Barbara Smith never set out to become anyone’s definition of an “anarchist.”
How subversive can one be when living in the bucolic community of Auburn? The county seat of Placer isn’t where one goes to bring the down the government. Auburn is where one goes to retire, which is what Smith did with her husband Roy.
Smith, 61, is a former Elk Grove school teacher. Roy is a retired military man who also wore a badge in the California Highway Patrol. She is in four – count ’em, four – book clubs. She only joined Twitter in January, and the photo she picked for her profile highlights her sweet smile and “mom” glasses.
But an “anarchist” is what Smith has become, at least in the eyes of Congressman Tom McClintock. During the past six weeks, she has been one of the hundreds of vocal people attending McClintock’s town hall meetings to express concerns about the policies of President Donald Trump and McClintock’s support of them.
“In theory, I’m doing what good citizens are supposed to do,” Smith said by telephone Friday. “You want citizens to inform themselves, to make critical decisions. … In my mind, it would be criminal to sit on the sidelines now. It would say that I’m complicit with what’s going on in our country. If you don’t stand out and speak up, you are complicit and complacent.”
It was after a February town hall meeting in Roseville – one that Smith attended – that McClintock first described an “anarchist element” among the crowd he faced. He claimed this element was there to “disrupt” his meeting and left the impression that they had. The event ended with McClintock making like the Road Runner in those old Warner Brothers cartoons – a cloud of dust and he was gone.
When asked about the meeting, Roseville police Chief Daniel Hahn later dispelled the notion of any danger. “People were loud, but that was the extent of it,” he said.
McClintock had been escorted to his vehicle by police out of an abundance of caution, but he had bolted on his own after facing an audience that was less than fawning. Older people, younger people, grandmas in their lawn chairs, students, longtime residents, they all wanted to know why McClintock was supporting Trump’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The crowd had other concerns too, but the fear that very soon – with McClintock’s help – people could lose their health care or see it erode dramatically was the dominant issue.
Like others who attended the Roseville town hall meeting, political activism is new to Smith. At one time, she had a busy life. She raised her daughter. She taught grade school, third grade mostly, before finishing up her career as a fifth-grade social studies teacher. She became a grandmother.
Then Trump ran for president and Smith, with more time on her hands, began phone banking for Hillary Clinton. She even knocked on doors for her in Reno. The results of the Nov. 8 election came as a shock to her. “I had a six-week crying jag,” she said, jokingly. “My husband finally said, ‘I can’t live with you anymore. You need to find a way to channel this energy.’ It had gone beyond anger. It was rage.”
Smith said she initially couldn’t speak to family members who were Trump supporters. “I can’t support the supposed idea to deconstruct the state,” she said. “Or the sheer number of bills to deregulate, decentralize or abolish protections we depend on. I can’t support the people Trump has chosen to carry out these activities – people who are unqualified, incompetent and reprehensible. How can not feeding children and senior citizens be seen as bringing results? It’s an example of a mindset where the almighty dollar and the wealthiest people in this country are of paramount concern.”
But what to do about it? Smith’s concerns were national and global, but you have to win locally in American politics to effect change. Across America, thousands of people like Smith – people concerned about Trump – also were wondering where they could put their efforts.
Smith found her blueprint for political action with the help of the hashtag #resist. It led her to a PDF, produced just before Christmas, called the “Indivisible Guide,” at www.indivisibleguide.com. Written by a group of former congressional staffers, the document actually is a recitation of the most successful tactics used against Democrats since 2009. That was the year the Affordable Care Act became a polarizing topic and helped inspire the tea party movement.
Those tactics, which include packing town hall meetings, picketing district offices of congressional representatives and coordinating phone calls and other correspondence, were incredibly effective. Democrats ended up losing the House. They lost the Senate. They lost statehouses and, with Trump, they eventually lost the White House.
Now, left-leaning people are trying to turn the tables by using the weapons so effectively used against them. When it comes to McClintock, though, this strategy is the definition of a long shot. A conservative darling and frequent guest on Fox News, McClintock represents the 4th Congressional District in California, easily one of the most conservative. There are larger clusters of Democrats in Placer County, where Smith lives, but they are nullified across nine other rural counties. McClintock’s district runs through Alpine, Amador, Nevada, Tuolumne, Madera and Fresno counties.
Like Smith, Alisa Holleron, 60, got politically active for the first time during the 2016 presidential election. She had moved to Amador County 15 years ago from Chicago with her husband. She came from a political family but had rejected politics until she became a passionate Bernie Sanders supporter.
A psychotherapist, Holleron stakes her professional life on building relationships and resolving conflict. She said Trump’s harsh campaign rhetoric had horrified her. After Trump was elected, she began contacting McClintock’s office to express her concerns.
She saw the calls to McClintock as an opportunity to find common ground. Then came the Roseville town hall and McClintock’s characterizations of people like her as “anarchists.” She subsequently started a group called “Who are we McClintock?” On Friday, she said she’s having difficulty getting through to McClintock’s office and is only getting voicemail.
Holleron went from only wanting to be heard to now wanting to defeat McClintock when he runs for re-election in 2018. “The more he ignores us, the more I am driven to working against him,” she said. “I’m a 60-year-old mother and grandmother. I don’t feel like I can sit idly by.”
Do Smith and Holleron feel they have a chance to oust McClintock? “I don’t know if it’s an achievable goal but we want to put pressure on him,” Smith said.“It would be really difficult to unseat him, but why not try?”
Why not? You never know what can happen when grandmothers driven by love and patriotism decide to #resist.