives to come talk to us at a reasonable time so we do not have to interrupt like this,” said Mariah Parker, who attended the event.