Michelle Obama and the Delusion of Hecklers

Ellen Sturtz's outburst showed a sense of entitlement that echoes some of the most resentful critics of the President himself

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Mark Wilson / Getty Images

First lady Michelle Obama particpates in an awards ceremony in the East Room at the White House, May 8, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Questioning authority – meaningfully and with the potential for real results – takes thought and purpose, which is part of the reason why I’m sort of disgusted with Ellen Sturtz. Ms. Sturtz, for those who have not yet heard, is the 56-year-old LGBTQ activist who interrupted a speech given by First Lady Michelle Obama at a private Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Washington D.C. on Tuesday evening.

(MORE: Michelle Obama Busts A Move With Jimmy Fallon)

Normally, I’m all for non-violent demonstrations and civil disobedience – speaking truth to power is a tactic and a tradition that’s reinforced some of this country’s greatest and most revolutionary social movements. But I also believe that protest needs to have a logical purpose, an end game beyond the petulant desire to make a scene. As the stunt she pulled on Tuesday demonstrated, Sturtz and her allies — she’s a member of GetEQUAL, which, as part of its fight for “full legal and social equality” for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer citizens, has been agitating for President Barack Obama to sign an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against Americans based on their sexual orientation — are apparently ignorant of the fact that successful activism also requires a good sense of how and when to pick your battles. Not to mention an understanding of precisely who in the White House wields power.

Despite her considerable public profile, high favorability ratings and activism on behalf of military families and American youth, Michelle Obama is not an elected or appointed official. Nor is she obligated to answer to anyone on matters of national politics and policy. Did Ellen Sturtz or any of her colleagues—who have defended the activist in the days since the event—really believe that hollering at the First Lady would result in anything meaningful or impactful? That there is a straight line from the ears of the chief executive’s wife to the muscles of her husband’s dominant hand and his fountain pen?

(MORE: What’s Behind Obama’s Latest Evolution on Gay Marriage)

In addition to issues of impracticality, Sturtz’s eruption also demonstrated a blindness to or nonchalance about reality and optics. The office of the first lady has long been a complex and fraught one, with its occupants unwittingly caught in a sort of limbo between private citizen and public official. And for Michelle Obama in particular, there are the longstanding racial resentments that burst forth following the historic election of Mrs. Obama’s husband in 2008. Anyone who was been paying attention would have recognized in Sturtz’s outburst a petulance and sense of entitlement that echoes some of screechiest, bigoted and most resentful critics of the President himself, who have spent the past 6 years questioning Mr. Obama’s – and, by extension, black Americans’ – legitimacy to lead, have an opinion, or even exist. (Remember Joe Wilson?) To make matters worse, Sturtz’s description of Mrs. Obama’s reaction – that she was “pretty aggressive,” that she “got into my face” – was breathtaking bit of projection and entitlement that also tiptoed dangerously close to the “angry black woman” stereotype that Mrs. Obama has been dogged by for years. The implication by the Sturtz, a self-described “old abrasive lesbian” was this: That despite being interrupted during her delivery of a particularly passionate appeal for the support of at-risk American children, it was Michelle who was the asshole.

Readers can, of course, judge for themselves. Or rather, listeners and viewers. As of Wednesday afternoon, audio of the event had surfaced online and an audience-caputred video of the confrontation aired on CNN. “Wait, wait, wait,” Mrs. Obama can be heard telling Sturtz, to a round of applause. “One of the things I don’t do well, is this.” Although we don’t get a clear sense of how the tone and tenor of the exchange progressed — the assorted voices became a cacophony, rising in volume and urgency—according to the pool report, Mrs. Obama told both Sturtz and the assembled crowd, “[you can] listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”

Sturtz, who, along with her colleague, GetEQUAL activist Autumn Leaf, later said that she was “disappointed” in the first lady’s response to her, had one chance to try to publicly engage the issue with nuance, an understanding of history and respect for the target of her displeasure. She blew it.

179 comments
Palerider1957
Palerider1957

One other thing notLostinSpace, The Mooch has PUT HERSELF in the spotlight, and therefore is open to ridicule and debate. If she doesn't like it,then she needs to remove herself from the public scene and go back to pigging out at Church's Chicken.

Palerider1957
Palerider1957

You Libtards really do have a short memory. I guess you don't remember how the MSM went after Reagan's kids, G.H.W. Bushs' kids, or even G.W. Bush's daughters.
I guess you also don't remember that while Clinton was in office, he told the Press that his daughter was off limits to the Media. And they listened.
Now we are to say nothing about the Soetoro kids, not to heckle the First Mooch, nor pResident Soetoro, why, that would be "racist"!
Libturds, such hypocrites and dolts.

jetfastthinker
jetfastthinker

Regarding the article... It makes absolutely no sense. The over-sensitivity the author calls for is exactly what often embarrasses me, when I'm forced to disclose my "liberal" brand in social situations. The entire purpose of the rant was obviously to bring attention to the ranter's organization. That a writer was unable to realize this totally blows my mind.

jetfastthinker
jetfastthinker

The passionate quarreling below--against people who hold wholly allegiant(sports-team-like) and contrary "views" to said quarrelers'--is so sad and neo-American(read: vapid and imbecilic). Really, people?? I can't wait until I'm old enough to move to France!

AnthonyMcMillan
AnthonyMcMillan

Its rude to interrupt anyone period. Perhaps a refresher course on common sense courtesy would help. I'm neither a huge fan of the right or the left, one of which is just a paid advertisement for big business, the other weak and ineffectual. However this president has had to deal with the most obstructionist House, in modern history, alot of which is based purely on racial bigotry. Mitch McConnell, tells his peers that we need to make him a one term president and not cooperate at all with him, that smacks of indecency and frankly is unamerican and doesnt put the needs of our citizens or this country first. Our politics have become bought and paid for and with Citizens United allowing untold amounts of foreign money into the political process its only going to get worse.

NBJCactivist
NBJCactivist

The race card is a term created by white people so they do not have to deal with the ugliness of racism. Black people are still struggling and if you are not Black then how can you say it is not racist? Does Get Equal have a black member? If they do, have they made a comment? What does the National Black Justice Coalition think? (Which is a Black Gay org). Is there any Black gay leaders or activists or is gay rights a white fight? Will anyone address these questions or just ignore them like they have the needs of LGBT communities of color? No all you want to do is say don't use the race card so you can ignore issues of race. Shame on you!!! Everyone has the right to their opinion and there are some race aspects of this action that need to be discussed and not ignored by the LGBT community.

NBJCactivist
NBJCactivist

Why is it ok to call someone homophobic but not ok to call someone a racist? All the comments below are from privileged individuals who only care about their own equality. Civil rights and the racism around it was less than 40 years ago and the ugly racism around the Obama presidency is still going on. To ignore that and not see that there's racism in the LGBT community that goes unadressed is just plain ignorant and racist as well. If you can't see how a white woman shouting down a Black woman can be racist then your blindness is tied to your own selfishness because their too much history there! But, the white privilege in the LGBT community has gone unaddressed for years so why should this encounter be any different.

RyanQuattro
RyanQuattro

Ms. Holmes forgets the hecklers that followed Bush around. He was called all sorts of horrible names. Actually, she probably didn’t forget. She most likely approved of it which is why no one should take articles like these seriously. Ms. Holmes is offended because her heroine was interrupted. If it was anyone else she probably would have defended the heckler.

  I very much appreciate the First Lady’s response. I loath hecklers. They simply are cowards hiding in crowds.  But Ms. Holmes really need to stop back and think about heckling in America. Actually, she first needs to open a damn history book.

The idea that Obama has drawn hecklers because he is Black makes some sense. Racism still lurks in the hearts of many in this country. But the idea ignores 200 years of heckling and name calling. George Washington himself was blasted in the press and on the streets. Mr. Obama is only the latest president to undergo this ritual cow pie flinging. 


It never ceases to amaze how ill-informed many Obama supporters are when it comes to history. So much that Obama has undergone has been done before. Obama is not being treated any worse than any president before him. They would know this if they actually read some American history books besides “The People’s History of the United States”.

fermata
fermata

Some people, like Anna Holmes, just can't resist playing the "racist" card when they have nothing better to say but were so offended by an Obama being offended. 

p47hero
p47hero

One word. HOMOPHOBIC!

StanleyDubinsky
StanleyDubinsky

"successful activism also requires a good sense of how and when to pick your battles" 

Interesting that Anna Holmes would put this out as a reason that Ellen Sturtz should have shut up. This is approximately what the white establishment kept telling the civil rights movement, when African-Americans were agitating for equal rights. Holmes is essentially telling us that Sturtz got all "uppity" with Michelle Obama (who in this instance, more than being an African-American anything, was a heterosexual woman in a position of power telling an LGBTQ woman to shut up). The fact that an African-American married couple can occupy the White House, while a gay couple can't (in most states) get married, suggests that the problem of homophobia (and in Obama's case, a reluctance to deal with that) is today a far greater problem than any illusions of racism that Holmes would like to project onto this event.

sachi_bbsr
sachi_bbsr

You mean it's OKAY to heckle Barack Obama then?


DavidHalladay
DavidHalladay

Michelle did not blow it at all. I am an openly gay man and Sturtz is the only one that blew it. She does not represent most gays as we would not protest the first lady who is in support of our rights and has no power other than to be visible in support. Thanks so much Ms Sturtz, you are a disgrace and a very rude B

sambragg.38
sambragg.38

As a very wise person who writes at The People's View notes:

"-You want something done on employment discrimination? Do us all a favor and use the time you would be heckling the First Lady to instead call your member of Congress and your senators. Got some time left? Go sign up to help at a campaign to replace an anti-equality member of Congress. You want action? Demand it from your Congress, and if they won't give it to you, work like heck to elect a new Congress that will.

Michelle Obama speaks for me. She stood up to a bully (yup, you read that right), and she has my undying gratitude for it.-"

Couldn't agree more.

Bob1275
Bob1275

I'm sure you have the most noble purposes, but would you write this same article if anyone, for any reason were heckling George Bush? If  you couldn't, you're being a hypocrite and you're not interested in real democracy.

kuei12
kuei12

The Obamas are vile and disgusting liars that do not stand behind the people that elected them. They oppose everything the american workers stand for. The Obamas are the enemy.

MSD2178
MSD2178

I disagree with people claiming Right in this country dislike Obama's because of their race.. The Right was equal brutal towards Bill Clinton, if not more. Additionally, they still shudder at the name of Jimmy Carter. Yes, there is racism, there is no denying that and I am also sure there are some people who think the President should never have been black. But to say everyone who criticizes the President is a racist is foolish. This was the same problem I encountered during the 2008 primaries. Obama's  primary campaign team was not only extremely misogynist towards Hillary Clinton but his Presidential campaign made promises of radical changes but failed to provide ANY plans of how exactly he was going to go about doing this, leading me to conclude they were rhetoric from a candidate who is great at oratory.  But if I pointed that out, I was branded a racist with people ,claiming I would rather have a white woman in the White House than a black President, which was completely false.  I don't like hecklers but to call them entitled and racist just because the First lady is black is irresponsible. And in all of this debate we are overlooking the fact that this heckler was from a group that is constantly facing all sorts of discrimination. From the logic of this article, can we then conclude the First lady is homophobic?!

ChikuMisra
ChikuMisra

That is a good photo of Michelle. She looks pretty much like what I would expect someone to look like after a half decade in the White House. A look of invincibility and untouchability.

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

Why is it, that when I question the Presidents competence or ability I am inevitably accused of being deluded or a racist?? The more likely explanation is that those who accuse the loudest are, in fact, the most afflicted by that disease. Except for those who have no other defense for his performance, NOBODY cares about the color of his skin!

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

OBAMA.......IS......A NEO MARXIST/COMMUNIST.........AND HIS WIFE......QUEEN MICHELLE WHO SPENDS MONEY LIKE THE TREASURY WAS THEIRS.....IS LIKE AN AFRICAN TRIBAL QUEEN......

OBAMA......USES THE RACE CARD.......AND DIVIDES THE COUNTRY.....THERE IS MORE RACISM NOW.....BECAUSE OF OBAMA......THE IDIOTS WHO ELECTED HIM......THOUGHT.....THAT HE WOULD UNITE .....THE RACES.

ON THE CONTRARY......OBAMA.....LIKES.....TO DIVIDE THEM......

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW.......

valentine, world historian.....comedian....lol


XavierAlexander
XavierAlexander

I don't normally comment on articles because I think it is a waste of time. However the author has done an absolutely brilliant job in identifying an issue that a lot of people (evidently by the comments posted in response) have missed.

No American president has been treated with the level of disrespect and obtuse opposition from the right than Barack Obama. In the "post-racial" America that most people deludedly acknowledge everyone seems to ignore the fact that it is purely racial discrimination that drives the disrespectful attitude to the First Lady and president.

If you don't see the issue here, you should think about the last time any First Lady was heckled, or any president was labelled a Marxist and satirised on placards likening him to hitler. Anyone that says this is "the race card" is clearly living in their own world. And anyone that states an lgbt activist can't be one of the discriminatory and entitled crowd due to the fact she is advocate for lgbt rights is an idiot.

BeckmanLong
BeckmanLong

"I'm sort of disgusted with" Anna Holmes, actually I'm very disgusted with her. It is amazing to me that the founder of Jezabel, a wonderful website for and by women, so quickly jumped to race argument. The "breathtaking bit of projection" in this instance is Ms. Holmes own issues onto Ellen Sturtz's ill timed and rude outburst.  The article's focus should have been the heckler's comments and Michelle Obama's response, not racism in America. Are we still beating that very tired drum? Ms.Obama's ability to gracefully handle the situation is impressive not because she is a black woman, but because she is intellgent, articulate and witty.

Surprising is Ms.Holmes' assertion that the First Lady has no influence on her husband, as well as, Ms. Holmes' implication that despite Michelle Obama's high approval ratings and popularity she has no influence on American voters and public opinion. Uhhh...I think Hillary Clinton would strongly disagree. I also find it amazing that despite Anna Holmes being both a writer and an editor, she appearently didn't fact check her own article..."queer", really??? It actually stands for questioning.

Finally, if Ms. Holmes wants to see an angry woman, maybe she could just look in a mirror. Jezabel celebrates women which is wonderful, but I'm very disappointed that she seems to have little understanding of other minority groups. Until we ALL have the same rights, no one is truly free!   

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

The piece had me, until the inevitable race card got played. You'd think the deck would be out of those by now. Why is it that everyone sees themselves as just a critic of the Presidents policy's but anyone else, doing exactly the same thing, is a racist?

DSA4
DSA4

Excellent piece. Thank you, Anna Holmes. This is particularly well-said: "protest needs to have a logical purpose, an end game beyond the petulant desire to make a scene."

curt3rd
curt3rd

Now Ive known for the past five years that if you disagree with President,  you must be a racist but I didnt know that it included the first lady.  Maybe  a stand up comedian could do a routine with a bunch of "you might be a racist if" jokes.

Example

You might be a racist if you think Obamacare is a bad idea.  You might be a racist if you are against tax hikes.  You might be a racist if you think all the scandals in Washington are a big deal.  ect....    I guess they arent very funny.  Scratch that idea.

ToddGilbert
ToddGilbert

The lady shouting was a moron and also part of the group who invited her there. 

SmoothEdward1
SmoothEdward1

Thank you for writing this piece. Well said. I completely agree. This woman was an A-hole, just determined to make a scene. Michelle Obama is not an elected official and has no lawmaking power. This woman was yelling at the wrong person.

mflor110
mflor110

"Anyone who was been paying attention would have recognized in Sturtz’s outburst a petulance and sense of entitlement that echoes some of screechiest, bigoted and most resentful critics of the President himself, who have spent the past 6 years questioning Mr. Obama’s – and, by extension, black Americans’ – legitimacy to lead, have an opinion, or even exist."

^ Anna Holmes, you are incredibly deluded. This is the most disgusting piece of garbage I have read in a while, and you should be immensely ashamed to try to divide your readers, and, by extension, the nation - along racial lines. Although there are still racists in this nation, the vast majority of the president's critics criticize him for his ideology, leadership, and actions. Just as every president, Democrat or Republican, has been.

TrajanSaldana
TrajanSaldana

WOW...Anna Holmes is either incredibly naive or astoundingly obtuse

oldwhiteguy
oldwhiteguy

We live in a time when anyone and everyone can pipe up with his or her take online. People are also savvy enough to know that being outrageous can make friends and fans.  But, hopefully we can put the "Age of the Heckler" behind us and return to some level of civility. This kind of selfish behavior should go the way of 12 mpg automobiles and Tang. While it may prove funny to a comedian doing his act (rarely - and if so, with bad results for the heckler), it's become a big enough problem to be addressed upfront and strongly at movies and in theaters with announcements that tell people to shut up and turn off their cell phones. It has no place in civil society.  The interruption to the President in his State of the Union speech is unforgivable.  And this one is almost as egregious. MIchelle Obama is a class act. Ellen Sturtz has shown herself to be a lout and a buffoon. She may represent a worthy cause.  But she has done it a great deal of harm.

AJK
AJK

I don't agree with the actions of the heckler, but this article is stretching, a lot! 

I'm not sure how you can insinuate that the actions or comments of a gay-rights protester verged on racism! In fact, it could be argued that by stating that they were, you are the one being racist, albeit in an ultra "we can't offend them" (because they are African American),  rather than in a discriminatory way.   

How can you possibly compare the interruption of a speech by an activist, with anti-Obama bigots? Wrong time and place? Sure! But bigoted? Come on! The protester was demanding rights for a minority, she wasn't questioning Obama's right to be President!

Also, it is you and not the protester than made the "angry black woman" remark! You, are interpreting and paraphrasing !! Perhaps the protester was just surprised that the First Lady confronted her rather than ignoring her? 

If this was Barbara Bush, it would be a non-issue. You are just making nonsensical links to racism and bigotry!


veronicalodge2010
veronicalodge2010

You were sooooo wishing the heckler was a right-wing tea partier.  Really?  Digging up Joe Wilson?

Desperate.  

eifg
eifg

I noticed that the acronym LGBTQ was used. I have never seen it with the Q. Why is queer a separate designation?