There was an ugly scene at Allen West's town hall meeting at Calvary Chapel last night, when a small, peaceful premeeting protest morphed into a series of increasingly angry disruptions after West took the stage. The protesters in the meeting became especially tetchy when it became apparent that West didn't intend to take live questions from the attendees -- that instead he would read screened questions from cards collected at the door.
According to the Sun Sentinel, which live-blogged the meeting:
One anti-West activist started yelling, repeatedly, "What about ballots and bullets?" That was a reference to a line from radio talker Joyce Kaufman during the campaign. [Kaufman] pushed West and suggested if ballots didn't effect change, bullets would.
Another yelled, "How about our Medicare you're stealing?"
And so on. Most of the assembled supported West, and that great mass largely drowned out the "anti-Westians," one of whom was arrested and several of whom were escorted from the venue by police. To this dissenting minority, the congressman reportedly said: "You're not going to intimidate me." Very brave, don't you think?
But I doubt that the intention of those who disagree with Allen West's policies is to intimidate him. Those concerned citizens would likely be happy to know that West is listening to them. Allen West has given at least half of his constituency some fairly persuasive reasons to believe he's not. Those whose politics are a little to the left of his, for example, he has derided as "vile." He has suggested that a great mass of the United States' citizenry -- the Democratic half, as it happens -- has conspired to turn America into a "Third World socialist cesspool." He has decided that those of his constituents with a view of world religions different from his own are "antithetical" to what the United States stands for.
What would Allen West, noted warrior and alleged freedom junkie, think of a democracy in which such sentiments go unprotested? Not much. Which maybe says something about the ugly contradiction at the heart of West's career -- that he has risen to prominence by professing his love for a radically pluralistic nation while declaring war on pluralism, and insisting that anything short of ideological homogeneity is akin to treason.
Unlike West, I don't propose to know exactly what America means or where lie the far borders of Americanness. But I will suggest that a critical component of patriotism in a politically, religiously, ideologically, racially, and sexually polyglot nation is an ability to graciously tolerate those whose views differ from our own. West's beloved founders disagreed on almost everything, with the exception of their sacrosanct right to disagree. West and his supporters should bear that exception in mind. Especially, perhaps, when dealing with outnumbered dissenters in their midst.
Reading the Sentinel's coverage of the town hall, I was surprised to read that a Democratic activist named Ken Evans was among the protesters escorted from the event by police.
According to the Sentinel:
...Ken Evans, northeast Broward leader for the Democratic Party, began yelling complaints. Police told him to leave. Evans waved to the crowd, most cheered his ouster, and one man directed the epithet "scumbag" toward Evans.
Until last night, I was only dimly aware of Ken Evans' political career. When I knew Ken, in the early '90s, he was the guy who ran a summer camp at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, where I spent a few happy summers during an otherwise grim period when my parents were divorcing and my father was blasting off for the outer darkness of alcoholism. I wasn't a kid who made friends easily, and I remember Ken as a kind and calming presence, goading me to get outside of myself, to stare down my various fears and learn to have fun. In particular, I recall Ken consoling my 9-year-old self when I fell out of a high notch in a veiny "lofty fir" tree. That was in 1992 -- in a South Florida very different from the one we now inhabit, long before Allen West elected to make a home in our state.
I mention Allen West's relative late coming to Florida not to suggest that he oughtn't hold office here, or to suggest that he's unentitled to his opinions. He should feel free to hold office and to assist with our governance as he sees fit. He won his election.
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But it is worth realizing just who West is referring to when he says, as he did in a premeeting interview, "The natives are restless. You go up and you whack a hornet's nest." The hornets, in this case, are Floridians who thought they were as much a part of this state as anybody until West showed up. They're citizens who thought they were as American as anybody until West decided they were enemy combatants. These are the individuals to whom West refers as insects.
They're not insects. They're Americans. And until West begins treating them as such -- not as enemies, but as decent individuals whose opinions happen to differ from his own -- patriotism demands that they keep showing up at his town halls, and keep raising the volume. It was West himself who called upon patriots to hie to Concord with their muskets to confront a political class that marginalized them. It was a fine sentiment. West shouldn't be surprised when some citizens take it to heart.
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