First lady Michelle Obama experienced a rare face-to-face encounter with a protester late Tuesday – approaching the activist and threatening to leave a fundraiser if the person did not stop interrupting her speech.
Obama was addressing a Democratic Party fundraiser in a private Kalorama home in Northwest Washington when Ellen Sturtz, 56, a lesbian activist, interrupted her remarks to demand that President Obama sign an anti-discrimination executive order.
Obama showed her displeasure – pausing to confront Sturtz eye to eye, according to witnesses.
“One of the things that I don’t do well is this,” she said to applause from most of the guests, according to a White House transcript. “Do you understand?”
A pool report from a reporter in the room said Obama “left the lectern and moved over to the protester.” The pool report quoted Obama as saying: “Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”
Obama’s suggestion that she would leave was not included in the official White House transcript.
The audience responded by asking Obama to remain, according to the pool report, which quoted a woman nearby telling Sturtz, “You need to go.”
Sturtz was escorted out of the room. She said in an interview later she was stunned by Obama’s response.
“She came right down in my face,” Sturtz said. “I was taken aback.”
I love what The Anchoress had to say about the episode:
Was the heckler out of line? Sure. But it’s the heckler’s nature to be out of line, and that’s when a bit of grace or wit puts things aright. Saying “I can’t deal…” that’s a deficiency the office can’t afford.
That line killed me, though: “One of the things that I don’t do well is this. . .Do you understand?”
Work on it, Mrs. Obama. Really work on it. Because free citizens are allowed to question, to mock, and even to heckle, as long as they’re not inciting violence. And you’re the First Lady of a nation that, we are told, still honors this idea. Oppressed peoples still come here, because whatever else America has been, it is still the place where even poor presidents, even disliked presidents, have experienced heckling and responded to it by either answering with substance, or grace, or wit, or by reminding the assembly that it’s alright to speak up in America, even to the biggest man or woman in the room.
Do you understand? You don’t really get to say, “I don’t handle this well” as though it’s an option — something you can leave off your First Lady plate. You get to learn how to handle it well, because it is an immense privilege to serve a citizenry that has put you into power. The service begins with listening — and in responding to people in a way that well-may-be better than they seem to deserve specifically because you, yourself, have been placed into a position so honored, so privileged, that you can afford to.
Yes, yes, the peasants are revolting. But in America, they still get to hoist up their slacks and bellow their questions. And you get to answer them like a lady. Like the First Lady.
Not, however, like the queen.
Let's hear it for the peasants.
May the revolt against the ruling class spread.