by Lynn Mandaville
Kyrsten Sinema is one of my United States senators.
She has been in the news far too often in the last few months because, as a Democrat, she has stood in the way of smooth passage of legislation that some Democrats believe should have had smooth sailing through the legislative process.
Specifically, Sinema has not fallen into lock step with President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda, which would offer a pathway to citizenship for nearly one million young immigrants who were brought to the US outside of normal, legal channels, when they were children.
Sinema has also defended the filibuster (which she has erroneously claimed is a Constitutionally sanctioned strategy), which has become a stumbling block to passing several of Biden’s pet initiatives, such as the infrastructure bills and voting rights legislation.
We in our house believed that Sinema was a good choice for the senate when she ran against Martha McSally to replace Jeff Flake in 2018. She represented a few of the stances we felt were important.
She was an advocate for LGBTQ causes and rights. She has been considered a moderate Democrat, which we saw as a plus. She had also been a member of the Green Party which indicated she promoted issues related to the environment, climate change, and protecting our national parks and monuments.
In the ensuing two and a half years, however, Sinema has become a disappointment to many of her supporters. The degree of disappointment has covered quite a range of disparagement among her constituents.
About a week ago now, Sinema was in the news because she had been hounded by a member of Latino organization LUCHA. This young woman, a DACA recipient, followed Sinema into a restroom at Arizona State University (where Sinema teaches and is a guest lecturer) in an attempt to initiate dialogue with her about DACA issues.
The incident raised national attention because the behavior of the young woman appeared to cross a line of civil discourse and acceptable behavior.
I am one of those people who, despite being a passionate supporter of a pathway to citizenship for DACA immigrants, landed on the side of those who decried the behavior of the LUCHA women.
I do sympathize with the LUCHA woman. She told reporters that she had been unable to leave the country when her grandfather was dying because of her tenuous situation as a DACA “child.” It was personally traumatic for her not to be able to be with family at such an emotionally critical time.
In addition to her sorrow, this young woman also felt betrayed by Sinema (for whom she had campaigned in 115-degree heat, going door to door drumming up support and soliciting financial contributions) for not working harder for DACA legislation, and for being unavailable to hear the complaints and concerns of her constituents.
It was these two things that drove her to follow Sinema into the ladies’ room at ASU, accompanied by companions who carried both cameras and microphones.
Senator Kyrsten Sinema
However, in spite of my sympathies, I was really upset by the gall it took to lead this young woman to do something I felt was beyond the pale.
In our house a week ago we were deeply divided over this seemingly trivial matter. My husband and son were of the mind that Sinema deserved this type of harassment due to her unavailability. To quote the LUCHA woman:
“Senator Sinema has ignored us and all the people who fought hardest to elect her for years. She’s denied our requests, ignored our phone calls, and closed her office to her constituents. She hasn’t had a public event or town hall in years. No one wants to meet with their senator in the restroom. But it seems like there’s a price tag of several hundred thousand dollars to meet with her anywhere else.”
I, on the other hand, felt that a very clear line had been crossed. No one, no matter how emotionally distressed , has the right to invade another person’s privacy to the extent that she invades the privacy of the toilet.
Remember, I’m not pleased with Ms. Sinema’s performance as my senator. She has shown herself to be other than the representative I thought she would be when I contributed to her campaign and voted for her.
But no disappointment, no disagreement with political stance, no outrage over unavailability gives a person the right to dispense with the common decency to grant privacy when one is heeding the call of nature.
Some have claimed that Sinema was using the restroom as an avenue of escape to further avoid confrontation by her public. Video of the encounter indicates, however, that Sinema gave the woman cause to believe she would talk to her when she was finished in the restroom. Sinema was heard on tape to say, “I’ll be right back out.”
After the invasion of her privacy inside the bathroom, where the young woman continued her harangue on audio and video, Sinema did not engage with her.
And I don’t blame her.
Sinema had no obligation to meet with someone who was so crass as to harass her while she performed one of our most basic and private functions.
According to privacy laws that were quoted by the press about Sinema’s rights within the confines of the ladies’ room, this young woman was legally out of bounds when she trailed Sinema into the restroom with recording equipment in hand.
Sinema would have been within her rights to press charges against this woman for her behavior. To her credit (or political savviness) she did not.
The bottom line is (and no pun is intended) that there is a line of decency and privacy that ought to be observed at all times, regardless of how maligned anyone might feel about another’s unwillingness to meet with us face to face.
When human beings are engaged in the process of attending to the less attractive of our natural functions, we are entitled to privacy.
It is just plain wrong to be seated on a toilet while being harassed by some discourteous fool on the other side of the stall door.
Despite the great acoustics offered by vast tiled spaces, there is no upside to an encounter that might be interrupted by the sounds of tinkling or flatulence. There is certainly no trace of dignity or respect for the people on either side of that stall door.
In our house, when I made my case to husband and son, we did come to the agreement that a line of decency had been crossed.
Kyrsten Sinema was entitled to her privacy within the walls of the ASU ladies’ room.
Now, if she would extend the courtesy, dignity, and respect of granting access to her constituents, to the people who put her in office in the first place, all of us would be in a better place.