Amber Decker and AnnMarie McCallister counter the “paid protester” narrative with new clothing line.
“I am not a radical. I am a suburban chess club mom who just wants to spend her free time cross-stitching. Fix this you assholes.”
So goes the famous tweet posted last February by Columbus-based “Jan in the Pan” (@mswhatsit) in response to Sen. Marco Rubio's tweet about “left-wing radicals” pressuring his Democratic colleagues to “oppose everything even before they know what it is.”
Jan's tweet, which has since received over 53,000 likes and nearly 18,000 retweets, was quoted in a New York Timesopinion piece detailing unsuccessful efforts of constituents attempting to confront Republican congressmen and women with concerns, such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
In addition to expressing their frustration with elected officials, Jan's tweet resonates with a growing community of mothers who are finding themselves in a surprising new activist role.
That community includes Worthington residents Amber Decker and AnnMarie McCallister, two mothers who have collaborated on an online, politically inspired clothing line branded “OhYes” (teepublic.com/user/ohyes). Designed with protesters in mind, the apparel — which includes T-shirts, sweatshirts and tank tops — features a variety of zip codes, area codes and congressional districts.
Since January, Decker has been protesting with Indivisible: Ohio District 12, a subset of activist group Indivisible Columbus, which, according to its website, is “committed to resisting the Trump agenda.” The members, who show up in groups of 30 to 50, protest at lunchtime each Thursday at Rep. Pat Tiberi's Worthington office.
“Before [the election], I didn't even know what district I was in,” Decker said. “I didn't know who my congressman was. … I'm a mom who likes to do genealogy research. This is not what I wanted to do with my spare time.”
Decker said she is driven to action by her dissatisfaction with the government following the presidential election.
“I can't hand over a world to my kids where we're not taking care of our environment anymore, or where the protections for my friends who identify as LGBT are eroding away,” said Decker, who also challenges Rep. Tiberi's support of repealing the ACA. “I feel like we have unleashed the worst of America right now and if I have to stand in the rain to do something, I'll stand in the rain.”
Decker came up with the idea for the shirts because she wanted activists to have a way to identify their communities, especially amid accusations by President Trump and his supporters that people nationwide were being paid to protest.
Decker reached out to McCallister, a freelance graphic designer and fellow “swim-team mom,” to create the shirts. When the website went live about a month ago, the women received immediate requests for shirts representing more communities. “It was like zip codes on demand,” McCallister recalled.
So far, the ladies have sold about 80 shirts, which start at $20. Once they see a profit, they plan to donate proceeds to Sen. Sherrod Brown ahead of the 2018 Congressional elections.
“I think if we can give something back to the congressman who actually is representing our beliefs in our community, that makes a lot of sense to us,” Decker said.
“I'm grateful to the people who have daytime availability [to protest],” said McCallister, who has a full-time job in arts marketing. “At least I can help people look stylish while they're there.”
Decker has run into protesters wearing the shirts, and she believes the local government is also taking notice.
“I know that my shirt is recognized by [Rep. Tiberi]'s staffers now because … [a staffer] took one look at my shirt and turned around,” she said.
Although Decker was able to ask a question at Rep. Tiberi's tele-town hall, she said it's been a challenge to get the congressman to thoroughly engage with her and the other activists.
“The Worthington office keeps telling us that we shouldn't even be coming in there, that they're not there to talk to constituents about policy issues,” Decker said, and mentioned that Indivisible group members were “kicked out” when they protested on March 23 — the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law. “If they're not there to hear us, who is? There's no place we can go.”
“Congressman Tiberi has an open-door policy in his Central Ohio and D.C. offices,” Tiberi spokesperson Olivia Hnat said in a statement to Alive. “Constituents in Ohio's 12th District are always welcome to ask questions, voice concerns and request help with their casework with the federal government.”
Despite frustrations on both sides, Decker intends to keep protesting.
“We're gonna continue to come back until our congressman represents the will of the people in the district,” she said. “You work for us.”