Commentary

Congresswomen’s Staged Arrests—a Case of Liberal “Causeplay”


This week, numerous left-wing U.S. Representatives—most notably Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN)—blocked traffic near the U.S. Capitol as part of a pro-abortion protest. Capitol Police told the demonstrators to move and they refused, so the police detained them. It was a “stunning and brave” effort in support of abortion, or at least it would have been if Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Omar had remembered not to break faux-handcuffed poses to wave or make Black Panther–style fist salutes.

Political Theater on the Left

In truth, this is yet another act of cynical political theater inherent to the left-progressive movement. The Washington Examiner reports that the Center for Popular Democracy Action Fund organized and promoted the demonstration. The center is the lobbying arm of the left-wing community organizing hub Center for Popular Democracy, which was involved in campaigning to oppose the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

According to the Examiner:

Omar spokesman Jeremy Slevin tweeted about 30 minutes before the lawmakers hit the street that a film crew with the dark money group would be on the scene live streaming the event.

“Members of Congress, including [Omar] will be participating in a civil disobedience at the Supreme Court, potentially including arrests, shortly,” Slevin tweeted before the lawmakers began illegally obstructing the street outside the Supreme Court. “@CPDAction is live streaming it. Follow along!”

But contrary to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s assertion that what she and her colleagues did was “very different than a ‘publicity stunt,’” it was just that. Classical civil disobedience involves breaking an unjust law to demonstrate its injustice—think Civil Rights hero Rosa Parks refusing to go to the back of a Montgomery bus.

Laws permitting the free flow of traffic on the public roadway are not unjust. Breaking them, especially in a manner obviously orchestrated to ensure that the demonstrators face little to no meaningful jeopardy, does not demonstrate injustice because there isn’t any.

“Staged arrest” stunts like the abortion demonstration of CPD Action, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, and her colleagues are commonplace in the left-progressive movement. It’s a sort of political-advocacy version of “stolen valor,” the offense in military circles of claiming honors and distinctions one did not earn. In these stunts, the protagonists try to simulate the real jeopardy that Parks and other Civil Rights Era demonstrators faced, but without the major inconvenience of a serious protest.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez was not even handcuffed. She was processed on site as what the Capitol Police described as a “non-custodial arrest,” issued a $50 fine, and sent on her way.

Political Cosplay

Radical-Left tactician Saul Alinsky was a supporter of a different sort of arrest-related strategy. One biography of Alinsky summarized his views:

Imprisonment not only results in the development of [more effective] revolutionaries who have a complete strategy worked out as a result of their temporary withdrawal, but another consequence is the creation of martyrs—Gandhi’s hunger strike, the emergence of Martin Luther King because of his being put in jail . . . jailings [not only] become badges of honor but they also become credentials and a license for leadership.

One wonders what the progenitor of the modern Left’s tactical manual would think of his successors’ ideological “causeplay.”

Michael Watson

Michael is Research Director for Capital Research Center and serves as the managing editor for InfluenceWatch. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he previously worked for a…
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