The Republican rhetoric is heavy with talk of support for our troops. Their actions are less than consistent with the rhetoric. There were times, such as following a vote in May 2011, when Republicans were outright disrespectful to the troops they are all too happy to support during speeches to their base and of course, during photo ops.
When Mitt Romney accepted the Republican’s nomination for President, he couldn’t find room in his speech to thank the troops. Perhaps it’s because only 1% of American families are directly affected by our wars. Investing a few words to thank the troops was simply asking too much from a man who is interested in support from a very different 1%. He certainly let us know where his priorities are.
Media reports about the wars are often romanticized accounts of our valiant troops fighting for freedom across the world. Our troops are valiant, but much more than we realize. We don’t hear about the conditions under which they live during war, or the conditions their families live under while worrying, hoping and praying for their loved one’s safe return.
Many of our political representatives, like Governor Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan don’t have a clue what going to war means. They have no idea what conditions our troops live under or how their families subsist on the meager income we pay them for their service.
Just ask Joel and Maria Meacham of Arizona about the realities of war. Last week their son, Paul, went to Afghanistan on his third deployment. He said good bye to his wife, his new born child, his parents his siblings and friends before heading to war again, to live under conditions he knew all too well. For the Meachams, there isn’t a day that passes without worries for their son’s safety and without an awareness of the conditions under which he and other soldiers fight our wars.
The Meachams understand the realities of wars fought in our country’s name. They understand the primitive conditions under which the troops live and the things that military families go without because Congress is more concerned about the 1% that buys our elections instead of the 1% who defend our freedoms.
Maria Meacham knows how it feels to be a military Mom who is smacked down by Congress for having an opinion about members of Congress who callously high five each after denying our soldiers a modest pay increase.
During our interview, I met a truly sweet woman, who loves her family and her country. She is both pleasant and articulate. I saw a woman who is well informed about politics. I saw someone who is far from a political activist, but does have opinions and recognizes injustice when she sees it. I saw someone who doesn’t get angry because a vote doesn’t go a certain way but she was offended by the juvenile behavior of Congressmen as they celebrated victory at our troops’ expense.
I saw a mother who understandably felt hurt and offended when Representatives Ben Quayle [R] and David Schweikert [R] from her state celebrated with high fives after denying a small battle pay increase for our soldiers, including her son.
Maria Meacham’s story began during a trip to the Nation’s Capital in May 2011. Prior to arriving in D.C., the Meachams visited with their son, Paul, in Kentucky. During that visit, their son invited several of his friends who served with him to a barbecue. The Meachams heard first-hand accounts about living conditions for the troops in Afghanistan. They heard that the troops live without fresh water and generators. They heard about the daily realities of combat.
The stories they heard remained present in their minds as they drove to D.C.
On Thursday, May 26, the Meachams went on a tour of Congress. They decided to take a rest and watch the afternoon session in the gallery of the House of Representatives. They were about to leave the gallery when Rep. Kurt Schrader [D-Or] rose to speak about a 2003 amendment to reduce battle pay by $180.00 a month. Rep. Schrader sought an amendment to have that pay cut repealed resulting in a $180 per month pay increase for our men and women in combat.
Here is video of the House vote on May 26, 2011 via C-SPAN:
Here is the event as reflected in the Congressional Record:
May 26, 2011 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD — HOUSE H3737
ANNOUNCEMENT BY THE SPEAKER PRO TEMPORE
The SPEAKER pro tempore (during
the vote). The Chair notes a disturbance in the gallery in violation of the
rules of the House. The Sergeant at
Arms is directed to restore order.
The Meachams decided to stay and listen to the speech. Congressman Schrader went on to speak of the reality that soldiers were facing many repeated deployments and they could use the extra pay. In rebuttal, Howard McKeon [R-Ca] spoke about budgetary concerns, denying Congressman Schrader’s suggestion that funds could be saved in other areas of the Defense budget to pay our troops.
Then it was time for the vote during which the Meachams heard an anemic yes from the Democrats and a very loud and energetic no from the Republican majority. This was followed by self-congratulations including pats on the back. They also saw a couple of Republicans, Rep Ben Quayle and Rep David Schweikert, exchanging high fives.
The Meachams described the high fives after the vote as “hurtful” and “insensitive.” Perhaps there was additional insult to injury since the two Congressman who high fived each other as if they just won a Basketball game, were representatives of the Meachams’ state, Arizona.
It was upon witnessing the high fives that a hurt and offended Maria Meacham, while remaining seated, yelled out:
“Pay the soldiers or bring them home!” two times. Then “Why don’t you take a pay cut to help the soldiers?”
The high fives, and self-congratulations stopped as the members looked up to the gallery in Maria Meacham’s direction.
Then a Security Guard tapped her on the shoulder and said:
Ma’am, you cannot be doing that.
She nodded affirmatively, said “okay” and did as she was told.
According to Mrs. Meacham, the Acting Speaker continued to stare in her direction and became annoyed. That was when he yelled:
The Sargent of Arms needs to take control of the Gallery now!
Never mind that the Gallery was already in control. Never mind that Maria Meacham, after being told that she couldn’t speak out, was sitting quietly in her seat.
Mrs. Meacham was told she had to go with the officer and Mr. Meacham was told he had to stay seated. As Mrs. Meacham was led away, another woman who was sitting in the gallery said:
Thank you so much for saying that.
Once outside the gallery, the police officers put Mrs. Meacham’s arms behind her back and cuffed her.
Then two Capitol Police Officers and two Congress Security Guards escorted Mrs. Meacham to a freight elevator. That was when an older security officer said:
Find her driver’s license and see what her name is…
Mrs. Meacham responded with:
You cannot be looking into my purse. I can find my license and show it to you.
The Security Guard responded by saying:
You are under arrest!
After Mrs. Meacham pointed out that she still has rights, they loosened one hand and allowed her to find her driver’s license.
While waiting for a female officer to search Mrs. Meacham, the officers asked each other what she said. She recalls someone saying: “I don’t know but we can find out.”
They did not ask her what she said.
Based on the conversation she overheard, the reason Maria Meacham was escorted to the Service Elevator was to prevent media access to her. It doesn’t take much to figure out why. Stories about Congress arresting the mother of a soldier for being outraged when Republicans high five each other after denying a modest battle pay increase wouldn’t look very good. It certainly would contradict the image that Republicans support our troops.
A couple of hours after Mrs. Meacham was led away, Mr. Meacham was informed he could leave the gallery. He was told that Mrs. Meacham was sent to a detention center a few blocks away. When he arrived at the detention center, he was asked which political group he belonged to. He answered that he was not with any group. Mr. Meacham was then advised that his wife would still be detained for a couple of more hours.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Meacham went through the process of finger printing and photographs. She was questioned about drug and alcohol use. (She would also have to undergo 3 consecutive drug tests with negative results, several weeks apart.) Sometime after the process began, Maria Meacham was Mirandized. When she pointed out that she should have been Mirandized earlier, the officer suggested she already knew her rights.
Okay, then. So if she appeared to be someone who didn’t know her rights, are we to believe that the Police would have Mirandized her earlier? Somehow I doubt it.
The fact that there was no reasonable basis to conclude that she was under the influence of anything beyond having a mother’s heart was irrelevant. Mrs. Meacham was still questioned about drugs and alcohol use and she still had to undergo drug testing for several weeks after her arrest.
A member of Capitol Intelligence wanted to know which group is taking responsibility for this action. then she got more specific.
Do you belong to the No Taxes without representation group?
Mrs. Meacham was not a member of a group and said so before explaining why she reacted the way she did.
It was upsetting about the way the Republican Congressmen were congratulating themselves and all I could think was about my son recently returned from Afghanistan and how he was airlifted 3 times and saw months of non-stop battles in the Pakistan border and how so many soldiers just do not return.
Eventually, the Meachams were reunited and escorted from the building via an unusual exit, perhaps because there was a concern that they might tell their story to someone in the media.
Had there been a notice in the gallery saying something about a requirement to be quiet, under penalty of arrest, one could believe that the acting speaker’s motives for ordering Maria Meacham’s arrest were purely about keeping order. Mr. and Mrs. Meacham, didn’t see any such notices, nor did they receive anything informing them that speaking in the gallery could result in arrest. In fact, the only consequence they were aware of was the possibility of being asked to leave the gallery and they learned that when the Security Officer told Mrs. Meacham to remain silent.
Had Mrs. Meacham shouted out during a speech or a vote, one may understand why there would be a justification to “bring order.” Had Mrs. Meacham shouted out again, after being admonished by Congressional security, one might also see justification. Had the Acting Speaker called for order, immediately after any of Mrs. Meacham’s 3 utterances before she was asked to remain silent, one may also have some degree of understanding that the Acting Speaker wanted to restore order.
None of those things happened, suggesting that there were other reasons for the Speaker seeking to “restore order” after order had been restored.
It’s also interesting that while Mrs. Meacham was driven to the Detention Center one of the officers advised her of what to expect.
We will go to a police detention center, it is a couple of blocks away, but there are a couple of bumps, we will try to go slow. Then they will ask you questions and fill the paperwork and given you your citation, and then you can go. We have several of these every week and don’t worry too much about it.
Mrs. Meacham believed that after the paper work was completed, she would get a ticket, pay a fine, and that would be the end of it. But, that isn’t what happened.
Mrs. Meacham faced a charge of disorderly conduct, drug test for several weeks; a couple of court appearances and she was barred from The Capitol for six months. Finally, the charges were dropped.
Maria Meacham reflects on her experience:
In looking back. It was naïve to express the discontent (I) felt at the moment, when observing the disconnect of the people chosen to represent the citizens with the needs of those who are doing the bleeding and the dying. It was mortifying seeing those adults behaving like school kids at some sporting event. While they were ‘young’ congress representatives, their behavior is immature for their years and they need to be more responsible to all their constituents.
And if the soldiers are protecting us, who is protecting the soldiers? Who speaks up in their behalf? What part of support the troops the politicians do not understand?
The politicians are always ready for a photo opportunity with the troops, but when the soldiers’ needs come up, it is only lip service.
While the soldiers do not complain, I see the needs of their families and their children growing without parents.
The cost of child care for one child, ranges between $50-$100.00 per week, so the $180.00 mentioned would not even cover the day care for one child. Military Service families often relocated in different posts away from their traditional support system and must rely on hired care for their children. Yet, the representatives do not turn away from the free parking and low cost meals at the Capitol and get to fly home any time they want. 23 of the current congress persons are receiving farm subsidies of nearly ½ million dollars per year!
Also there were no warnings of the penalties for the rules at the Capitol. They tell us do not bring food, batteries, cameras. The make the men remove their belts and suspenders. Yet, there is absolutely no warning about doing jail time if one chooses to express his or her opinion in the Gallery. Has the First Amendment been suspended?”
When asked if she would do anything differently, Mrs. Meacham suggested that she would have gone less quietly than she had.
One may wish to question the wisdom of a mere Citizen reacting to Congressmen high fiving each other after voting against the interests of our troops. One might think that the general public should at least be warned that reacting to anything they see from the Gallery of the House of Representatives, no matter how offensive or outrageous could result in arrest and criminal charges. In short, this isn’t the People’s House. We are merely guests invited to watch some political theater.
Maria Meacham spoke out both as a mother and as someone who actually cares about the troops. She had no reason to believe that she would face arrest. In fact, when asked by security to refrain from speaking, she was advised that she would be asked to leave if she spoke out again. But she was not warned that she could face arrest.
After she was arrested, Mrs. Meacham was led to believe that the consequences of her actions would be minimal. A citation, paying a ticket and she would be free to go on with her life. It wasn’t until sometime later, that she learned she would have to undergo drug testing, she would be ordered to stay away from The Capitol; that she would have to make some court appearances and that she could face a jail sentence.
As Mrs. Meacham pointed out, children go without their parents. Parents sacrifice time with their children and spouses to fight our wars. They quit their jobs to serve our country. They do this without complaint, though if anyone has a basis to complain, our troops do.
Aside from dealing with the worry that comes with a loved one being in harm’s way, military families are separated from their support systems of family and friends.
With redeployments occurring more frequently, we are asking more of our troops than ever before. A small pay increase would have been a meaningful way to thank them for their increased service in the name of protecting our freedoms.
It’s ironic that Maria Meacham faced a threat to her freedom for having the nerve to speak in support and defense of our troops while members of congress behaved with callous disregard for the people who protect our freedoms.