Rep. Joe Walsh gets occupied

On Capitol Hill, the Tea Party leader succumbs to a radical demand: He actually talks to a jobless constituent

Topics: Occupy Wall Street, Take Back the Capitol, Joe Walsh, ,

Rep. Joe Walsh gets occupiedProtesters in the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday. (Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

As I sat there with my laptop in a hallway of the Cannon House Office Building of the U.S. Capitol, I saw the gaping eyes of Rep. Joe Walsh, Republican of Illinois and leader of the Tea Party. “I think that’s him,” I murmured to Micah Uetricht, a Chicago-based journalist. The congressman stared at us — about a dozen activists, journalists and unemployed constituents encamped outside his congressional office — for all of a second, and then took off in the opposite direction, his aide in tow.

It’s not every day you see unemployed constituents and economic justice activists in the halls of congressional office buildings in Washington, D.C. — corridors typically reserved for their most common inhabitants: politicians, staffers and, of course, lobbyists. But a real live unemployed person? The sight scared Rep. Walsh right down the stairwell.

Yesterday was no ordinary day in the nation’s capital. More than a thousand activists and constituents came together for a “Take Back the Capitol” action, as 99 or more delegations descended on congressional offices, demanding meetings with members of Congress to call on them to support jobs legislation and battle income inequality.

Not all members of Congress fled from these meetings, as Walsh did. At least three were courteous.  Rep. Sean Duffy, a Wisconsin Republican — who famously told irate constituents to hold their “own town hall” earlier this year —  tweeted that he had a “positive discussion” about the economy with Occupy activists. Duffy even posted a Facebook picture in which he posed smiling with them. Wisconsin’s freshman Republican Sen. Ron Johnson held a meeting that lasted more than half an hour with protesters; Rep. Virginia Foxx of Virginia also met with activists.

Things did not go as smoothly in Walsh’s office. The volatile Walsh, elected in 2010, is perhaps best known for boycotting the State of the Union address and refusing to pay more than $100,000 in child support payments for his four children.  His chief of staff Justin Rosh said that the congressman was busy and offered to meet with us instead. The protesters showed no interest in that. Rosh said Walsh could come back to meet with them in the afternoon. “I think we’ll stay,” said one protester. Rosh shrugged. With that, the occupation of Walsh’s office began.

We arranged ourselves so as not to disrupt the office’s normal business. One occupier was Andy Gebel, who had been unemployed for almost two and a half years — a victim of the Great Recession caused largely by the very banks Walsh defends. In an outburst last month, Walsh told constituents, “Don’t blame banks, and don’t blame the marketplace for the mess we’re in right now! I am tired of hearing that crap!”

Gebel was rather calmer.

“I’d like to see some kind of commitment from him to not cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” he told me. “And get some sort of jobs program going and boost the economy.”

One activist, Rebecca Green of Stand Up Chicago, started a lengthy discussion with a Walsh staffer about income inequality. As Green showed her charts of income inequality over the years, the staffer agreed that there was a lot wrong with the economy for people to be angry about.

The 24-year-old Green, who got her start protesting a 32 percent fee hike at the University of California, Berkeley, recently moved out to Illinois to be a professional organizer.

“We wanted to talk to him about our stories so he can have a better idea of what’s going on in the lives of his constituents,” she told me. “So he can start representing the 99 percent instead of the 1 percent.”

Staffers told us that Walsh — who had entered his private office earlier without saying a word — would likely be able to meet us at 3 p.m. Yet as the time passed, he was nowhere to be seen. Finally, at around 3:20, Walsh darted out of a side door. Uetricht, Green and I took chase, hoping to catch the congressman. But as he took off down a set of stairs, we gave up.

“We have decaf coffee!” I shouted after him, referencing another famous outburst by Walsh earlier this year. After haranguing a group of constituents to cease their complaints about Wall Street, the overwrought congressman had suddenly asked for a cup of coffee. “We have decaf,” they replied brightly.

As the day drew to a close, we remained camped both inside and outside Walsh’s office. We were told he might not come back at all. But then he appeared, again quickly rushing by and slamming the door behind him. Activists marched into his office and decided to vote on whether to stay. They decided to leave. Yet as we were about to exit, Gebel met with Rosh and a short private meeting with Walsh was agreed upon.

Afterward, Gebel emerged and explained that Walsh basically did not agree with us – a finding that did not surprise. Green the activist was content to claim a victory in the simple fact of getting a meeting. As the protesters marched out with their heads held high, chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” it was hard to deny they had won something. They had forced Joe Walsh to do something he obviously preferred not to do: talk face-to-face with a member of the 99 percent.

Zaid Jilani is a Syracuse University graduate student and freelance writer. Follow him @zaidjilani.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>