WHAT OTHERS SAY: Unruly Medicaid rally was an ineffective way to lobby

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. CDT

A "Rally for Dignity" last week descended into undignified shouting from the Senate gallery.

And that's a shame, because the disruption could be counter-productive for the organizers, Missouri Faith Voices.

An estimated 300 group members, including area pastors, participated in a rally at the Capitol to encourage Medicare expansion. The rally was followed by chanting and shouting from the Senate gallery, which resulted in a delay of Senate action and the arrests of 23 clergy members who disobeyed Capitol Police instructions to leave the gallery.

John Bennett, a retired local pastor, said "the reason I am here is because — for want of Medicaid expansion — 12 people die each week in the state of Missouri."

And the Rev. W.T. Edmonson, president of Faith Voices of Jefferson City, said: "We're simply saying, as people of faith, we have to speak out for the 'least of these.' Yeah, we interrupted the Senate, but how else were we going to be heard? We've done everything else!"

Those voices express both passion and frustration.

Because arrests were made, the concept of civil disobedience comes to mind.

Civil disobedience applies to intentional resistance to a law, which occurred after the disruption when instructions to vacate were disobeyed. The shouting itself was more akin to lobbying — relaying a message — than civil disobedience.

Will the manner of expression, disruption, advance or retard their message?

The reaction from lawmakers essentially was "we get it."

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said: "We deal with very serious and, sometimes, contentious issues which stir people's passion in the chamber and outside the chamber. At the end of the day, I don't think that disrupting the Senate is a good tactic."

Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, added: "Unfortunately, I don't think that type of protest is helpful to my efforts to try to get this to a vote. We have to employ tactics that further the strategy, not hinder it."

Senate decorum is a tradition respected by members of the upper chamber.

Missouri Faith Voices are likely to find their message is heard more convincingly when it is delivered with the dignity its members seek.

Copyright Jefferson City News-Tribune. Reprinted with permission.

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