“This Is How We Thank The People Who Died For Democracy — By Letting Billionaires Buy The Presidency?”

Anna Grabowski

We spoke with Anna Grabowski, whose disruption of a Michael Bloomberg rally yesterday has gone viral on social media. For Grabowski, standing up to Bloomberg is about defending democracy itself.

A protestor holds up a sign as presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg speaks at a campaign event at the Dollarhide Community Center in Compton, California on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. Scott Varley/MediaNews / Getty.

Interview by
Meagan Day

On Wednesday, a video started popping up all over Twitter showing a woman in her sixties interrupting a rally for Michael Bloomberg, the multibillionaire former New York City mayor whose self-funded presidential campaign is gaining traction. “That is not democracy!” the woman shouts over a chorus of boos. “That is plutocracy!”

Within hours, Jacobin’s Meagan Day was on the phone with Anna Grabowski, a sixty-five-year-old retired schoolteacher and county parks worker who lives in Ten Mile, Tennessee, to talk about the problems with Bloomberg, the promise of Bernie Sanders, and the importance of democracy.


Are you involved in any sort of political activism?

Well, yeah, I do belong to DSA [Democratic Socialists of America]. And I’m supporting Bernie. I’ve volunteered on and off for political campaigns going back to 1972, never for pay, and I volunteered for environmental things for a long time. I joined DSA in 2016, after Bernie ran the first time, and then because of Bernie I ran for state representative, not expecting to win. And I didn’t, but people came up to me and said they were grateful to have someone to vote for, because around here sometimes there isn’t even an opponent to the Republicans.


What was the Mike Bloomberg event you interrupted today, and why did you do it?

It was a Bloomberg rally held at the  Betsy Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga. I guess it was a Get Out the Vote thing, because today’s the first day of early voting here in Tennessee. I found out about it yesterday or maybe the day before. I knew I had to go because I’m just really so horrified by Bloomberg.

If Bloomberg had run like a normal candidate, I don’t think I would have been this horrified. But to run using his own money, to use his own fortune to get himself to the top of the list. The corporate media talk about him all the time, and in Tennessee, you can’t turn on television or radio for five minutes without hearing one of his ads. They’re very slick ads, and I can easily see people that don’t have time to do more research thinking, Well, he sounds pretty good. 

But he’s so far from good. And, I mean, even if he were the most perfect candidate with the most perfect record, I’d still be really opposed to him running, paying for his way in like this. That’s just not okay, having rich people buying their way into office. I think that’s, like, the absolute definition of a plutocrat or an oligarch. 

I have an uncle who died in World War II. I think about him a lot because he died fighting Nazis. He died for democracy. And this is how we thank the people who died for democracy, by letting billionaires buy the presidency. It’s so wrong. 

My drive to the event was a little over an hour, and I was practicing what I wanted to say the whole time, hoping I’d at least get a couple of sentences out. I had no idea if I’d even be able to get up there. But I did, and I ended up getting about one sentence out before they turned off the mic and drowned me out. And I don’t think you can hear it on the video, but it was really disturbing that some of them were chanting, “Lock, lock her up,” which is what they say at Trump rallies.

I’ve protested one other rally before, a Marsha Blackburn rally. She’s one of the US senators from Tennessee. She’s in the pocket of big pharma. They call her the opioid queen because of how she helped generate the opioid crisis. She’s also very racist. When she ran her campaign, it was full of anti-immigrant fearmongering and racism. So, anyway, we interrupted and protested a Marsha Blackburn rally, and they were actually hitting us. 

This time that didn’t happen, but then again, there was a policeman right next to me, taking me out, so I don’t know if anyone would have hit me in front of a policeman.


How did you go from an occasional campaign volunteer to a democratic socialist activist who protests political rallies?

I’m more active than I’ve ever been, because I’m more disgusted than I’ve ever been. It takes all of us a little while, I guess, to get our eyes open. I think for a long time, even though I volunteered for progressive causes, I didn’t really understand how sold-out politicians were and how much the corporations and Wall Street were in charge. 

There was an Occupy Wall Street in Knoxville, and my husband and I went. It didn’t last for very long, but I think Occupy was important, encouraging me to think more and read more. And then there was Bernie. 

I’ve started to feel bad about having ever supported Bill Clinton. You vote for them thinking they’re going to be okay, and then they don’t turn out okay. You know, Clinton signed NAFTA. My husband was a union steel worker, but it still took me a while to understand that Clinton and then Obama were pushing trade deals that hurt working people. 


How do you have the ability to remain inspired by Bernie after you’ve seen so many politicians let working people down?

I really think he is different. He’s not just different in degree, he’s also different in kind. He doesn’t take super PAC or billionaire money. He’s spent his whole career speaking out against those people and corporations, even when he was alone. And he never promises that he’ll get this or that done. He says it needs to get done, and we have to do it. He puts it on people. From Bloomberg to [Elizabeth] Warren, all of them say, Elect me and this is what I’ll do. And he says, Elect me and this is what we’re going to do together.


Would you jump on stage again?

Oh, yeah. I would do it again, and I think I would hold on harder to the podium next time. And bring my bullhorn because they shut off the mic. I’m learning.