TWW Bluegrass Town Hall Spotlight: Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Last Tuesday Kentucky Senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came to the Anderson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. He arrived via a big black SUV, windows up and rolling at reckless speeds. He was all government with no time for democracy.
I never saw Senator McConnell once throughout the entire event. His windows remained sealed tight at both his entry and his exit, and not once did he venture outside to so much as wave, smile or acknowledge any of us or our concerns. We didn’t expect much differently than this however — thirty plus years with the senator has taught us not to.
This luncheon was originally slotted as a private luncheon exclusively for the benefit of business leaders in Anderson County. The vast majority of everyone else was shut out, excluded and ignored. It was not an open discussion between the people and the senator who is supposed to represent them.
TWW Bluegrass was fortunate enough to have a few members gain entry to the event — they reserved tickets in advance and went through heavy security to enter. Once inside, they reported that there was a special section of seats closest to the front for chamber members and other guests who were not required to have tickets.
Everyone with a ticket was told to sit in the seats farthest away. Most of us were outside behind a line of police tape about 25 feet from the gated entry. Halfway through the event the state troopers and secret service not only shut this gate on us, but chained it and padlocked it tight.
Even at 25 feet away behind a designated police line we were treated like a dangerous threat, and not as an assembly of citizens invoking their right to peacefully assemble. We were treated more like a violent mob. Senator McConnell just doesn’t get Kentucky, and more than that, he is largely motivated by a quest for power, wealth, and a place in history.
I’d have some difficulty telling you what he has done for Kentucky in the past thirty years. But I can tell you what he hasn’t done. He hasn’t sided with hardworking Kentuckians over big money and special interests, and he has never truly empathized with the single mom juggling two jobs, worrying about the cost of daycare, hoping that sneeze her little one has doesn’t become anything serious.
No, Senator McConnell is for the folks that can write fat checks, not for the folks who have more month than money at the end of their paychecks — despite how hard they work, how far down a mine shaft they crawl, or how many part time jobs they tack on to try and swing a few extra classes that might make their lives a little easier in the long run. Not this Senator, these aren’t on his agenda for Kentucky.
These kinds of people — the single moms, the working class, and the young folks being strapped by higher and higher costs for education — these are the folks he puts behind a police line and chains the gates to keep them at a safe distance. The folks let in? They have business connections and the right buzzwords to gain special passage.
What Democracy Looks Like
But Kentuckians are a tough people, a determined people, and a people who will not be ignored any longer. We were a large crowd, signs held high, unified chants, order and friendliness amongst ourselves, at times even singing.
Behind the safety of his chained and padlocked gate, inside the building hosting the chamber of commerce’s guests and those with tickets, Senator McConnell bragged that, “Winners make policy and losers go home.” He even went so far as to speak of the crowd and said: “They don’t share my agenda.”
We sought to be heard and he talks about his agenda, as though we sent him to D.C. to set an agenda for us, instead of setting an agenda that advanced us and our concerns. That’s the problem with folks that think they speak for you — they forget that your voice is just fine and all you need and want is some amplification.
Senator McConnell looked at the crowd and tried to paint us as an unruly mob, but I expect more from a man who claims a love for history. He ought to see the crowd as the living embodiment of so many parts of our past — our founding fathers and bold leaders like Lincoln, Roosevelt or Dr. King and Rosa Parks among them. Anyone with any level of appreciation for history ought to look at that crowd and see the long marathon race that is each generation handing liberty’s torch to the succeeding generation. It’s sometimes messy, but this is what democracy looks like.
McConnell fails to understand his role or the needs of Kentuckians. 400,000 of his constituents stand to be immediately impacted by a repeal to the Affordable Care Act. Such a move will strip millions of preventative care over the long term, and Kentucky already faces numerous health emergencies including lung cancer rates 50% higher than the nation’s average, ranking in the top ten for total rates of cancer, as well as a heroin and opioid epidemic. This February, one of Kentucky’s largest cities saw nearly two overdoses per hour in a 32-hour period of time.
These crises will be compounded by new measures from the heavy hand of Washington turning big coal loose to pollute — which will advance even higher rates of cancer and other illnesses in the future. But when has the senator ever spoke to this side of the coal topic? For him it’s all about the money and to hell with the people these measures will inevitably cost the lives of.
Holding Out For Hope
Still, Kentuckians hold out for hope, even in the damnedest places. It’s part of our genetic code. We came to this territory when it was a wild land, bristling with a dominating wildlife, vegetation and dangers all around. We dared the odds to stop us. From the wildness of this place we carved out some forts, and in time some cities, and still yet more time a commonwealth.
We know about hope and being resilient despite what we’re up against. The senator has yet to learn this about the people he is supposed to represent. We aren’t just persistent, it’s in our spirit to defy the odds. It is this fighting spirit, this boldness and fiery essence in who we are that brought a thousand people out to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky on February 21st to see the senator.
And here’s what we’re going to do about it: We’re going to remember every offense against hardworking Kentuckians
and their families — every ugly act senator McConnell has done, is doing, and will continue to do going forward — and we’re going to use each one to build, grow, and sustain a movement. This isn’t about replacing just one or two bad senators, bad members of Congress, or even a bad and unfit president and his administration.
What we’re after is the kind of resistance that opposes, challenges and overcomes bad policies, bad ideas and bad politicians with passion and determined motivation. Senator McConnell is sadly just one of many, but his determination against Kentuckians has only fed the determination of Kentuckians to stand against him. McConnell’s term is up in 2020. Together, we will build a winning campaign to force him into retirement. If we want any kind of worthwhile future, it’s our only option.
If you are in Kentucky and want to plug in, or if you just want to watch one of the videos from the rally, check out Together We Will Bluegrass.
Greg Welch is Vice Chair of the Jessamine County Democrats, Chair of the Political Impact Committee for Together We Will Bluegrass in Kentucky, and member of Together We Will USA Leadership Council and Chair of Blue Collar and Rural Strategy group. You can follow Greg on Twitter @GregDWelch