The video is striking: Protesters angry about Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s opposition to the $3.5 trillion social safety net package currently being considered by Congress follow her into a bathroom to make their point – filming Sinema as she enters a stall.
The video, which runs almost 2 minutes, spends much of its time showing the stall where Sinema is. The senator never engages with the protesters – verbally or otherwise.
Though only uploaded to Twitter on Sunday afternoon, the video has already been viewed more than 4.7 million times. Which, for the people who followed Sinema to the bathroom, will look like success. As will the plaudits they received from some corners of liberal Twitter who are enraged with Sinema’s opposition to a higher price tag for a budget bill that contains the bulk of President Joe Biden’s major first term agenda items.
While it may look like a victory, it is not one. It is, in fact, a defeat. Because tactics like these – whether used against Republicans or Democrats – is confrontation culture taken too far. It is simply not productive to follow an elected official into the bathroom – videoing all the way – to make your point. You can wait outside. She can’t stay in the bathroom forever.
To be clear: I am not Pollyanna-ish about the nature of political dialogue in this country. Conversations and confrontations that were once reserved for committee hearings and town halls have become de rigueur as members of Congress go about their daily lives in their state or district. And, generally speaking, more citizen engagement and involvement is a good thing for the health of our democracy – particularly after the cataclysm we all witnessed on January 6 at the US Capitol.
Despite the blurring of the lines between public and private life, a line still does exist. And following someone into the bathroom and filming their stall is over the line. It just is. Common decency dictates that we let people go to the bathroom with the reasonable expectation of privacy. This video was clearly a violation of Sinema’s privacy.
Sinema said in a statement Monday that the activist group involved in the video is “one that both my team and I have met with several times” and their “behavior was not legitimate protest.”
“Yesterday, several individuals disrupted my class at Arizona State University. After deceptively entering a locked, secure building, these individuals filmed and publicly posted videos of my students without their permission – including footage taken of both my students and I using a restroom,” she said.
Consider this: If following Sinema to the bathroom is rationalized by those who oppose her policy decisions, what then would be off limits? Would forcing open the stall door to even more directly confront her be OK with you? If not, why not? I mean, you’ve already followed her into the bathroom, right?
Unfortunately, as long as we reward behavior like this – and 4.7 million views is plenty of a reward, not to mention all of the publicity this episode has attracted – the more we encourage it. And this is simply not the sort of thing that, societally, we should stand for.
There is a time and a place for these sorts of confrontations. And Sinema, as an elected official, needs to be ready, willing and able to deal with those who want to not only oppose her policy decisions but also to do so in a public way.
A bathroom stall is not that place. And by confronting her as she goes to the bathroom, the protesters lose the power of their message. Sure, their video has lots of views. But people are watching because of the shock of seeing a US senator confronted in a bathroom. The issues that drove the protesters to such a breach of privacy are largely lost.