House of Representatives Sit In

We are in a topsy turvy situation when our elected representatives, who are inside the establishment, must resort to civil disobedience, a tool traditionally used by those outside the establishment, in order to have their voices heard. Just as we learned that our primary voting laws and convention delegate rules need to be thoroughly reviewed and reformed, we are now seeing that so must the rules of the House (and the Senate for different reasons).


When a system does not provide legitimate means for dissenting voices to be heard, let alone voices that represent a significant majority on a specific issue, eventually those voices will go outside the system, and sometimes will bring the system down. All systems must have meaningful dissent channels built into them or passionate ideas will create their own channels as we are witnessing with the sit-in on the House Floor being transmitted through the twitter app Periscope.

We saw an example of an institutionalized dissent channel earlier this week when 51 mid level employees of the US Department of State signed a dissent memo urging the Obama administration to reconsider its policy toward Syria. The use of the dissent memo may have been an embarrassment to the White House but it allows divergent views to be heard without having to leak them to a reporter in a basement garage. Dissent channels are both safety valves and self-corrective mechanisms for the system.

The House of Representatives needs to examine how it can give the minority party a sufficient voice to work within the system. If there were a way for the minority to bring an issue about which it feels passionate to the floor for debate and vote, it would not now be sitting on the floor.

Intelligent Disobedience is an act of declining to be part of a specific action deemed to be wrong within a system that is generally regarded as fair. Civil Disobedience is a protest against the unfairness of the system itself and an attempt to transform or overthrow it. It is time for both political parties in our system to sit down and rework the rules to ensure fairness regardless of which is in power. That would be a healthy institutional outcome of the chaos ensuing as this is written.

House of Representatives Sit In
2016 © Ira Chaleff Publications