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Voices from the sidelines: ordinary people weigh in on impeachment debate

Gregg Reese | 7/6/2017, midnight

Empathy - The ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.

—from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press).

Hours after the Impeachment March on July 2, a sizable group loitered around a tent set up on the grassy area south of City Hall known as Fletcher Bowron Square. The center of this activity was a contingent of activists from the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy based in the Bay Area. On this day, they were staging a series of dialogues between opposing members representing the ongoing debate nationwide about the legitimacy/viability of the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

These proceedings were in turn being filmed by a video crew headed up by Uruguay native Carolina Sosa, a student filmmaker at the local campus of the New York Film Academy. During her two-year stint in the United States, Sosa became intrigued with the fervor over the Trump candidacy, and after encountering the Culture of Empathy members at a pro-Trump march in Berkeley, Calif. this past April 15, she invited these proponents of “conflict resolution” to Los Angeles for this latest political rally. Led by Edwin Rutsch, these “empathy tents” were used as sanctuaries, wherein antagonists might air their concerns and foster compassion, and nonviolent solutions.

Sunday’s event was largely benign compared to that in Berkeley, a bloody affair in which the ultra-conservative “Proud Boys” from Los Angeles clashed with the controversial anti-fascist “Antifa” movement, a consortium of leftist youth with factions across the country and in Europe. These left wingers are noted for their willingness to use violence to further their aims, and at least 15 people were arrested and scores of others battered and bruised.

The most glaring exchange during Sunday’s gathering was a spirited verbal exchange between two San Fernando Valley residents on opposite ends of the political spectrum. A North Hollywood resident who would only give her first name as “Caroline,” took offense at the red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap worn by wheelchair-bound Melvin Spicer (an invalid since 1997) from Reseda. She went so far as to suggest that Spicer and his group (“San Fernando Valley 4 Trump”) had been paid and/or bused in to disrupt the protest by violence and other means.

“She was just misinformed,” Spicer countered, denying any underhanded motivations behind his appearance.

“I don’t really understand it. There’s just no evidence of wrong doing (on the part of Trump and those in his circle),” he claims in reference to the numerous critics of the current regime.

“Give the man a chance,” he says, summing up his personal political philosophy with the opinion “…that which governs best, governs least.”

Caroline revealed that she’d originally been a Republican who’d switched to the Democratic sphere in the aftermath of the Richard Nixon/Watergate scandal. Her GOP opposition was reinforced by the legacy of the Bush presidencies,

wherein the government was preoccupied, in her words with “French kissing” with the Saudis and other Arab oil oligarchies. The current administration is, in her view, a continuation (and extension) of these policies, a viewpoint she drove home with words like dictatorial, fascist, and totalitarian.

Echoing the sentiments of Caroline, WLA resident “Andrea” refused to give her full name, but reluctantly voiced her displeasure with the Chief Executive. These feelings came to a head during the holidays, resulting in a heated Thanksgiving family dinner argument. Andrea’s emotions were strained to the point where she retreated to the seclusion of a guest bedroom to indulge in extended bouts of crying. Eventually she was compelled to solace in the form of the sedative Klonopin, from a prescription that wasn’t her own.

A notable pattern emerging through these conversations was the tendency for those oppositional to Trump refusing to be identified, or merely giving their first names. “Shane,” a student who divides his time between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, offered this possible explanation:

“…people who speak out against Trump have to be concerned about retaliation, not only from authority figures, but also Trump supporters and others who disagree with the president and his actions.”

Sosa, the expatriate filmmaker, noted that Los Angeles Police Department officers took a “pro-active” approach of intervention compared to their counterparts in Berkeley. She speculates the passivity of the Bay Area law enforcement stemmed from lawsuits they incurred from previous protests, where they were more aggressive in engaging demonstrators.

Sosa’s documentary, “Trumphobia” is tentatively scheduled for completion this fall. For more information on this production go to the website at: https://www.facebook.com/TrumphobiaDoc/

“My film wants to promote empathy and compassion for everyone, regardless of political ideology,” she noted.

“This was our intention when we invited them (The Culture of Empathy) down for this event,” she said in closing.