Senator Kyrsten Sinema has become a household name in the past year, with her tactics — such as flashing a thumbs-down sign to signal her vote against a minimum wage increase — attracting intense scrutiny, and often backlash, from those on the left.
For activists, her refusal to come to the table and work with her colleagues on passing key legislation including a sweeping economic package that has been touted as both a social safety net and education, tax, and climate plan has crossed a line.
In a show of their resolve, protesters representing a range of causes have banded together, often meeting Sinema — literally — where she is at since the summer. And according to one person who participated in rallies, they have no plans of putting the brakes on that tactic.
“We want to keep the pressure up, so the personal bird-dogging when there’s an opportunity where she’s at a fundraiser or at a public event, and she has not yet met with us, met with everyday people in Arizona,” Our Revolution National Field Director Mike Oles, who partook in protests with the senator’s constituents this week, said in a phone interview on Friday. “It’s like a 24/7 vigil here right now for democracy and for the future of our country and planet.”
Although some of the more extreme tactics employed by activists have resulted in national headlines — garnering both encouragement and criticism from those who insist their approach has on occasion gone too far — organizers claim Sinema has repeatedly ignored their requests to meet with them.
Her office did not return requests for comment on Friday.
In the month of October alone, Sinema has been followed into a restroom at Arizona State University where she teaches as she made her way out of a classroom; confronted at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. and again when she was aboard the plane; and challenged at the Boston Marathon, a race she was qualified to participate in but ended up only attending.
From Our Revolution, a grassroots-funded progressive group inspired by Senator Bernie Sanders, to the Green New Deal Network, the Arizona Working Families Party, and Living United for Change in Arizona, activists within said organizations have called on Sinema to pass the Build Back Better plan, address climate change, and support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants.
Though her brand of politics has for the last few years been that of a staunch moderate, the new reputation Sinema has earned — as a Democrat threatening to derail the agenda put forth by President Biden and leaders of her party — is a far cry from how she was first viewed by supporters in her home state.
When Sinema was first elected to the Senate in 2018, she made history on a number of fronts. She was Arizona’s first-ever female senator, the first openly bisexual member of Congress, and the state’s first Democratic senator since the 1980s, the New York Times reported. At one time, she was a school social worker in Phoenix and an environmentalist who kick-started her political career with the Green Party.
But now her positions on a number of policy platforms have been described as potentially “devastating” by some of her constituents, including those who once knocked on doors for her on the campaign trail.
“Everybody put all this work in to get her elected, and she’s not listening to anybody. She hasn’t met with unions in a real way in years,” Oles said. “People just feel so betrayed. Coming out of the Trump years, everybody had worked so hard in Arizona to flip the state.”
It was the controversial scene where Sinema was trailed into the bathroom that drew some criticism, including from fellow Democrats.
Sinema later blasted the “behavior” in a statement. Living United for Change in Arizona, an immigration reform advocacy group, told the Arizona Republic the young organizer only acted in that manner because the senator had “denied our requests, ignored our phone calls, and closed her office to her constituents.”
When top Senate Democrats drafted a statement in support of the Arizona centrist following the restroom incident, it was Sanders — an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats — who refused to sign the letter after Democrats declined to include a call on Sinema to support Biden’s economic package, Axios first reported.
The Sanders-influenced Our Revolution has leaned in on the protests against Sinema, Oles said.
In ramping up their strategy, the organization this week alone has taken part in a series of protests, where dozens of people have gathered outside the senator’s offices in Phoenix and Tuscon, their central chant being a targeted “Where is Sinema?” and brandishing signs with slogans including “End the filibuster” and “Medicare for all,” Oles said.