Die-ins are the new town halls.
That appears to be the plan of progressive “Resistance” groups Indivisible, MoveOn.org, and the Town Hall Project. On Tuesday they’re set to unveil the Payback Project, a response to the recent passage by House Republicans of Trumpcare. And their version of payback is deadly — metaphorically, at least.
“May 4 will go down in history as the day Republicans set the stage for their own loss of the House in 2018,” says a version of the website shown to VICE News before the public announcement. “But before then, we have work to do.”
The marquee events of the Payback Project will be die-in protests in which demonstrators lie down and play dead to represent the potential toll of the Republican health care bill; it’s a tactic used in the past by AIDS, environmental, and gun-control activists. The Payback Project plans to stage the die-ins outside of congressional offices, fundraisers, and anywhere else a member of Congress who voted for Trumpcare may be.
Groups in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Kansas already staged die-in protests in the days following the vote. And members of the House are currently in their home districts during a 10-day recess, within reach of constituents eager to play dead.
This could prove to be a pivotal moment for the anti-Trump movement and its ambition to help Democrats take back the House in 2018. Unlike other groups that launched six-figure ad buys attacking Republicans in the wake of the Trumpcare vote, the Payback Project is focusing on grassroots actions.
Many progressives were caught off-guard when Republicans swiftly passed Trumpcare after failing to even bring it to a vote just a month ago. The bill would make significant cuts to Medicaid, slash Obamacare insurance subsidies, potentially hike costs on women’s health care coverage, and repeal many Obamacare taxes. Whether the bill ultimately reaches Donald Trump’s desk — it’s now with the Senate, and a version will likely require another House vote — could depend in large part on how fearful moderate Republicans are of losing their seats.
Groups like Indivisible have been focusing their organizing energy on packing congressional town halls — or holding “empty-chair town halls” to shame congressmen who refuse to appear in front of their unhappy constituents. The 238 Republicans in the House are holding only about three-dozen town halls combined during the 10-day recess, according to data from Legistorm and Town Hall Project.
Republicans and their staff members privately grouse that the town halls are political theater dressed up as sincere attempts at open dialogue. Progressives counter that if a member of the House of Representatives can’t handle questions and booing from constituents, that person shouldn’t be in Congress.
In an effort to create as much public embarrassment as possible, the Payback Project site provides suggestions on how to get local media attention and produce eye-catching protests. The groups, for example, suggest making cardboard tombstones, tissue-paper funeral wreaths, and Grim Reaper costumes.