Last week 10 immigration reform activists brought their case to the Hanford home of U.S. Rep. David Valadao.
“Valadao escucha! Estamos en la lucha!" they shouted into a bullhorn from across the street. Translated, "Valadao listen to us! We are in the fight!"
Valadao wasn't home. His wife, Terra, and their three kids were.
Understandably, he was upset.
"Aggressive behavior like that demonstrated toward my family today has no place in our political system,” the 21st Congressional District representative declared in an email blast to media.
Valadao spokesman Cole Rojewski was more forceful.
“Hateful statements, divisive rhetoric, and aggressive behavior, especially directed at Congressman Valadao’s family, are completely unacceptable,” he said. “Intimidation tactics, such as those deployed today, are precisely what is wrong with American politics."
Kevin McCarthy, whose 23rd Congressional District abuts Valadao's from the south, can empathize. In February 2017, about 150 protesters marched from a nearby shopping center to his home near Cal State Bakersfield to demand that McCarthy hold a town hall meeting on the Affordable Care Act. (He didn't.)
They had announced their plans the day before and a group of McCarthy supporters was waiting for them.
In both cases the protests remained peaceful. No fights, no threats, no vandalism.
But afterward, a different sort of debate ensued: Is it right for protesters to picket outside the homes of elected officials? Their spouses didn't run for office; they did. Their kids aren't voting on controversial legislation; they are. Shouldn't front-door protests be out of bounds?
Rojewski wasn't being melodramatic, at least not by much: These really are "intimidation tactics." Antonio Bernabe, the organizing director for CHIRLA, the civil rights group that targeted Valadao's home, said as much when he later told media that the objective was to make Valadao a little uncomfortable.
Why would Valadao be uncomfortable? Because he wasn't there to defend his family should things get out of hand? You bet.
The question is, now that they have Valadao's attention, is the congressman more likely to sit down with the activists for a face-to-face? Or less? My guess: Less.
But, though I don't condone these activists' strategy, I absolutely understand the frustration that drove them to it. They feel powerless, and protest feels like meaningful action.
They can march on their congressman's office, but if the lights are off and the doors locked when they get there, right in the middle of a bustling business day, the effort can seem a little hollow.
They can write impassioned letters to their congressman, but their chances of actually getting an audition with him are lotto-esque.
They can encourage their neighbors to register and hopefully vote every two years, but they'll never be able to bankroll the sort of advertising campaign that powerful opponents can finance.
So they protest.
And the thing is, protest can be effective. Public demonstrations have hastened everything from women's suffrage to AIDS research, helped drive from office at least two presidents (Herbert Hoover and Lyndon Johnson), and ended at least one war. And that's just in the past 100 years.
The private residence protest is a less memorable and certainly less effective subset. Valadao and McCarthy are in good company: Watergate-era Attorney General John Mitchell, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of State John Kerry, former Vice President Dick Cheney, first daughter Ivanka Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have all experienced protests outside their homes. There's no record of any of them having changed their position on an issue as a result.
But voters who care so much about issues like immigration and health care that they're willing to march in the street deserve at least some acknowledgment, and acknowledgment has been tough to come by lately.
Members of Congress have almost entirely eliminated the town hall meeting from their tool belt of constituent services, and the result for many voters has been frustration and a sense of disenfranchisement.
Yes, I know town halls can get loud and raucous and rarely inspire movement that satisfies the disaffected. I know that, poorly managed, they can present security issues. But they remind all parties, both elected and electing, that individual voices still matter.
The way money has taken over politics today, though, you wouldn't know it.
Protesting outside of a congressman's home is the wrong approach, but congressmen need to have some appreciation for the sense of helplessness that inspires it.