Does public harassment of politicians work?

To intrude when someone is having lunch or dinner and start berating them while filming their reaction does not accomplish anything but create an unpleasant situation for everyone

A new trend which started in the US seems to have worked its way and found a place over here, with common citizens verbally harassing and confronting politicians whom they see out in public.

The Youtube video of Nationalist MPs Clyde Puli and Kirsty Debono being shouted at by an unknown woman while they were at a coffee shop, has been making the rounds, and has raised a lot of questions about this type of behaviour.  While I understand that elected politicians are accountable to voters, who often become frustrated at what they see as a dismissal of their concerns, does this taking matters into one’s own hands actually work?

In the increasingly polarized atmosphere of the US, two similar incidents occurred recently.  The first one concerned  Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen who was (rather foolishly) eating at a Mexican restaurant in Washington, and was met by jeering protestors chanting "If kids don't eat in peace, you don't eat in peace." 

When the video was shared by the Metro D.C. Democratic Socialists of America on heir FB page, the status read, “We’re in downtown DC disrupting DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s dinner at MXDC. The irony isn’t lost on us that this is a Mexican restaurant. Nielsen has led the program to tear apart families. We are here to tell her to put an end to separating families, to step down as head of the department, and that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CBP (Customs & Border Protection) must be abolished.” 

The comments on the page were mostly congratulatory, saying that the protesters had done the right thing (although there were also those who said this would make them vote for Trump even more).

The second incident involved White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who was asked to leave a restaurant in Virginia by the owner on “moral grounds” because she works for the Trump administration.

These occurrences have led to a public debate on various talk shows, with panels discussing whether businesses have the right to refuse service on the grounds that they do not agree with someone’s politics. On the popular daytime talk show The View, the general consensus was that this would lead to a slippery slope of discriminating on the basis of political ideology, with the inevitable question being, where would one draw the line?  Should shops and restaurants put up signs saying “Liberals (or Republicans) not welcome here”?  Will friends and family stop socializing because of divergence of opinion on the direction which Trump’s America has taken?  To a certain extent this is already happening, but protestors who are now taking it to another level by directly confronting anyone who works with the administration when they are out and about in their private lives, have escalated the already heightened tensions. 

By filming the confrontation and uploading it to social media, the act takes on even more significance, because of course it invites commentary, and might possibly egg people on to push the envelope even further with every new encounter.  Again, one has to question whether there is a limit to this, while also pointing out that there is a difference between shouting your disapproval at a political event (which is perfectly legitimate), and doing so while a political figure is having dinner in a private capacity.

But back to the local version of this tactic. When Clyde Puli (who is also PN Secretary General) was verbally accosted, it was because he forms part of the Adrian Delia faction of the PN. To his credit, he kept his cool and even answered the activist’s taunting questions while the waiters tried to stop her from filming, which she refused to do.  The hostilities between those who support Delia and those who wish to see him fail so that he can be replaced, are now so much out in the open that all pretence has been dropped. Heated arguments regularly erupt over Facebook between those who up until last year were all happy to be working together at the Stamperija and Radio 101.   The question is whether this video is the beginning of something new, where confrontation will spill over into the real world and those in the political sphere will have their privacy intruded upon by anyone with an iPhone. And, if this is what is going to happen, then we too need to ask where does one draw the line at this behaviour?  We also have to ask whether this is fair to the private establishments where this disruption takes place when an activist decides to make a scene?

I am not in any way suggesting that politicians should be given an easy pass, or that they should not be answerable to us the voters. Obviously, they should.  But I also believe there is a time and place when confrontations should take place - for example, a press conference or a ribbon-cutting ceremony would be a perfect opportunity to ask difficult questions, voice one’s protest and put a politician on the spot. But to intrude when someone is having lunch or dinner and start berating them while filming their reaction to the provocation does not, in my view, accomplish anything but create an unpleasant situation for everyone.

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