The citizens of Western Massachusetts who gathered to speak with their Senator, Republican Scott Brown, on Wednesday thought they would have the chance to ask questions, give comments, and listen to their government representative as one normally would in a town meeting. What they got instead was Republican governance courtesy of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC)—town meeting, boot camp style.
If actions speak louder than words, Brown communicated in no uncertain terms the Republican Party’s wholehearted embrace of economic and social Darwinism as he chose to “get going” to climb the steep and rocky paths of Bare Mountain in the Holyoke Range with select members of the AMC at a clipped pace instead of stopping to talk to the constituents who came to exercise their right to petition government as guaranteed by the first amendment of the Constitution.
In addition to representatives of the Massachusetts Nurses’ Association, local MoveOn representatives, representatives from the IBEW 2024 currently on strike against Verizon, citizens included two disabled people in motorized scooters who had clearly made a great effort to come to meet Brown, as well as senior citizens who could not obviously make the hike. Most average people had not come prepared to follow Ranger Scott through the woods and into the mountain.
Now either his office purposefully misinformed media outlets or Colin Reed, the Brown spokesman who spoke to the press, got his facts very wrong. He told The Hampshire Gazette, “Sen. Brown looks forward to meeting with constituents in Amherst and discussing his plans to boost the economy. As a recently-joined member of the Senate Tourism Caucus, he knows the importance to this part of the state, and he plans to highlight the countless historical, cultural and recreational opportunities available in western Massachusetts.”
The Gazette described Brown’s visit to the DCR Notch Visitor’s center on August 10 at 2:00 p.m. as “one of eight stops on Brown’s three week statewide jobs tour, one which will see the Wrentham Republican travel from the Berkshires to Cape Cod and the Islands to talk with constituents about his ideas for spurring for job creation.” CBS3 Springfield also reported “Sen. Scott Brown to Talk Jobs in Western Mass,” adding “Pittsfield and Amherst will both host the senator as he meets with community members to discuss job creation and ways to boost the economy.”
The room setup at the Notch gave every indication that the DCR thought Brown would be holding some kind of a meeting, and people began to congregate at 1:45 p.m. Five minutes later, Heather Clish, Deputy Director of Conservation at the AMC, informed constituents that Brown was coming to the Notch at their private invitation, and that she was not sure whether he would be holding a town meeting. A representative from MoveOn then told those in the audience they could stay or leave the room and join those waiting for Brown outside, which included the handful of Appalachian Club members who besides Ms. Clish, would climb with Senator Brown.
At 2:00 p.m. everyone went outside where the AMC waited for Brown at a picnic table. One of Brown’s official handlers, Nick, arrived and spoke to Ms. Clish and Charles Tracy, the New England Trail Administrator for the National Park Service, while giving the rest of the people his back. Someone asked how long the hike was, and Ms. Clish jocularly replied that a “wiry young guy” said it was 10 minutes. For the first time, Nick acknowledged the rest of the crowd meeting Brown, and massaging his belly said, “I’m sure that for those of us not as young or wiry it will take longer,” forcing a joke.
Brown arrived at 2:16. Ever the model, he emerged from a white SUV with tinted windows and stretched for the benefit of the crowd. The few supporters who were there surrounded him immediately, and a very earnest young Republican got his picture taken with him. The equally earnest young woman in the scooter went up to speak to him, but she was carefully kept out by Brown’s entourage. Then he walked over to the AMC table, ignoring the MoveOn representatives who politely requested that he give five minutes of his time to the people who had come to hear his ideas. Like Scott Walker, Brown has mastered a robot-like indifference to people with whom he does not agree. Brown’s stony demeanor—like Walker’s before booing crowds—shows Republicans in Congress are deaf to boos and politeness alike unless you are a potential contributor or an unquestioning partisan. For the record, no one booed or heckled the junior senator from Massachusetts.
It looked as if Brown would be heading to the mountain without addressing the people he had ostensibly come to talk to, when the man in the scooter, later identified as Peter Ramos drove up to him and asked him what he planned to do about the programs that come out of STAVROS, which improve the quality of life of millions of people. This conversation was the only time that this newly minted Teflon Republican betrayed any sign of discomfort. Brown first replied, “Talk to one of my staff and they’ll get your name and the details.” Without missing a beat, the man answered, “I don’t want to talk to your staff. I came to talk to you.” Then Brown ordered the man to “explain the program.” When Ramos said it was to protect disabled people, Brown said he’d have to research it, and turning away from the man in the scooter, he gave a peppy “let’s get going” signal to the AMC club signaling the end of the conversation without so much as a thank you to his constituent. Some constituents are clearly more equal than others.
Brown, Clish, Tracy and the hikers power-walked down the road across Route 116, doing their best to leave constituents behind, but those of us who could followed him up Bare Mountain. (In The Republican’s photo at the start of the hike, the unnamed man in the center is just a regular citizen). In the land of Shay’s Rebellion, constituents followed Brown up Bare Mountain. He had to hear chants such as “Jobs and Revenue, not Cuts,” “Tax the Rich,” and “Walk the Line, not the Trail,” referring to the Verizon strike, reverberating in the woods.
Despite his calculated indifference, Brown and the AMC picked up the pace—“almost racing to the top” in the words of The Republican–so he must have half heard the chorus of voices. Those able bodied citizens followed him to Mount Hitchcock, the next summit on the range. And those who could not continue waited at the bottom of the mountain for the senator to come down. When he finally did, he spoke briefly, reiterating the ideological mantra of the Republican party, “taxing the rich is not a proposal that’s before us.” In other words, there are those who can get to the top and those who have to stay at the bottom. Freedom rings only for the few. But as the Blood, Sweat, and Tears song from the 60s goes,
What goes up
must come down
the spinning wheel
goes round and round
The senator and the rich he so assiduously represents should do well to remember it.