A few days after Thanksgiving, as the number of coronavirus cases surged to alarming new levels in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted out an advisory that, on its face, should have been fairly innocuous: Limit non-essential activities, wear a mask, and keep physical distance. But after months of missteps surrounding a raging pandemic and a police force that turned peaceful events into violent showdowns, Garcetti’s tweet had become—like so much of his messaging—unintentionally incendiary. It didn’t help that, just hours earlier, a local homeless outreach organization discovered the city had approved a filming permit that resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of Covid-19 testing appointments at one of the city’s few transit-accessible locations. (The appointments were reinstated the following day, a decision fueled in part by national backlash to the news that a TikTok star-fronted reboot of She’s All That had left more than 500 people without access to Covid-19 testing.)
“God you’re a useless trash suck up,” Jamie Patterson, a local barista, replied to Garcetti after asking him whether he’d been given a speaking role in the movie. (The mayor’s roster of film and TV cameos is not insignificant: He’s credited on IMDB for playing such close-to-home roles as “Wildly Unpopular Mayor” and “Guy Who Will Never Ascend Above Local Politics.”) Other replies, like the one from the indie rock band Best Coast, went with a more classic sentiment: “God I hate you so much.”
The specifics of Garcetti’s biography make him a particularly ripe target, but the phenomenon of tweeting mean things at your mayor isn’t unique to Los Angeles. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s puzzlingly slow, insufficient response to Covid-19 all but certainly cost some people their livelihoods and others their lives. When de Blasio defended the police after officers drove a car through a crowd of protesters last summer, it only inflamed the anger and frustration, spurring sit-ins in front of his home and headlines such as “Everybody Hates Bill” and “Bill de Blasio Has Failed.” The disgust at their respective mayors has inspired camaraderie—and a series of Twitter memes—not just among Angelenos and New Yorkers but also those who have marched to their mayors’ homes or initiated recall efforts in Cleveland, Seattle, D.C., Portland, St. Louis, and Chicago. Through a mess of overlapping crises this year, it seemed small moments of joy, or at least something like catharsis, could be found in the simple act of bullying your mayor.
As even the most well-funded, Democratically controlled cities have completely fumbled their responses to both the Covid-19 pandemic and a lethal epidemic of police violence, mayors have become signifiers of our country’s sweeping failures at the most basic levels of government. The pervasiveness of anti-mayoral bullying, particularly among those who may not have previously paid attention to their local elected officials, has spawned memes and t-shirts that read, “Not now sweetie, mommy’s cyberbullying the mayor.” As the pandemic recession stretches on, unemployment remains high, food lines in many cities are long, and a federal eviction moratorium is soon to expire. When so much of day-to-day life has been canceled or thrown into turmoil this year, why not tweet obscenities at your mayor—as a little treat?
More than that, bullying the mayor has also become part of a larger organizing strategy—and evidence of a widespread political awakening. Groups like Ktown for All, which first reported the cancellation of Covid-19 testing appointments, have gotten people fired up about otherwise obscure civic issues by tweeting irreverent pop culture references and challenges at the mayor. When their initial tweet about the film shoot went viral, racking up more than 1,000 retweets, they quipped: “Damn this blew up. Peep our Soundcloud,” linking to a Google doc containing comprehensive information on protests, petitions, and social media actions including dozens of templates for anti-Garcetti tweets, gifs to include, and hashtags such as #HesNotAllThat.
But bullying the mayor also just feels good. “There is something really satisfying about telling Garcetti to eat shit on Twitter,” Patterson, a prolific replier to Garcetti tweets, told me.
The president and Congress can feel far off and unaccountable, largely by design, when it comes to our daily lives. Mayors, as the highest-ranking public officials in towns and cities, are often the literal face of local power. In many larger cities, the mayor is elected separately from the City Council—whose members represent individual areas of the city—and has veto power over their legislation. While the scope