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A Friend Reports from a Town Hall Meeting | The Nation

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Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt

Politics, feminism, culture, books and daily life.

A Friend Reports from a Town Hall Meeting

(Claire Moses, professor of women's studies at the University of Maryland, describes the town hall meeting on health care held by Democratic Rep. Jim Moran in Reston, Virginia, on August 25. Sounds pretty wild! Note that even when progressives make up the majority of the audience, the antis steal the show.--KP)

I just came from a Town Hall Meeting run by our congressional representative (Jim Moran, a progressive--favors the public option, etc.). He had Howard Dean with him to give a pep talk and to answer questions. One thing that the friends I was with all mentioned was that we have never been at such a political event where opposing sides were in attendance. We're so used to campaign rallies and civil rights, reproductive rights, and anti-war demonstrations--all of which give off good vibes because we're among so many people we agree with. Of course, there are the hecklers along the sides--but they're not participants. This was quite a bit different.

The event started at 7 p.m. The doors opened at 6, but MoveOn.org had suggested we get there before 5, and it's a good thing we did because the lines already snaked around and around. I don't know if we could have gotten in if we'd come any later. While waiting in line, we saw lots of protestors who were part of Lyndon Larouche's group (he lives around here; I don't know if their anti-Obama hate campaign is national). They had the Obama signs with the Hitler moustache. But I don't think they actually came into the meeting--just walked up and down the waiting line. (I believe that the doorkeepers were checking to see if everyone entering was from this Congressional District; but they obviously failed in at least one significant case--so I don't know how carefully they tracked this.)

Inside, the significant majority was progressive--and not just on healthcare: some of the people circling the auditorium had anti-war, anti-military signs and they got big applause. (Jim Moran voted against the Iraq war.) But there was also a significant minority against healthcare reform--with the expected anti-"socialism" or "we can't afford it" signs. None of the "anti" signs were too, too horrific. Not like the Larouchees outside with their Obama=Hitler signs. But there was a lot of chanting back and forth. And the antis tried hard to interrupt Moran. But still nothing horrific.

And then Moran introduced Dean--who got a resounding standing ovation from the audience. We quieted down...he began to speak...and before we knew what was happening stood up in the center of the auditorium and started screaming "we won't pay for murder"--or something like that. One man, in the center of the group, was standing on a chair--looking like an orchestra leader--and immediately Moran recognized him and named him: it was Randall Terry! It was amazing! I do believe that they were after Dean--because they did nothing to protest, or participate in the anti-healthcare reform chants, or any interrupting until Dean started to speak. (Moran votes always in favor of whatever reproductive rights issue might come up in the House, but Terry's group didn't interrupt his almost hour-long talk.) Anyway--Moran told the audience who he was, and everyone (well, I suppose not "everyone") started chanting "go home." Moran actually offered him an opportunity to talk: offered him the choice of asking his question (offered him 5 minutes!) or he would be escorted out of the auditorium. Since Terry didn't choose to ask a question, he and his entire entourage were escorted out and calm was restored and that was that. Of course, there were more interruptions--but at least it was from the group that opposed healthcare reform.

The question-and-answer portion of the meeting was worthless. Moran took questions equally from the pro- and the anti- groups-but none of the questions were enlightening in either direction. And I have to say, if I were opposed to reform, I'd have been upset by the way Moran cut them off.

The one thing I can say, though, is that after this meeting I have a much better idea of what's in the House bill that is most likely to be passed (H.R. 3200).

On the other hand, some of the sloganeering--on our side--bothers me, because it is just plain wrong. The purpose is supposed to be to reassure people who fear "change," but all it does is water down the importance of the change. For example, Moran talked about the problems with the insurance companies and how some of the regulations and minimum standards and the existence of the public option will rein them in. He even talked about the horrors of insurance denied, etc. Then he said that "85% of Americans are covered by private health insurance and they needn't worry that anything for them will change." You've heard this same statement from Obama--how can they be so stupid as to keep repeating this "nothing will change" statement! There were other things like this: "no employer can make any employee take the public option." But what happens when employers drop health insurance, as so many have done and more will do? won't that "force" employees into the public option? Not that I'm opposed to the public option--but this kind of talking out of both sides cannot help our case.

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