Roughly 200 people gathered outside Rep. Darrell Issa’s Vista home Thursday evening, part of an organized effort to bring the national debate over immigration and healthcare to the doorsteps of California’s Republican congressmen.
Scores of people held battery-powered candles as they walked down a long cul-de-sac toward Issa’s home, where they stood and sang quietly for a few minutes. Many said they just wanted to make their presence known.
“We just want to keep his feet to the fire,” said 70-year-old Faith Attaguile of Encinitas said. “We are showing him that we are not going away.”
Issa was at an event in Oceanside, but his staffers were outside his home offering cookies to the crowd.
“I don’t want his cookies — I want affordable healthcare,” said 64-year-old Oceanside resident Elizabeth Dale.
Issa’s spokesman Calvin Moore said “everyone has the right to peaceably assemble and make their voices heard, but dragging the congressman’s wife and family into this goes beyond the pale.”
He pointed out that Issa met with protesters and supporters outside his office Tuesday morning, answering questions for more than 90 minutes, and that his schedule this week has included coffee with constituents, roundtables and listening sessions.
“If the congressman is ‘missing’ then apparently they haven’t been looking all that hard,” Moore said Thursday shortly before the vigil began. “.. We should absolutely call out this silliness for exactly what it is: manufactured stunts to create political theater.”
On Tuesday night, more than 1,000 protesters attended a town hall in Issa’s 49th congressional district that focused on the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act, as well as other controversial policies put forth by President Donald Trump.
Issa didn’t attend the meeting, opting instead to speak earlier in the day with supporters and protesters who gathered outside his Vista office to praise or decry the efforts of the Trump administration.
Had Issa shown up Tuesday night, the vigil in his neighborhood wouldn’t have happened, said Rev. Beth Johnson, one of the organizers.
Since late January, grassroots groups — many formed as part of the Indivisible movement — have protested weekly outside Issa’s office, asking to meet with the congressman. Johnson said the rallies, town hall and vigil highlight “the importance and urgency of being heard.”
The activists are getting help from organized labor and healthcare advocacy groups, including a coalition called Fight4OurHealth, which promoted the vigils. The events were planned because people are concerned about changes to health coverage, said Anthony Wright, the executive director of Health Access California — one of the forces behind Fight4OurHeath.
Wright said Issa’s discussion with protesters Tuesday morning wasn’t good enough.
“I would argue that going outside his office at a random time, while appreciated, is not the same thing as having a scheduled event ... that members of the public can make sure to attend,” he said.
He said the umbrella group has not led the charge, but rather is helping grassroots groups trying to channel their energy.
“I wish we could take credit for all the turnout and energy that is out there,” Wright said. “The level of concern speaks to how personal and important healthcare is to people.”
--Teri Figueroa is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune