The following is a fictional conversation between the grassroots whistleblower community (GWC) and the professional whistleblower advocates (Pros).
Pros: Okay folks, we’ve had some setbacks and some progress. There’s a week left before Congress recesses until after the elections, but we think we can get this done. After the election, though, all bets are off.
GWC: Well, uh, we’ve been here before. And every single time it led to us losing at the last minute.
Pros: Now, now, we’re all in this together.
GWC: What? There hasn’t been a “we” for months. Every time we come to you to offer our help, you play games… set us up against one another, dodge around issues, refuse to answer reasonable questions, refuse to include us in planning sessions.
Pros: We won’t succeed with that kind of attitude.
GWC: No, you haven’t succeeded. We have been watching from the sidelines, predicting this very fiasco that’s unfolding before you.
GWC: Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
GWC: Around the late 1990′s, the so-called experts decided that legislation was needed. So we–you and us–bandied together to try to pass the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act. We met defeat after defeat in a truly hostile climate: a Republican-controlled Congress coupled with a Bush White House that threatened vetoes. Then, fecklessness by Democrats in Bush’ last two years.
GWC: Then came Barack Obama, who used to be a whistleblowers’ attorney, and we saw a very large coalition get together. Along the way, some of you got co-opted by foundations with ties to the administration, and when the Senate introduced a shoddy bill, we–you and us–were fractured.
Pros: You’re being counterproductive.
GWC: If you say so. The Senate bill, S. 372, was not only inadequate, but also harmful to whistleblowers. Some of you and some of us said so at the time, and some of you and some of us shouted them down. We all lost when the bill failed.
GWC: Then came a new session, with a new party in charge of the House, with the same bills introduced, and the same groups in charge. What’s different now is that more of us have realized that you don’t really care what we have to say, and when we tried to have a seat at the table, you froze us out.
GWC: Some of us told you that you should open the process and empower the community. You didn’t listen. Some of us told you that you that the bill needed fixing. You told us to support whatever you deliver, and not to rock the boat. “Congress might get offended,” you said. We said no to compromising our values, loudly, and you backed down.
Pros: You’re being uncivil.
GWC: Uh huh. Now you find yourself at the eleventh hour with all the progress you made in flux, issues that were settled are coming back to haunt you, and you’ve run out of ideas.
GWC: So here are a few questions. You say that a couple of Republicans are responsible for blocking the bill.
GWC: One of them is a congressman from San Antonio, Texas.
GWC: He chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
GWC: And the other one is a senator from Alabama.
GWC: He’s on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
GWC: The congressman from Texas, he’s running for re-election this year.
GWC: And he faced opponents in the primary election.
Pros: Um, we suppose.
GWC: We take it that you don’t know.
Pros: We guess we don’t.
GWC: So you don’t know if his primary election opponents knew that he was opposed to real rights for whistleblowers.
Pros: We don’t know.
GWC: Because you didn’t tell them.
Pros: What would be the point?
GWC: How about getting them to pressure him about the fact that he’s soft on corruption?
GWC: You know, the threats to politicians to put action behind their “fraud, waste, and abuse” rhetoric.
Pros: Whatever, that doesn’t work.
GWC: How do you know? Okay, let’s move on. The Texan won his primary, right?
Pros: We think so.
GWC: So he’s facing a Democratic contender. (Say “yes”).
GWC: But he’s been in his seat for over 20 years, in a red state.
Pros: If you say so.
GWC: We say so. So wouldn’t she want to find an issue he’s obviously on the wrong side of and score an upset?
GWC: Nevermind. Let’s move on.
GWC: So you had two years to prepare for this moment. Certainly in the past the bill failed to pass at the last minute.
Pros: Yes, because of secret holds by Senators.
GWC: Have you thought of pressuring the leadership to put the bill to a vote before the eleventh hour?
Pros: We have no control over that.
GWC: But you do have control over what you say. And when you speak, the media listens.
Pros: You just don’t know how Washington works.
GWC: We know how it works alright. Let’s move on. Have you identified any whistleblowers who live in San Antonio and Alabama?
Pros: Why would we do that?
GWC: To connect them with activist groups in those places, so they can raise awareness about their representatives’ irrational opposition to whistleblower rights, pressure their primary and general election opponents, and engage in direct action if necessary to secure commitments. You had two years to do that, roughly knowing who would be an obstacle.
Pros: But then we wouldn’t be in charge of the process, here in Washington.
GWC: Was that your inside voice speaking?
Pros: So we get to be in charge next year, yes?
GWC: We’re done here.