Last night I attended a town hall hosted by Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia. Former Vermont Governor and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean, M.D. made an appearance, so I knew I had to go. I didn’t bring a sign or intend to loudly advocate for reform. I just wanted to see what a town hall was like and hear what my representative and Dean had to say. I was blown away by the line of people wrapped around the high school’s gymnasium. There were a lot of media there. People were mostly calm, waiting for the doors to open. Pro-reform folks asked people to sign various petitions. Anti-reform folks walked around with pictures of Obama with a Hitler mustache. One man wore a cape with a picture of a gun on it, along with the sentence, “Try taking it away from me.” He shouted into a bullhorn about the war in Afghanistan and the national debt. So many people were pissed about the national debt. I’m not fond of it either but I’m not focusing my rage on our current president. Another man waved a Bush/Cheney ’04 sign. I guess nobody told him they won.
Some anti-reformers stood at the building’s entrance shouting at anyone with an Obama t-shirt or Health Care For All sign. I was shocked when I realized we didn’t have to go through a security check. I sat pretty far back in the bleachers and watched as both pro-reform and anti-reform activists walked up and down along the first row, encouraging people to cheer and chant. There seemed to be more pro-reformers than anti-reformers but the anti-reformers were 100 times more unhinged. The pro-reformers were more organized and it seemed to me their intention was to take care of business. The other side was more interested in making a spectacle. I had a lot of white Boomers and college aged libertarians screaming “NO!” and “DEREGULATE!” (?) into my ears.
A rabbi started things off with a prayer. Anti-reformers booed and heckled him when he prayed for expanded health care! Then Moran began by explaining his support for reform and debunking ten myths about health care reform. He was barely audible, as screaming opponents interrupted him every 30 seconds. Dean was greeted with applause and boos. I was very uneasy, sitting there surrounded by so many unstable individuals. The man directly in front of me read from a Tea Party brochure and tore up the pamphlet provided by Moran’s people. He got agitated whenever the woman next to him cheered for the public option. People were getting in each other’s faces, fighting about whether America is becoming a communist country. I stood and clapped whenever Moran made a good point but otherwise I kept to myself.
One of the myths Moran addressed was that the public option would include federal funding for abortion. If only that myth were true. He reassured the crowd that abortion would be covered only in the case of rape, incest, or a threat to the mother’s life – all red herrings. How will they determine that an abortion-seeking woman has been raped? They won’t. Assault victims on the public plan will simply go through with unwanted pregnancies, which is what anti-choicers want. Private insurers must cover abortion with funds kept separate from government subsidies. This Time article explains the abortion issue well.
Whilst Dean was speaking, a man down front in the folding chairs section stood up and began shouting and pointing his finger at him. I thought I heard him say something about baby killers. Eventually some people near him stood up and urged him to cut it out. Moran, clearly frustrated and exhausted, told him his outburst was unproductive and referred to him by name: Mr. Terry. It dawned on me that the raving lunatic before me was Randall Terry from Operation Rescue, who has been traveling the country disrupting town halls this summer. After a few more minutes of his “demonstration,” he was escorted out of the building.
Dean and Moran then took questions from the audience. They tried getting an equal mix of questions from supporters, the opposition, and undecideds. The questions had been written on cards and placed into a box. The screaming continued throughout this segment. A few times, an anti-reformer would rush up to the microphone pretending to be the person whose question had been pulled. Moran nipped their performances in the bud and scolded them for being impostors. I didn’t learn much from the Q&A. More than one person asked Moran whether he and his family would be taking the public option, which drew excited yelling from the antis in the crowd. I don’t know what the Moran family has to do with anything, as they already have health care coverage.
The night ended without much fanfare. People filed out of the auditorium and headed home, most believing the same exact thing they believed before the event. I’m encouraged by the pro-reform demonstrators I saw there, even though the television cameras flocked to those with incendiary anti-Obama signs. I hope we win this fight, which I consider a civil rights issue. I credit the semester I spent as an intern for Senator Edward Kennedy with solidifying my commitment to progressive politics. He was a true champion for the little guys and gals, and called universal health care the cause of his life. I wish he were able to help us see this through. May he rest in peace.