If a recent demonstration is any indication, the calls for less incendiary dialogue, less use of provocative symbols, and less uncivil behavior in the wake of the Arizona tragedy were apparently reserved for those on the conservative side of the political equation. In Washington, D.C., a group calling itself “Wal-Mart Free DC” targeted the developer of a proposed Wal-Mart in that city for a protest. The location of that protest? The front lawn of the man’s private residence, where 25 people showed up last Thursday night. How did they know where to go? The group distributed a flyer with the developer’s home address–one which also contained drawings of cross-hairs and a smiley face.
The group claimed it is not affiliated with any particular union, but on the right side of its website home page (http://walmartfreedc.org) it displays a link to “Wal-Mart Watch” which is funded by two union groups, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and United Commercial and Food Workers International Union. They also display a link to “Good Jobs First,” a website which prominently displays a banner on which the words “Privatization Equals Corruption” are written, with a link to www.council4.org. Council 4 is part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), representing the state of Connecticut’s largest AFL-CIO union.
Yet even if one accepts the protesters’ claim of non-affiliation with any organized labor group in particular, it is inarguable that the tactic of targeting someone’s private residence for an intimidating protest is remarkably similar to what members of the SEIU did last May. In collaboration with a Chicago group called National Political Action, the labor union sent 14 busloads of protesters to the home of Greg Baer, deputy general counsel for the Bank of America. Unfortunately, the only one home at the time was Mr. Baer’s 14-year-old son, who was frightened enough to lock himself in a bathroom.
The target of last Thursday’s demonstration was developer Dick Knapp of Foulger-Pratt Development. One might be inclined to say Knapp knew what to expect, since this was the second demonstration held outside his home in just over a month. On Thursday, December 16th, Knapp and his family were subjected to a protest in which 20 activists marched in circles chanting, ”Keep D.C. Wal-Mart free.” Ironically, Knapp has yet to sign a deal with Wal-Mart at this writing.
Unions targeting peoples’ private residences is nothing new. Back in the 1990s, such protests were often undertaken by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which staged demonstrations in front of the homes of bankers. The demonstrations were designed to intimidate bankers into making more mortgages available to minority applicants, despite those applicants’ questionable credit credentials. The tactic proved to be enormously successful, and during the ensuing years, billions of dollars of sub-prime mortgages were underwritten–providing the much of the impetus for the housing bubble which finally burst in 2008. ACORN itself went bankrupt in November of last year, after contributions to the organization dried up as the result of a damning video showing ACORN workers advising an undercover duo posing as a pimp and a hooker how to apply for an illegal housing loan.
ACORN had long-standing ties with the SEIU, which were detailed in a report released in February 2010 by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Entitled “Follow the money: ACORN, SEIU and Their Political Allies, it detailed “illegal agreements that constitute a criminal conspiracy,” between ACORN and the SEIU, “thousands of fraudulent U.S. voter registrations” submitted by ACORN to various state voting registries, and ACORN”S role in the aforementioned housing collapse.
That collapse, successfully tied to Republicans and the Bush administration, despite overwhelming Democrat involvement, is one of the primary reasons Barack Obama was elected president. Mr. Obama’s campaign was substantially buttressed by tens of millions of dollars in union contributions. The Obama administration and a Democratically-controlled Congress returned the favor with an $862 billion stimulus program, ostensibly aimed at “shovel-ready” projects that were supposed to lower unemployment. (Last October, the president himself admitted there was “no such thing as shovel-ready projects”). In reality, most of the money went to shore up state budgets, many of which were severely hobbled by unsustainable health and pension benefits given to unionized public sector employees. Despite stagnating employment levels, Democrats, with substantial union backing, also enacted a healthcare bill with no Republican support against the wishes of the electorate.
These two developments led directly to the rise of the Tea Party movement–which engendered a number of union protests across the nation. One of those protests resulted in Kenneth Gladney, a black conservative, being beaten by SEIU thugs for handing out “don’t tread on me” flags at a Tea Party rally in St. Louis. Adding more fuel to the populist fire was a multi-city demonstration organized by the SEIU last May to protest Arizona’s immigration law. Like the health care bill, union support for illegal aliens further antagonized a healthy majority of the electorate, which also supported Arizona’s effort to deal with an illegal immigration problem the feds were studiously ignoring.
It is likely that unionized efforts to discredit the electorate’s stance on Arizona, and the Tea Party movement’s positions in general, led to greater scrutiny of union activity by an American public far more animated by politics than they had been in a long time. Much of that public was appalled by what they discovered, highlighted by news reports which revealed public sector workers were making almost twice as much in benefits and earnings as their private sector counterparts, even as state governments and the federal government were teetering on the brink of fiscal insolvency.
All of the above undoubtedly set the stage for the 2010 election. In short, it was a disaster for both Democrats and their union supporters. With the possible exception of Illinois and California, states across the country, even union-friendly New York, are gearing up for an unprecedented battle with organized labor. How will the unions respond? It is no secret that several countries in Europe have been subjected to large, often violent demonstrations, directly resulting from efforts to reign in budget-busting union excesses.
Whether similar scenarios will play themselves out in America remains to be seen. At the demonstration last May in Maryland, SEIU spokesman Stephen Lerner had this to say about targeting private residences: ”People in powerful corporations seem to think they can insulate themselves from the damage they are doing.” Perhaps Mr. Lerner, along with other like-minded unionists and their supporters, might want to consider the damage they are doing to their own cause with such a thuggish attitude. If the 2010 election is any indication, unions are no more “insulated” than those they target. Demonstrations and protests which were justified in the 1930s and tolerated in the 1990s, are now seen as little more than rank intimidation by a growing portion of the American public. Staging two protests at someone’s private residence, with people directed to the second one by a flyer with someone’s personal address and the drawing of cross hairs on it, is a dubious political tactic at best. Doing it less than three weeks after an American tragedy elicited nationwide calls for civility and restraint? Political tone-deafness–on steroids.