Editorial: Be heard, but don’t disrupt hearings

They call them 'hearings' for a reason
The New York State Capitol.
The New York State Capitol.

There’s a time and a place for everything.

And while the best time for a protest is when you have the best chance of getting the attention of government officials, the best place to hold the protest is not necessarily during the middle of a hearing while those offi cials are trying to learn about an issue so they can make an informed decision.

In the past couple of months, citizens have been empowered by the impact of their public protests. The national Women’s Marches in January, and subsequent marches over such issues as the president’s new immigration policy and climate change — sent a loud and clear message to public offi cials.

The protests showed these officials that a large number of their constituents shared a strong point of view and that they were willing to go to great lengths to show their support for that point of view — often at great personal expense and inconvenience.

That’s the kind of collective action that could precipitate real change.

But recently in Albany, some protesters have taken to protesting at legislative hearings —while the hearings are going on.

Last week, for instance, a few dozen tax activists stormed into a legislative hearing on state tax policy and stood between lawmakers and those giving testimony, demanding that wealthier New Yorkers be taxed more to pay for additional education spending.

Did they get lawmakers’ attention? Yup. Did they present reasoned, fact-based arguments to support their cause? Nope. Were they effective in helping lawmakers make an informed decision on the proposal? Probably not.

They call them “hearings” for a reason. Lawmakers are there to hear testimony from interested parties on an issue, presumably people with personal experience or special knowledge.

For people who want their voices heard by lawmakers, providing testimony is often as easy as signing up to speak. Then you bring your case directly to a panel or committee in a reasoned, professional way. If lawmakers have questions, they can ask you directly, and you can provide them with more information or clear up any misunderstandings.

Protesting during the middle of a hearing not only deprives lawmakers of your expertise, but also takes time and attention away from others who might have something important to contribute to the discussion.

Protests aren’t the only way to get one’s point across. They’re not the only way to get legislators’ attention. And often, they’re not the most effective way to bring about change.

Government offi cials sometimes respond to crowds. But they also respond to reason and facts and preparation and respect for their offi ce. If the only voices they hear on an issue are loud, they may start to tune them out. And they won’t learn what the protesters want them to learn.

If you want to make a difference, protest outside the hearing room.

But also sign up to give testimony inside.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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