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7-year-old boy grills Sen. Tom Cotton at heated town hall

They're not backing down.


Andrew Couts


Posted on Feb 23, 2017   Updated on May 24, 2021, 10:54 pm CDT

Fierce progressive opposition met Sen. Tom Cotton face to face at an Arkansas town hall on Wednesday, forcing the conservative lawmaker to defend President Donald Trump‘s agenda and Republican’s lack of opposition against a wall of anger. 

One woman, for example, challenged Cotton to explain why Republicans were not forcing Trump to release his tax returns. After Cotton struggled to answer the question with a list of caveats, she responded by pointing out that former President Barack Obama had to release his birth certificate.

In another poignant moment, a 7-year-old boy asked why Republicans allegedly planned to cut funding for PBS and NPR while spending billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S.–Mexico border.

Perhaps the most emotional moment of the evening came when a woman who said her husband was dying at home as Republicans aim to repeal Obamacare without as yet offering a viable replacement asked Cotton, “What insurance do you have?”

Town halls have become a major tool for progressive activists from a range of grassroots groups, including Indivisible, which boasts thousands of hyper-local chapters across the U.S. The tactic of addressing lawmakers at these town halls comes straight from the Tea Party playbook—literally—and has caused some lawmakers to cancel their events or leave early.

Some have written off Indivisible and other grassroots progressive groups as “paid protesters,” a claim these activists find highly offensive as they devote their free time and energy to the cause. 

On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer wrote off the crowds at the town hall as “professional protesters.”

“Some people are clearly upset, but there is a bit of professional protester, manufactured base in there,” he said. “But obviously there are people who are upset, but I also think that when you look at some of these districts and some of these things, that it is not a representation of a member’s district.” 

Others, including Trump, claim that the protesters are just a small group of loud voices in districts that are primarily in support of the president and Republicans’ agenda.

To counter the opposing narrative that the protesters are professionals or otherwise not worth listening to, some have begun wearing name tags with their zip codes on them as proof that they are legitimate constituents of the lawmakers they’re addressing at these events.

A woman addressed the “paid protesters” claim directly on Wednesday, and the crowd went wild, revealing the passion in the room for having their voices count.

“I don’t really care if anybody here is paid or not, you’re all Arkansans, and I’m glad to hear from you,” Cotton said. “I know there’s been some talk about that in media. Some politicians have said that. I just want to say, thank you to everyone for coming out tonight, whether you agree with me or disagree with me. This is part of what our country’s all about.”

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*First Published: Feb 23, 2017, 8:56 am CST