The Secret of the Angry Mobs

People* say—at least so I’ve heard-—that the nation is infested with angry mobs.

Must be true, I guess. After all, I’ve been hanging out with an angry mob for a couple of years now.

Let me tell you about my angry mob.

We’ll talk about the “mob” aspect first, and tackle the “angry” part later.

Technically, we’re not a mob.

We’re a pack.

We’re the RATT Pack.

That’s Resistance Action Tuesdays & Thursdays, an informal gathering twice a week in front of the Roseville field office of Representative Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove**), We’re a silent protest—we stand along the sidewalk, holding our signs and waving at passing motorists, and chat about everything from the latest political news to which BBC mystery series have the best period costumes to where to get the best Indian food in town***.) There are also two weekly support vigils at the local branch of Planned Parenthood, and a weekly vigil at the FBI’s Sacramento field office, located here in Roseville, in support of the Mueller investigation and the general principle of an independent Justice Department.

Barb and Pat, our fearless leaders, maintain communications via an email list. (We used to be more public, but some online and in-person unpleasantness with a local Proud Boy and other trolls, led them to take the list private.)

The Tuesday McClintock gathering is the largest of the week, usually with anywhere from 30 to more than 100 people, depending on the latest breaking issues. We’re a varying but fairly stable mix of regulars and more occasional protesters, with sprinklings of teens and kids (less so now that school is in session again), and a few canine participants, some of whom wear their own signs.

(By the way, we are rarely alone out there on the sidewalk. On their spot across the street, there are usually two or three Trump/McClintock supporters. A few times, I’ve seen as many as seven—though on one of those days, there appeared to be fisticuffs among them.)

Back in August, Barb and Pat were kind enough to send out a survey to the 300ish members of the mailing list, so we could find out who we all are and why we keep showing up so consistently after nearly two years. We left our SurveyMonkey questionnaire open for 10 days and received 52 responses. While this was simply a voluntary questionnaire and not by any stretch of the imagination a professional statistical analysis, it seems to be a pretty good representation of the people who show up each week.

For the most part, we’re pretty old. This isn’t too surprising, since we’re out there during the work week, and the 65-and-over crowd is more likely to be free of pesky annoyances like jobs or school. This leads, however, to our favorite insult, usually shouted out by a male 20-something in either a pickup or customized dark coupe: “GET A JOB!” Mostly we get a lot of waves and thumbs-up and honks, occasional bird-flips, and more rarely, “Commies!” or “Traitors! You should all be locked up!”

We do not appear to be the outside agitators we have been accused of being. Most of us live within Roseville or neighboring towns like Rocklin and Lincoln. More than a few, though, drive down from foothill towns like Auburn, Placerville, and Foresthill. (California’s 4th is an odd and large district geographically: roughly 500 miles north to south and 100 miles west to east, mostly foothill and mountain counties, including lots of national forest and park lands like Yosemite, with a populous little blob on its northwest corner.)

As for participation, some of us are fanatics, who get to every event. Some of us are “most Tuesdays” types, and some come once a month or less, though many of the less frequent attendees are those from more remote areas  of the district, who have to drive one to three hours to get to Roseville.

We’re a reasonably accomplished group, too. The survey asked an open-ended question about participants’ personal background:

Tell me a little about your education, work background, and/or hobbies. If you’re retired, what did you do before you retired?

Some college (less than 4 years, includes 2-year degrees) – 7
Bachelor degree – 19
Master’s degree – 7
Ph.D – 2
D.Pharm – 1
(Also, 2 respondents specifically mentioned that they were law school dropouts)

Agriculture/farming – 2
Animals (veterinary & wildlife) – 2
Arts professions (including art, craft work, photography, music, writing & journalism) – 8
Business administration – 1
Education (including teachers, administrators, school librarians, special educators) – 16
Food & beverage services (including restaurants/catering, retail grocery) – 4
Government (civil service & postal service) – 2
Health professions (medicine, nursing, pharmacy, psychology) – 7
Inventor – 1
Legal/paralegal – 1
Military – 3
Phone company – 1
Religion – 1 (rabbi)
Science & engineering (including engineering, computer industry, & biotech research) – 5
Small business (including accounting & finance, human resources, real estate & property management, general contracting, miscellaneous non-food retail) – 13
Social services (including social work, child welfare, disability services) – 5
Transportation – 1

Art & photography – 3
Bicycling – 2
Dogs/cats – 2
Fishing – 1
Gardening –3
Golf – 1
Hockey – 1
Knitting – 4
Mahjong – 1
Motorcycle riding – 1
Music, singing, dance – 7
Racquetball – 1
Reading – 4
Rock collecting – 1
Spending time with family & friends – 3
Travel – 4
Volunteer work – 1
Walking/hiking/camping – 3
Yoga – 2

Politics & activism – 5
Devout Christian – 2
LGBT issues & rights support – 4
Hobbies on hold until Trump is gone – 1

That’s us. That’s who we are. Just like most people you know. Essentially, we’re your neighbors, your friends, your families, the people you work with, the people you buy from and sell to, and see around town every day.

And yet… there we are every week, making a point of getting ourselves to that sidewalk.


Partly it’s that there are specific issues that concern us. In the survey, I provided a list of issues, along with the option of adding others, and asked respondents to check all that were important to them. I plugged the responses into a spreadsheet, from which it is transparently clear that we are not a group of single-issue voters. Check it out for yourself by clicking on the link (and just hit your back button to come back from that PDF):

RATT Pack Issues

But it’s more than just abstract concern about issues. I also just straight out asked “Why do you participate in RATT Pack events?” Here’s a sampling of the responses:

• Because our country has taken a drastic turn in the wrong direction. I can’t sit back and watch. I want to do everything I can to help turn things around.

• Tom McClintock must go

• Doing something positive with like-minded people helps my soul. Educating the public about our Evil Regime helps my fears.

• As a retired military nurse, it breaks my heart to witness the destruction of our democracy this administration is doing.

• Get Jessica Morse elected…👍🏻

• Keeps me hopeful

• We have had presidents at war with the environment before, but NEVER this destructive. If we don’t protect and nurture the earth, how can it protect and nurture us?

• My country is at risk. The lies, the bigotry, the evil is more than I can accept.

• I don’t want my grandchildren asking why I didn’t do something

• So I can live with myself. To stave off post-election depression. I am politically active and this empowers me. I was a Teach For America teacher in Louisiana and am dedicated to educate myself and try to be part of the solution.

• I want to align myself with worthwhile causes. McClintock must go and I want to help make that happen.

• I can’t stand by and do nothing.

• As the mom of a 6 year old girl and aunt to 11 year old twin girls I see the threats to their success, health and well-being under attack. They are strong girls. They speak up but how can we stop the trainwreck that is just shoving them aside and invading their chances at a full and happy life by removing choices and opportunities that fulfill them and really extend through out their lifetime. I never want them to feel that they are less than . . . but our administration is constantly berating and insulting good female human beings is ludicrous.

• Bring attention to people of the defects of the current administration and our Congressman. Show that there is support for resistance to these policies. Also helps motivate me to see others who think the same

• Partly social therapy (I’m not alone!), partly to make a statement, partly (when NRA nuts or Proud Boys show up) to practice my John Lewis civil disobedience skills.

• Flip the 4th!

Which brings us—finally—around to the angry aspect of our angry mob. Anger seems almost too small a word to describe the emotion we feel as we consider why we keep showing up for RATT Pack. Fury, maybe, or rage. But it’s not a helpless rage. And that’s the secret of the angry mobs the title refers to. Our anger is our fuel.

You see, when we finish our pleasant hour with the RATT Pack, we’re not going home to stream Netflix (though that has its place). We’ve got other work to do. We’re members of Indivisible groups and local Democratic clubs and Sierra Forward and environmental groups and the ACLU and the League of Women Voters and the California Alliance for Retired Americans. We’re canvassing and phonebanking and registering voters. We’re doing voter outreach at high schools and new citizen ceremonies, and searching out infrequent voters to turn them into voters this year and for years to come.

As a matter of fact, it’s Tuesday morning and almost time to leave for RATT Pack. Plus, I’ve got a data entry shift coming up a little while after that at Jessica Morse’s local campaign field office. If we don’t flip the House this November, it won’t be because I didn’t do my part. But before I go, let me leave you with a quote from Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad, her new book about women’s anger and how and why our society so often treats it as a problem, and how it can be a positive, useful force, that long-term fuel we’ll need for the years ahead.

The task—especially for the newly awakened, the newly angry, especially for the white women, for whom incentives to renounce their rage will be highest in coming years—is to keep going, to not turn back, to not give in to the easier path, the one where we weren’t angry all the time, where we accepted the comforts of racial and economic advantage that will always be on offer to those who don’t challenge power. Our job is to stay angry . . . perhaps for a very long time.

“It is probably going to be years,” Emma Gonzalez told reporters in 2018 about her battle against the gun lobby. “And at this point, I don’t know that I mind. Nothing that’s worth it is easy . . . We could very well die trying to do this. But we could very well die not trying to do this too. So why not die for something rather than nothing?”


* Some people, anyway.

** As a resident of Elk Grove, Rep. McClintock is himself represented by Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove), and has never lived in his own district, which partially accounts for the creation and continuing energy of the RATT Pack.

*** Mehfil, definitely.


The Very Rich Man Who Was a Patriot

(Cleaning up miscellaneous files today and came upon this, which I wrote early last year but never published, for reasons I no longer remember. Self-indulgent, definitely, but just a tiny bit comforting, too, in the way that pure fantasy can sometimes be.)

Once upon a time, in a faraway place (or maybe not so faraway), there was a very rich man. This very rich man owned many properties and made many deals all over the world, and came to believe that his vast wealth and properties proved he was more clever than other people.

So the very rich man decided to run for President. He made many speeches to very large crowds of people who admired his wealth, and many who even thought he was almost as clever as he believed himself to be. Eventually, even though more people preferred other candidates, the very rich man was elected President.

And so it came to pass that the very rich man, now President, was visited by several government officials with a report on how a foreign nation had influenced the country’s news media and voters, and had perhaps even manipulated the very rich man’s own campaign.

The very rich man was shocked to his core. At first, he resisted believing what he had been told. But as he read and reread the report all night, and considered the evidence it presented, he realized its conclusions were incontrovertible.

In the morning, the very rich man called a press conference to discuss what he had learned. “I have been an abject fool,” he said. “I convinced myself that I knew more than everyone else, that my own arrogant conception of common sense outweighed any facts, any knowledge, any expertise other than my own.

“But my own hubris is not the only problem now burdening our nation. We are also faced with the fact that my Vice President and several members of our Congressional leadership were completely aware of the foreign intervention and chose to ignore it in order to preserve their own positions of power.

“I am releasing a report to to Congress and to the public, naming these self-serving officials, and urge the Congress to move with the utmost dispatch to impeach and remove them from our government. Once this is accomplished, I myself will resign as President.”

Encouraged by a deluge of calls and letters and emails from citizens, Congress acted quickly. After half a dozen separate impeachment hearings, the House chose a new Speaker, a long-serving, well-respected, experienced Member of Congress; the Senate likewise replaced its Majority Leader.

The very rich man then kept his promise and resigned. He was replaced by the newly elected Speaker, who was herself replaced by another well-respected and experienced Member of Congress. Inspired by the newfound integrity and patriotism of the former President, the Congress proceeded to pass a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the electoral college in favor of a popular vote for President, to strengthen voting rights nationwide, to enact comprehensive immigration reform, effective gun control, and single-payer health coverage, and to make significant progress dealing with climate change.

And everyone lived happily ever after.

(I told you it was a fairy tale. But it made a nice break from calling my Senators and Representative.)

What kind of country are we?

This segment that Ari Melber ran last night on The Last Word belongs with those I noted last summer in my “Indelible” post. It’s yet another voice with the potential to change the conversation:

What we do is who we are. What kind of country will we choose to be?

Anniversary of a (Mostly) Past Life

Today’s date almost slipped by me, even though it had occurred to me a few months ago that it was coming up. Twenty years ago today—June 8, 1997— was when I officially became a Famous Homeschool Author™*.

It was very nearly an accident. We were a homeschooling family, of the secular if-we’re-going-to-spend-most-of-our-time-reading-we-mght-as-well-be-comfortable school of thought. (Seriously, the best way to understand the attitude with which we approached learning is to go watch Carl Reiner’s new HBO documentary, If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast. Those over-90s totally get it.) I was active with a statewide homeschool organization, and one day got a call from an editor at a local publisher (then the “5th largest independent publisher in the United States”) who was interested in developing curriculum packages to sell to homeschoolers. I sent them a bunch of articles, magazines, and other info, got taken to lunch, had my brain picked, and was eventually asked to give feedback on a truly awful proposal they came up with. (I tell the complete story in the introduction to Viral Learning.) That was the end of that, I thought.

But a few weeks later, I got a call from a different editor at the same company, who told me she thought there was a market for a trade book about homeschooling and invited me to submit a proposal. Soon, I had signed a contract to write at least 70,000 words about homeschooling over the next 18 months, which seemed an incredibly generous amount of time. It turned out to be far more time than I’d needed, because—inevitably—i procrastinated so much that I ended up writing the bulk of the book in the last two months before my deadline.

Then came the fun of learning how the publishing world worked. I was asked for title suggestions, most of which were completely ignored, because the publisher was more concerned with appealing to book store buyers than the eventual retail purchasers. (After all, if the books aren’t in the stores, either physical or online, nobody gets the chance to buy them.)

There were multiple, seemingly endless opportunities to read my book—over and over and over—copyediting run, making the index (which I did myself because I was too much a cheapskate to pay $400 for someone to do it for me), proofing run, final proofing run.

And somewhere in among the rereads, the publisher sent me the proposed cover, which I detested from the moment I saw it. I hated its homespun faux-denim look with the red scalloped line that looked like a badly tensioned line of machine embroidery. I hated the run-on multi-part title/subtitle/sub-subtitle. Most of all, I hated that damn pencil, irritatingly bearing that smarmy SUCCESS, which seemed to me to symbolize every homeschooling stereotype my homeschooling friends and I had been fighting for years. I suggested a few changes. (My friend Kim Stuffelbeam even mocked up a lovely red cover for it, which I passed on to the publisher, who said thanks, but no thanks. They really liked the faux denim.)

I did win the fight over the back cover copy, persuading the publisher that the original “THE ONLY HOMESCHOOLING BOOK YOU’LL EVER NEED!” would alienate more potential purchasers than it would attract. I decided I could live with “Don’t Even Think About Teaching Your Child at Home—Until You Read This Book.”

Eventually a carton full of books showed up, most of which I signed and sent to all my contributors who’d filled out an obnoxiously long questionnaire for me. June 8 rolled around, the book was officially published, and I was a Famous Homeschool Author™, learning to form coherent sentences on the fly for radio interviews and obsessing over the book’s Amazon ranking. Somewhat to the publisher’s surprise, the first printing sold out within two weeks, and they went back to press, and then asked me, “What’s next?”

So for 1998, I wrote another one, The Unschooling Handbook, which I liked much better. By then, the publisher had decided that my advice about reaching my part of the homeschooling market wasn’t completely baseless, so I ended up with a cover I liked much better, too. The new book sold well enough that the publisher decided not only that we needed a new updated version of my first book, for which I wrote about 40% new material, but that it would be the first of a whole series of homeschooling titles in uniform, identifiable covers. The Homeschooling Handbook, Revised 2nd Edition, came out in 1999, with a cover that was less interesting than that of The Unschooling Handbook, but at least had an illustration of a kid with a book and a magnifying glass, looking at a ladybug, which reminded me a bit of one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.

My publisher was a bit shocked, I think, that I wasn’t at all interested in writing any of the titles for the new series, but after three years of writing about homeschooling (and talking about it at conferences and in interviews), I’d said what I’d had to say about the subject, and had no interest in rehashing it into further titles. After my younger daughter started college, I sent out another of my long and obnoxious questionnaires to as many of my previous contributors as I still had contact info for, and in 2007 came out with my self-published Viral Learning: Reflections on the Homeschooling Life, a collection of linked essays, plus an appendix full of the questionnaire responses. But that book was just for me, and for the contributors, not a real part of my Famous Homeschool Author™ collection.

The HH and UH, as I think of them these days, are still in print and still selling. My little “5th largest” publisher was acquired by Random House, so my books are now published by Three Rivers Press, an imprint of Crown Books Group, a division of Penguin Random, owned by AG Bertelsmann. (My contacts and communications with my publishing conglomerate these days are entirely electronic and non-human.) Both books are in their 14th or 15th editions, at least the last time I saw copies in a book store. with cumulative sales now approaching 95,000 copies. (To put that number in perspective, back when I still knew humans at Crown, they declined my fencing book proposal with a kind “We think it would be a great book, but we’re not interested unless it will sell 100,000 copies in the first year.”) My little backlist homeschooling titles have been only enough to keep me in new glasses and occasional computer and phone upgrades over the past two decades.

But backlist titles still earning royalties after 20 years is still kind of amazing.

*”Famous Homeschool Author™” is the term coined in sarcasm by my then 12-year-old older daughter to keep me in my place. The whole family (including me) has used it off and on ever since, invariably ironically.