PHOTO: I was arrested this afternoon protesting in support of comprehensive immigration reform. pic.twitter.com/ALr7VEkI0R— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) October 8, 2013
The picture of Congressman Ellison being arrested this week in Washington D.C. at a rally to urge Congress to pass immigration reform is a powerful image. Congressman Ellison tweeted this picture out himself, announcing to the world his arrest. But please don’t think Congressman Ellison expected his act of civil disobedience to go unnoticed, nor should it. There is something truly remarkable about this picture of a congressman in handcuffs, being escorted to a police van.
The Republican Party of Minnesota used this situation to send out an e-mail, criticizing Congressman Ellison and to raise money. The fundraising e-mail began with “Minnesotans want civility and courage from our elected officials in Washington, DC.” I agree and Congressman Ellison’s arrest was both civil and courageous. I understand how the voluntary act of being arrested, by definition is uncivil. But Congressman Ellison’s arrest was, by all reports, respectful and civil. Congressman Ellison didn’t resist being arrested, he didn’t attempt to use his elected position as a member of Congress to evade arrest. It was a very Minnesota way to get arrested and it took courage.
Not all press is good press. I’m sure Congressman Ellison and his staff could have thought of different ways to generate press coverage that didn’t include the word “arrested” in the headline. But on this day, attending a rally and getting arrested was the best way for Congressman Ellison and other members of Congress to bring attention to a bi-partisan issue they support. Yes, Congressman Ellison and seven other members of Congress stood in line and blocked traffic near the U.S. Capitol and for this, they were arrested.
The fundraising appeal from the Republican Party of Minnesota also included the following paragraph:
How can a congressman who was elected to uphold the laws of the constitution justify breaking the law for the purpose of scoring political points? Ellison doesn’t accurately reflect the values of Minnesotans and is an embarrassment to our community.
I don’t agree with Congressman Ellison’s positions on many issues, but I will defend his right to score political points.
The etymology of the word politics comes the Greek word, politika, meaning “affairs of the city” or “state”. Congressman Ellison expressing his support for immigration reform or any other policy, is the definition of politics. Was there an element of political theater is his actions? Of course and that is part Congressman Ellison’s job – to passionately advocate for policy positions he supports and propose changes to existing laws.
I do wonder sometimes if those who drape themselves in the words of the U.S. Constitution have actually read it. I won’t ever claim to be a constitutional scholar. But even a rudimentary understanding of the U.S. Constitution and politics, would make the reasonable conclude that Congressmen Ellison not only acted within the laws of the Constitution, his actions embodied the true meaning of the words.
Minnesota politicians have a long history of amplifying the voice and reach of their elected office by uniquely expressing their support or displeasure with a certain policy position. A young Minneapolis Mayor named Hubert H. Humphrey, addressed the 1948 Democratic National Convention and boldly proclaimed:
My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late. To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.
Humphrey was tremendously brave for standing up and telling the leadership of his party, that the time had come for them to support the end to racial segregation. It was also brave of then U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone to use his first swearing-in ceremony to hand Vice-President Dan Quayle an audio tapefrom a town meeting where the foreign policy of the Bush administration was criticized.
Congressman Ellison getting arrested is as Minnesotan as eating Lutefisk, while listening to a good Ole and Lena joke.
The fundraising e-mail from the Republican Party of Minnesota ended with “Ellison should spend less time in handcuffs and more time doing his job to end the stalemate in Washington.” Congressman Ellison was doing his job when he was spending time in handcuffs. Members of Congress and all elected officials have a platform to communicate their positions on issues. They can use their platform to give speeches, attend rallies, break through barricades to escort veterans to memorials closed due to a federal government shutdown and yes, get arrested in acts of civil disobedience to draw attention to an issue they passionately support.
This post was written by Michael Brodkorb and originally published on politics.mn – an inside view of Minnesota politics. Follow politics.mn on Twitter: @politicsdotmn.
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