Beautiful Trouble: The Citizens Posse

In February Pace NYC will be hosting the Debating for Democracy Conference, an annual event organized through the CCAR’s partnership with Project Pericles.  This year we will be welcoming artist-activist trainers from Beautiful Trouble – a book and website “whose mission is to make grassroots movements more creative and more effective.”  Every few weeks until the event CCAR staff members will be highlighting a case study from the book that they found particularly motivating.  First up is CCAR Student Projects Coordinator, Valerie Eristil, who will be showcasing The Citizens’ Posse.

A major talking point during the Obama Administration was universal healthcare. In March of 2010, Congress was working on a comprehensive health care reform bill but the outcome appeared to be less than ideal. The bill was losing public support by the day. Supporters were in desperate need of a way to remind the American people why we needed this bill in the first place. “Health Care for America Now (HCAN) – an alliance of labor unions and community organizations – hired Agit-Pop to help them go big, creative and militant.” The goal was to create a campaign to show that Americans want affordable healthcare and the insurance companies are standing in their way because they are profiting from the current state of things.

Around the same time in Washington D.C., a health insurance lobbying group called AHIP planned to hold a summit downtown with all of their executives and lobbyists in attendance. HCAN and Agit-Pop wanted to use this event to call attention to the injustice of healthcare in America and criticize officials from AHIP. The goal was to get everyone’s attention. Agit-Pop put together a series of “CEO Wanted” posters, listing each individual’s subsequent crimes. The people would act as the Citizen’s posse, equipped with badges and crime scene tape. 1,500 people congregated outside of the D.C. Ritz Carlton and declared it a crime scene, posting the crime scene tape and Wanted posters everywhere. A rally was held, where the crowd was deputized by William McNary, who administered the Citizen’s Posse Oath of Office. Several high ranking posse members, including union presidents, attempted to enter the hotel and make citizens’ arrests, which resulted in 10 arrests by the D.C. police. The media attention was caught and the bill was eventually passed.

I loved this story because it is a great example of how the power has always lied with the people. The CEO Wanted posters were a great way of reminding people of the crimes of those in charge of the insurance companies. The rally obviously drew media attention and the arrests of some of the leaders really solidified the movement. John Sellers, a co-founder of Agit-Pop Communications, contributed the article to Beautiful Trouble. He believed that this movement helped the bill to pass because “the action used a clear and powerful frame (corporate criminals brought to justice by the people) not only made it clear who the good and bad guys were, but told a story for the media.” I am curious as to how this would play out now, nearly a decade later, with social media as even more of a presence in our lives than ever before and the political environment is as divisive as it is now.

Interested in attending the Debating for Democracy conference on February 28, 2020?  Email (PLV) or (NYC)!