Rep. Andy Harris, the lone Republican in Maryland's Congressional delegation, has chosen to hold a telephone town hall meeting rather than the in-person variety in part on the grounds that the protesters he anticipates would show up are "organized." He's not the only one to use the o-word as a means of suggesting that protests against the Trump administration and Republican Congress are the in-person version of fake news. Gov. Larry Hogan's spokesman said his office deleted comments from the governor's Facebook page and barred users from further commenting when they deemed them to be part of an "organized campaign." Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, brushed off an angry crowd at a town hall meeting as "organized opposition by people who were on the losing side of the election." A Republican official in California called the crowding of town hall meetings "an organized effort within the Democratic and progressive movement in this country to attempt to become the liberal equivalent of the tea party." Newly confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in an interview that the opposition to her confirmation did not consist of "spontaneous, genuine protests" but rather was "sponsored and very carefully planned."
Mr. Harris went further, alleging that the protests against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act are being funded by George Soros, as a number of conspiracy-minded websites have done in an attempt to delegitimize the Women's March and the protests against President Donald Trump's immigration order. There is no question that Mr. Soros and his associated foundations have supported organizations that were involved in the Women's March — Planned Parenthood, for example — but the notion that he is somehow ginning up opposition where there was none, or actually paying protesters to show up, as some sites allege, is not remotely borne out by the facts.
Thousands of Marylanders marched on Washington the day after Mr. Trump's inauguration not because someone told them to but because they wanted their voices heard. People showed up at BWI-Thurgood Marshall International Airport the weekend after Mr. Trump announced his ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations not because Mr. Soros paid them but because they wanted to make clear to the president and to the world that his action did not represent their values. Likewise, people showed up en masse at Congressional town hall meetings seven years ago to protest what would become the Affordable Care Act not because they were Republican Party plants but because they were actually upset.
The concept of ordinary citizens organizing around a common goal has, bizarrely, been under assault by Republicans at least since Sarah Palin sneeringly observed at the 2008 Republican National Convention that being "a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities." They seem to have forgotten Margaret Mead's famous observation, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Abolitionists were organized. Suffragettes were organized. The labor movement was organized. The civil rights movement was organized. So are the tea party, the National Rifle Association and the March for Life. Do Republicans ignore them? Should King George III have ignored the Declaration of Independence as the product of an "organized campaign" — and one bearing the literal signature of a rich, liberal rabble-rouser to boot?
Elected officials can argue whether the fear or anger that drives protest movements is well grounded in fact — in-person town hall meetings are an excellent opportunity to do just that. But they can pretend it doesn't exist at their peril, particularly when it's well organized. Plenty of Democrats learned that the hard way in 2010.