Some people wear tinfoil hats. Some see conspiracies everywhere. Some even look around at public meetings, and see spies where there are none.
B.C. NDP MLA David Eby, for instance, sees spies. B.C. Liberal spies, to be precise.
A little while ago, Eby -- who seems like a nice fellow, albeit a bit paranoid -- was at a meeting in Richmond, B.C. A few young folks had gathered to talk about housing, which is the subject matter of Eby's critic role in the B.C. legislature.
A B.C. Liberal caucus researcher was there, too. She wasn't trespassing or anything -- it was a public gathering in a public place, one that had been promoted on Facebook and whatnot. The researcher recorded some of the proceedings, as researchers -- and reporters, and NDP staffers everywhere -- are wont to do.
Eby, however, went completely bananas about it. Later on, Eby -- who (historians will note) is the guitarist for a band called World of Science, for which (the band says) he writes "sad bastard lyrics" -- spared no adjective to describe the wicked, immoral and frankly Satanic presence of the young B.C. Liberal person.
It was "appalling," he said. It was "reprehensible." It was "a violation of the privacy rights of youth." And so on and so on. World of Science's sad bastard lyricist probably would have called it a war crime if he could have gotten away with it.
Except, David, it isn't. It wasn't. Sending staffers to the other side's public events, in fact, has been going on since Jesus was a little feller, and you know it.
In every election campaign since time immemorial, in fact, political operatives have been quietly doing what that young B.C. Liberal researcher did. Intent on witnessing an opponent's misstep, they are ever more showing up to capture mistakes made when the mainstream news media aren't present. Like Shekar Ramanuja Sidarth did with the Republican golden boy, George Allen.
George Allen's sad tale goes back to 2006, when he was seeking re-election to the Senate as the Republican standard-bearer. Allen was widely seen as a future possible presidential candidate, and he assiduously sought the support of so-called cultural conservatives -- that is, those folks who want to preserve "one culture for one nation." They're not fussy about foreigners, particularly foreigners who don't look like them. Allen was their (white, Christian) man.
One young man who didn't look like Allen, but knew a great deal about him, was Shekar Ramanuja Sidarth. At the time, Sidarth -- who also answered to Sid -- was a straight-A senior at the University of Virginia and a Hindu. He was Virginia born and raised. Though he was studying engineering, politics was what interested him the most. He'd volunteered on a few Democratic campaigns, and by 2006 he was devoting himself to Democrat James Webb's Senate battle.
His role was to be what I call a "road warrior": following around Webb's opponent with a camcorder, basically. He'd capture misstatements or mistakes, and then relay them back to the central campaign in Arlington. This went on for a few weeks, and while Allen's people didn't particularly like Sidarth following them around -- like David Eby doesn't like to be followed around, apparently -- they didn't do anything to stop him, and mostly treated him courteously.
Until one Friday afternoon event in a park near the Kentucky border, that is. At that event, Allen did something he hadn't done before: he singled Sidarth out. He pointed at him. "This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca or whatever his name is, he's with my opponent," said Allen. "So welcome, let's give a welcome to macaca here! Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia!"
The crowd cheered, even though some of them knew, or suspected, that George Allen had just used a disgusting slur. "Macaca" means "monkey," and it has also been infamously used to describe African immigrants. Sidarth, who knew what the word meant, was shocked. On the resulting footage, you could see that his hand was shaking.
They're not only allowed to be there. They're helping democracy, too.
As with most such things in politics these days, the clip of Allen calling Sidarth a dark-skinned "monkey" eventually ended up on YouTube. Sidarth didn't upload it himself, but he wasn't upset about what would happen next. "This event," he said, "reflected on Allen's character."
It indisputably did, and it would also indisputably end Allen's political career. A Washington Post reporter wrote a short item about the "macaca" statement, and -- within hours -- the story went super-nova. Very soon, many other stories were written, alleging yet more bigoted statements or behaviour by Webb.
The conservative Great White Hope denied it all, of course, but he started to lose his double-digit lead in the polls and he never regained his footing. In November 2006, Allen lost to Webb by nearly 10,000 votes, his once-unstoppable multimillion-dollar campaign effectively felled by a quiet young man with a camcorder. Even in the old Confederate-era stronghold of Dickenson County, where Allen had made his racist remark. Even there.
Moral of the story, David Eby? Those quiet, polite young people showing up to public events and recording public statements by public figures? They're not only allowed to be there.
They're helping democracy, too. Ask Shekar Ramanuja Sidarth if you don't believe me.
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