August 17, 2009
By Rory Cooper
In November 2000, a small group of vote counters in Florida's
Miami-Dade County protested the canvassing board's decision to move
into a private room and recount only a handful of votes without
media or public monitoring. The Left promptly dubbed this action
the "Brooks Brothers Riot." I was a part of that group, and I
remain proud of those constitutionally guaranteed efforts to this
All this should be just a part of history now. But it's back in
the news again, thanks to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs,
who recently compared this month's town hall protesters to the
"Brooks Brothers Brigade." Gibbs' glib remark opened the
floodgates. Liberals everywhere have gleefully piled on, decrying
the phenomenon of thousands of Americans exercising their First
Amendment rights at town hall meetings as conservative thug
A former White House chief of staff went so far as to call the
past and current protests "fascist." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
calls them "un-American," and left-wing Web sites and cable anchors
have carried the chorus as well.
Gibbs and his well-schooled echo chamber seem to have no qualms
about smearing the protesters and misrepresenting their expressions
of concerns as manufactured "astro-turf" events. But it just won't
As a high White House official has noted, facts are a stubborn
thing. Here are the facts, starting with November 2000. At the time
I worked for a campaign committee. I was paid nearly $20,000 a year
while living in one of the most expensive cities in America. I
couldn't yet afford Brooks Brothers; those were discount threads I
was sporting. Then, as today, I was hungry to participate in
governance and the electoral process - just like a young community
organizer named Barack Obama. Yes, I was flown down to Florida to
count votes, just as Democratic congressional and campaign staffers
were. No, nobody paid me to protest.
In fact, nobody requested we do so. Protest was a natural civic
inclination, prompted when we saw democracy being taken in a
mischievous direction. And no, not once did anyone ever purport to
be a local citizen, or disguise their identities. It would've been
silly of me not to take off my sport coat if that were the
After several of us were identified in the Washington Post, I
received countless death threats and was labeled a "brown shirt" on
several left-wing Web sites. We were vilified for continuing our
political careers back home.
Today, supposedly reputable supporters and staffers of President
Obama are smearing us once again, in an attempt to shift the focus
from their disastrous health-care proposals. Hypocritically, they
throw around words like "fascist," even as they object to others
labeling policies as "socialist." Maybe, if we had worn tie-dyed
shirts and burned American flags in Florida, the Left would have
accepted us as legitimate protesters. Maybe if we had bombed the
U.S. Capitol and Pentagon as former fugitive protester William
Ayers did, we would've been invited over for dinner.
Or better yet, maybe if we were members of a professional
protest group like ACORN, we could've received "stimulus" funds.
Nine years ago, I and many other concerned and yes, patriotic,
citizens rescued the democratic process from taking an ugly turn.
We didn't ask that the counting stop. We demanded that all the
votes, not a cherry-picked few, be counted. We yelled until the
media turned on their cameras, and once they were on, the board
members could no longer hide.
The shine of the light, the scrutiny of the press, the open and
honest debate made several people up to no good stop what they were
doing. Today, thousands of Americans are going to town hall
meetings across the nation and telling their elected
representatives that they are worried.
And watching. They are demanding that one-sixth of the nation's
economy not be "reformed" without a thoughtful debate. They're
demanding that their representatives read the bill and yes, even
understand it, before voting for it. They are begging that reform
doesn't take a shape that pushes millions out of their private
insurance and onto a government-run plan.
In this representative democracy, they are telling their
representatives that the silent majority is no longer silent.
Yelling, singing, making homemade signs might seem ridiculous to
the elite few, but fighting for a prosperous and healthy future is
not considered a ridiculous notion by families discussing current
events at kitchen tables across the country.
I was proud to protest in November 2000. But I am much prouder
of my fellow Americans who are actively participating in the
democratic process this month. Presidents, and their policies, have
been protested since George Washington's day. There's a reason our
forefathers granted us this inherent right, or obligation. The
White House would be wise to call off the attack dogs and
participate in this process rather than mock it. Better, bipartisan
health-care legislation that actually reforms our current system
rather than replacing it with something worse and costlier is the
Cooper is director of strategic communications at The Heritage
Distributed nationally on the McClatchy-Tribune News Service
In November 2000, a small group of vote counters in Florida's Miami-Dade County protested the canvassing board's decision to move into a private room and recount only a handful of votes without media or public monitoring. The Left promptly dubbed this action the "Brooks Brothers Riot." I was a part of that group, and I remain proud of those constitutionally guaranteed efforts to this day.
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