by Steve Norris
Early last week, a few days before the solstice, we received word of an upcoming Republican Party dinner in western North Carolina hosted by a former member of Congress, Charles Taylor, who has been linked to a failed bank and the Russian mafia. Last year in 2018 about twenty of us picketed outside of this annual event of Taylor’s at Asheville’s upscale Crowne Plaza Resort. On that occasion we were threatened with arrest and forced to withdraw. This year, to avoid another early exit, a few of us simply bought banquet tickets.
Arriving to the dinner on the evening of December 21, 2019, Kendall Hale, Debby Genz, and I entered a lions’ den of about three hundred cultish Republican leaders and public officials. Being inside offered us opportunities which did not exist outside. Not knowing the layout of the room or seating arrangements, not knowing how many people would be attending, not knowing what security would be like, and not knowing whether we would have assigned seats, we could not create detailed plans beforehand. We knew, though, that we could be creative, bold, and steadfast–and that if possible we wanted to sit near the front where we could have the most impact.
When we arrived, however, we learned that not only were there assigned seats, but also that our table was near a back corner of the room. On the table was glossy pro-Trump propaganda – “In 2020 help Trump defeat Socialism”. Worse still, at our table of eight guests across from us was a cop in uniform, with a gun on his hip, and his wife next to him. Not only did we have to make small talk with them and the other guests while we ate, but the three of us had to recalculate our action plan in whispers to one another. We also had to listen to a parade of speakers applauding the “incredible historical accomplishments” of the Trump administration: keeping out immigrants, loosening regulations, appointing conservative judges, passing tax cuts for the wealthy, and so on. The food was good, but being there was frightening and stressful. At the same time, however, it was exciting knowing that maybe we could pull off our action right under their noses, and if so, that we’d turn this banal holiday party into something they might remember as the most colorful and challenging event of their holiday season.
After the dinner ended (we had to forego the cheesecake) and as the formal program was beginning, Kendall and I abruptly and without fanfare stood up and unfurled a banner that said “Climate Emergency, Extinction Rebellion.” Since it was too noisy to give our prepared speech, we chanted “Climate Emergency, Rebel for Life” as we walked to the front of room and across to the podium. At some point I said in my loudest voice “I’m sorry to interrupt your holiday festivities, but my and your children and grandchildren are gravely endangered by climate change.” As Debby video-ed, the stunned audience weakly began to chant, “Make American Great Again” and “USA! USA!…” in a belated attempt to drown us out. Soon after, two frantic hotel security guards grabbed us and pushed us out a side door, warning “You must leave the grounds immediately or be arrested”. Here’s a video of the action: https://www.facebook.com/XRWNC/posts/158178205590762.
A friend wrote me the next day: “I would have been scared shitless. I would have expected to have been beaten.” Kendall is sure that this was her most scary action ever. But she did it anyway. Many activists now believe that we must take personal risks, as well as risk arrest, if we are going to confront the challenges posed by climate change, mass extinction, and the myriad violent, oppressive policies of the Trump administration. It seems fitting that during this Christmas season, celebrating the rebel Jesus who as a young man disrupted the activities of the money changers in the Temple in Jerusalem, that a few of us should make the lives of these greedy and corrupt Republican zealots uncomfortable as well.