As Jeff Flake’s town hall stretched into its second hour, a sense of existential despair set in. At first, it was fun watching hundreds of people boo the senator and chant, “Shame on you!” (Seriously, if you’ve had a rough week at work, just watch the livestream. It’ll make you feel infinitely better by comparison.)
Teenagers, scientists, nurses, veterans, teachers, and a handful of disgruntled Republicans asked good questions about health care, climate change, the border wall, Trump’s tax returns, funding for Planned Parenthood, gun control, and his choice to push legislation that would allow internet service providers to sell their users’ browsing history. Tiny old ladies with Vera Bradley purses screamed until they went hoarse. Everyone was high on democracy.
But as people started to leave the stuffy, overheated Mesa Convention Center one by one, doubt settled in.
How many of the people wearing “Healthcare Not Warfare” stickers and Planned Parenthood T-shirts had supported Flake in the first place? Did he really need their votes to get re-elected? How many times was he going to say, “I’m sorry that we disagree?” Why did he keep on smirking?
It was at this point in the night that Clucky the Flaky Chicken emerged as the evening’s true hero.
Dressed in a yellow chicken suit and sunglasses, she hopped around the room flapping her wings in disapproval. When a group of constituents asked Flake to sign a “code of conduct” pledge, she personally delivered a copy to the stage, and stood there grasping a pen for at least half an hour while she waited for him to sign it. (He didn’t.)
We scored an exclusive interview with Clucky — a.k.a. Melody Steele, a 15-year-old from Surprise — after the town hall ended. She was less than impressed by Flake’s performance.
“I didn’t think that any of the questions that we was asked were really answered,” she explained. “It was just, ‘Sorry you disagree.’”
As a young woman, she says, she was disappointed by Flake’s choice to double down on taking steps to defund Planned Parenthood. “It’s cold, that’s what it is. It’s disrespectful. That’s an organization that works to keep women safe — women, men, and babies.”
Equally disappointing was when another young woman — 16-year-old Deja Foxx of Tucson, who spoke eloquently about what being able to access affordable birth control through Planned Parenthood meant for her future — described Flake as a privileged white man. His response was that he wasn’t privileged because he has lots of siblings. Yes, really.
“I felt sick to my stomach, hearing him say that,” Steele said.
As for the chicken suit, Steele said that it’s the result of an inside joke with her mom, Wendy Garcia of Indivisible Surprise, who’s been organizing forums on health care access and rallies at Flake’s office ever since the election. (“My mom is awesome,” Steele admits.)
Basically, the gist of it is that Jeff Flake is a chicken, because during the last congressional recess, he’d avoided having a town hall. And, like most politicians, he has a tendency to deflect questions.
That led to the purchase of an adult-sized chicken costume, which she’s pretty sure came from Amazon, although she can’t remember for sure.
Oddly, several people at the town hall came up to her and asked her if she was a reporter. Just as a note of clarification for readers: no, journalists do not typically show up to cover political forums wearing chicken costumes. Yes, it is the kind of stunt that a Phoenix New Times reporter might potentially pull. But we promise that we didn’t, at least not this time.
“It was funny, because I actually really do want to be a journalist,” Steele said. “This is why I do this — I want to be where people are really getting down and dirty.”
It was Donald Trump’s election back in November that motivated her to get involved in political activism.
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“The day after he was elected, I had school and I was just saying, ‘I can’t believe this is going to happen.’ And of one of my favorite teachers, someone who I look up to as a role model, she took me aside in her classroom and told me that you can’t dwell on what should have, could have, would have happened. You just have to focus on the change that you can make. After that, I decided to go with my mom to a demonstration at City Hall.”
Since then, she estimates, she’s been to as many as 100 protests.
“I don’t want to use the word bullying, but at school I definitely get taunted for it,” she said. “They call me ‘Politician Chicken.’ I mean, I get it, it’s funny.”
Not that it’s stopping her. If you missed the town hall, you can catch Clucky the Flaky Chicken in action this Saturday. She’ll be at the march to demand Trump’s tax returns at the Arizona State Capitol, which begins outside the House of Representatives at 10 a.m.