Thursday, August 06, 2009

My Night at the Tampa Health Care Town Hall

Tonight I headed up to South Tampa, Florida to sit in on the Health Care town hall with US Congress Member Kathy Castor and State Representative Betty Reed. What I got was a front row ticket to pure rage.

I've seen the news lately, so I had an idea of how noisy these events are around the nation. When I arrived, some two hours before the event started at six, there were already 20 some odd people there. Many of them were going over questions, such as "If Obama can't pick a dog in six months, why is he trying to get us to pick a health care plan in six weeks?" (which I thought ignored the other 60 years we've been discussing health care). One gentleman was trying to tell me that insurance companies should be allowed to cancel people's policy, because people would get sick, then sign up for health care, and as soon as they were treated cancel their policy - yet he didn't want it to be mandated that people would have to sign up for insurance to avoid such a situation. The answer seemed clear: If you don't have insurance, it's your own fault, and if you get sick and insurance cancels you, that's your fault too.

I was lucky in that I knew one of the organizers who let me get in a little early to the front row seats. I think the original plan was to have the front two rows or so filled with people who really wanted to hear about the health care bill, instead of letting those rows be dominated by the protesters we've been seeing on the news at other health care events.

If that was the plan, it was not successful. As people came in, several tried to disregard the "RESERVED" seating signs, including one gentleman who ripped it off the chair next to me and stuck it in the chair in front. "Come on man, that's not cool," I said, pointing out the rest of the entire room was empty.

"I don't see why anyone should have reserved seats here," he told me.

"The disabled?"

He finally moved, and I moved the "reserved" sign back to its seat.

Before the doors were open to allow people to sit, it was nonstop shouting. Shouting from people outside who pounded on the doors to be let in and complained because they weren't being allowed to start taking seats 40 minutes before the event was to begin. Shouting because they were told to let people through who were reporters or were supposed to be on the council.

Shouting as the room was filled to capacity and the others had to wait outside, holding signs like "I can't read, cut taxes" (which made no sense to me at all). When Representatives started coming in, people started shouting "No! No! No! No!" The town hall hadn't even started yet.

One thing I noticed was that many of the Shouters, and I came to call them, came in very organized. Many had 3x5 cards with printed questions. Sheets of paper printed out with highlighted text, usually held in the same kind of binder. I'm not sure if they all shopped at the same office depot, but the similarity was eerie.

Reverend Dixon, a prison minister, started off the room with the Pledge of Allegence. And that's when the shouting started. As people read the pledge, one woman shouted out at the "of the United States of America" part "UNDER GOD!" earlier than anyone else (maybe she thought it was the United States of UNDER GOD) - and when the room got to "under God", there was a sudden angry shout of "UNDER GOD!" as if they didn't think people would hear it the first time from the lady who shouted early. Reverend Dixon gave the opening prayer - and then the rage fest really got started.

As Representative Reed introduced Congressperson Castor - boos erupted. The gentleman next to me stood up to applaud her, and many in the room was on their feet clapping for her. Outside the door, a steady chant started.

"BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT!" Castor hadn't even started yet, and people were screaming. Yelling. Fights broke out outside. Castor held two taped together microphones to her mouth - but then the mob shifted tactics to "YOU WORK FOR US! YOU WORK FOR US!" Every minute, it was a new rage filled series of shouts to keep her from discussing her points. She asked the crowd how many of them paid for health insurance through their employer - and people started shouting.

"READ THE BILL!" People in the crowd kept screeching at her, including one tall gentleman behind me I'll call Mr. Shouty. Throughout the entire time Castor tried to address the crowd, tried to explain what the bill was about, he and so many others around the room screamed "READ THE BILL! READ THE BILL! READ THE BILL!" Then, because she tried to explain how the health care bill would try to provide health care for those who were uninsured, the screams changed to "TYRANNY! TYRANNY! TYRANNY!" "WE LEFT ENGLAND FOR THIS!"

Some of the people who were there to hear the bill tried to shout back at the protesters "Let her speak!"

The reply? "No I won't!" by Mr. Shouty. Instead, he turned back to Castor shouting "60 MILLION JOBS LOST! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT 60 MILLION JOBS?" I didn't get that one. He was protesting insurance reform, but wanted Welfare or extended unemployment benefits?

The shouts continued. Castor couldn't even be heard over the din as Mr. Shouty held up a copy of the pocket constitution. "WHERE IS HEALTH CARE IN HERE! SHOW ME WHERE HEALTH CARE IS IN HERE!" (My friend @MariaLaino on Twitter replied "The Necessary and Proper Clause, bitch.")

Castor kept trying to go on over the din, as Mr. Shouty and his group kept screeching "SHOW US IN THE CONSTITUTION WHERE HEALTH CARE IS!" Castor talks about the Donut Hole in Medicare - and the Shouters start screeching "THAT'S TED KENNEDY'S BILL! IT'S TED KENNEDY'S FAULT!"

And as Castor was winding down, the Shouters started squealing "LISTEN TO US! LISTEN TO US! WHY WON'T YOU ANSWER OUR QUESTIONS!" This after almost 20 to 30 minutes of nonstop screaming and temper tantrums from the moment she started walking towards the podium. They hadn't heard a word she said, and screamed when she left the room under escort.

With every speaker, it was the same. A pushing match next to me erupted between Mr. Shouty Man and a union rep who got in his way. Ms. Lee Stirrat stepped up to explain the healthcare issues and about how even she has problems with insurance and trying to get the medication she needs. The Shouters all groan and start shouting, drowning her out as she's trying to explain the problems with people trying to get care under insurance.

When State Representative Reed came back to the podium, the shouts only continue. "FOLLOW THE CONSTITUTION! WHY AREN'T YOU FOLLOWING THE CONSTITUTION!" Evidently, following the constitution means not taking turns with your views, but screaming the other person so nobody can hear anything at all. The Florida Health Commissioner makes the case that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness requires a healthy body - a claim that lead to more jeers from the Shouters. He tried to discuss infant mortality issues, only to be screamed at that "OBAMACARE PAYS FOR ABORTIONS! DON'T TALK ABOUT INFANT MORTALITY WHEN YOU KILL BABIES!" Even when he protested he never performed an abortion, it didn't matter. Other Shouters squealed every time infant mortality was said "ILLEGALS! ILLEGALS! ILLEGALS!" This became a refrain. When 40 million Americans without health care was brought up - that was all illegal aliens. Because I guess "real Americans" can pay for their own healthcare. Like, pregnant teenagers.

Dr. Collins, a nutritionist, for a brief time held the room as she explained helping people who have come out of heart surgery - only to be shouted at when she tried to explain people who didn't know how to get good nutrition. Evidently, this was an impossible concept for the Shouters that people don't know how to eat healthy.

Finally, after almost an hour, police offers started pulling people out of the room who were just disruptive. Mr. Shouty was the first, to the applaud of many in the room - but there were still many Shouters to go. As one Ms. Coe stood to explain that as people have lost their jobs - people have lost their health care. The response by the Shouters? "Be more responsible!" One woman shouted out "Responsibility, Oprah!" Yes, the speaker was a black woman.

I think the lowest point was when Reverend Dixon came up to speak, and started to discuss the progress that had made during the 60's and 70's. The woman behind me started shouting "Yeah - we know what you did during the 60's! We know the 'progress' you made!" The look on Reverend Dixon's face was heartbreaking. He knew what she meant - civil rights. The progress made by civil rights groups for equality was some sort of slur now thrown back in Dixon's face.

She knew what he did during the 60's and 70's. Marched for equal rights maybe, or protested.

The questions that came next followed were mostly by Shouters who remained. Why are we paying more for health care when we have so many deficits? When Mr. Newton explained that health care currently costs us a lot of money because people have to use the emergency room - which they are required by law to treat, passing on the costs to us, and so health care reform would be cheaper - yup. The rage was back to shout at him. Conspiracy theory questions were asked, like "The bill says the federal government will gain access to all of our checking accounts." Some guy next to me let me know that when the government took over health care, nobody would go to the doctor because the government would be allowed to read your health care records. Why they would I don't know, or why HIPAA laws wouldn't still apply- but that was this man's fear.

In the end, that was everything for this meeting. Fear and rage. Rage that Castor wouldn't ask questions about 30 minutes of constant screaming at her. Rage that the public option even existed because it would drive regular insurance companies out of business -and when Mr. Newton brought up the example of the US Postal Service versus USPS, the Shouters, well, shouted that "YEAH! AND UPS IS BETTER!" Which, I guess proved his point, but the Shouters acted like they had won some important point. Rage at the uninsured that were all illegal aliens, or were having all of the babies who needed government funding to be born - because "no true American" would be without health care or would be a single mother having a baby. Rage that the public option would somehow destroy health care, or destroy medicare, or something. Rage that people said that insurance companies shouldn't be allowed to drop people from care, or that there were people losing their jobs (evidently all Obama's fault), or that the national deficit was so high (again, also evidently all Obama's fault for waging the War in Iraq then spending money to save the financial system and stimulate the economy). Rage that Rep Reed wasn't "following the Constitution" because it didn't mention health care (then again, it didn't mention interstate roads either).

By the end, the rage was effecting even the health care supporters who tried to shout down the Shouters towards the end. It became like a weird recursive shouting event, as the Shouters shouted and the other people shouted at the shouters to shout them silent.

When it finally ended, almost 30 minutes early I think, I walked out - and the Shouters were still out there, now shouting about Acorn for some reason (maybe they believe insurance policies will be issued by Acorn supporters or something).

A group of 5 police officers stood talking next to the parking lot. I stopped next to them. "Gentlemen, that was more excitement than one man deserves to have. Good job." I tipped my hat as they laughed and drove away.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, John, for writing and posting this. The more we rational people shine light on what is going on at these meetings, the better our cause looks to other rational people who may be sitting on the fence.

TheWeeJenny said...

I really don't know how you managed it. I felt myself developing an ulcer just reading your tweets about it. :P I sincerely hope you guys get a win on this one.

Spleener said...

Christ. This shit is the cancer that's killing the Republican party.

Courtney Schoenfeld said...

I just don't understand why any group thinks that shouting will help. How can we possibly have a dialogue to discuss what's best for the country if all that anyone does is shout over the discussion.

I get absolutely furious about the Oprah comments and the comments about the 60's and 70's. First of all, this guy is a prison minister. Since I have a brother who is serving life in prison, I know how important these men and women are. I know that they save lives every single day just by being the only thing close to a counselor these people have. (Don't even get me started about the prison system.) I was raised, but some of the same people who are angry about the Healthcare bill, to treat everyone with respect.

I just love how some people blame everything on whatever group that they are not associated with. Part of the reason for rising healthcare costs is because people are living longer. People who helped to build the country that we have today are needing care for a longer period of time. Is my 85 year old grandma supposed to go out and get a job so she can get insurance?

As one of the countless people in this country who is uninsured, I'm angry. I work for a very small business. My boss wants insurance for us all, but we only have 5 employees and several of them are otherwise insured. For us to be on a plan would be incredibly expensive and he is willing to pay over 50%. If the government has a better option, I'd like to hear it, though it seems that the shouters would rather I just blindly scream no.

I am not sure about why there is so much fear about this. There are many other countries that have national healthcare. The people in most of these countries have every freedom that we do.

Color me annoyed.

Rafe said...

@Spleener - Frankly, I only hope it is quick about it. Before, say, the next couple of elections.

elisabeth said...

@Courtney Well, I think it's pretty clear that the Shouter aren't interested in discourse of any sort. Thanks for posting this John...

John Hummel said...

@elisabeth: My only regret is I have but one eardrum to give for my country.

Well, two, but I think I lost one last night.

Anonymous said...

Dear Leader does not like it when you take a page out of his book and use it against him and I quote the Dear Leader-"I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors. I want you to talk to them whether they are independent or whether they are Republican. I want you to argue with them and get in their face," he said."

Read more:

John Hummel said...

@Anonymous (who is too cowardly to use their real name, I notice):

Screeching is not arguing.

Screaming is not talking.

If you want to talk and argue - great. There are ways to do that. Even at meetings where you disagree. Each side presents their ideas.

90 minutes of AAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHH is not a "talk" or even "argument." It is a temper tantrum by people who should have outgrown diapers long ago.

John T May said...

The corporations have discovered the solution to defending themselves from from the people they prey on. They simply divide the people into two groups with a polarizing issue and then pit one group against the other, thus rendering the large angry mob impotent as an agent of change that would threaten the corporation. It's an Orwellian "Fifteen minute hate" where they tell one group (the Republicans) that the other group (the Democrats) want to kill the elderly. The truth does not matter. The objective is to stir one group up into a frenzy that will focus on the othe rhalf of the group - while the corporation continues to prey on both groups equally.

Anonymous said...

Yeah man, it's the corporations, man...

John said...

Good job on the re-cap. I wish the press would do more on showing the links behind the shouters, websites and their backers.

Jim Alexander said...

The folks doing the shouting are not trying to help. They are trying to influence the debate (to their advantage?) without having to actually debate at all. They seek only to impede and de-rail the discussion. This is a tactic that is, and has been, widely used by political parties and groups/organization seeking outcomes they view as favorable to their desired ends. The real work is being done elsewhere, out of sight while they ensure that public discourse remains a "bread and circuses" affair. The tactic is nonpartisan and, in and of itself, not the purview of any one group.

They treat us like tools, we act like tools, we are tools. Don't like it. Tough. This is politics in America and has ever been so. Nothing new here at all.

Anonymous said...

John, that's frightening to read. I go back to your statement about their organized binders as if they've been to a class on Disruption 101. I've heard this thrown back Democrats faces that this is nothing different than Cindy Sheehan, but she was escorted out at the first sign of protest. Why can't the protesters be completely barred from being part of the debate? I've never heard of protesters being allowed into an event....they always have back row seating three blocks away.

I'm starting to get ashamed of America again....I mean, really, a civil discussion is the least we could do.

Nader was Right said...

Ralph Nader was right.

Anonymous said...

"aloud" > "allowed"
"suppose" > "supposed"

dmc1944 said...

I really appreciate your commentary on this. Never read your stuff before, because I just found the link. I find your analysis calm, reasoned, and clear.
My father, a WWII and Korea, veteran who died last year at 92. He was wonderfully cared for by TriCare, a government run system. He raised four children with the maxim that:

"If you raise your voice, you've lost the argument. As long as you have a valid point to present, there is no reason to yell."

He never yelled at us, never fought with my mom, and always listened respectfully to our side before making a decision. The people at these meetings could well learn that lesson. How sad that our freedom to hear and discuss this matter is abridged by these screaming mobs.

John Hummel said...

"aloud" > "allowed"
"suppose" > "supposed"

Thanks, @anonymous. I knew I messed something up but obviously didn't catch those two. Durrrr :).

Anonymous said...

Great post from another Brobama Sheep.

John Hummel said...

@Anonymous: thank you very much. I was worried that someone might reply with, say, logic and reason or something. But then I realized after last night - nope. Those are socialist values or something.

Blindweb said...

There is no need for a discussion as long as the constitution is the supreme law of the land. This is a country of law, not tribal factions. If you want socialism repeal the constitution. And no past moves toward socialism do not invalidate a line drawn in the sand now.
As Noam Chomsky has said, narrow the debate to control it. By opening a reasoned discussion as you all suggest it is then already assumed that you agree socialized medicine in an option. As Bill Clinton showed in his trial(depends on the definition of 'is') a knowledgeable person can manipulate language in endless ways. The angry people don't want to rearrange deck chairs on the titanic.

People are angry because this and other recent bills are in direct contradiction to the supreme law of the land, the Constituion. Albeit these people have been lacking in their constitutional knowledge in recent years (The Patriot Act). But after years of being asleep they have finally awaken. Their past conduct should not disregard there current opinions. The majority of the congress sent the country to war.

People seem to make the primary assumption that health care is greater than freedom. I don't know what basis they use for this.

Anyone who has studied socialism understands how it makes everyone poorer
Also if Kucinich is against it I'm guessing it's closer to corporate fascism than socialism

"The Florida Health Commissioner makes the case that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness requires a healthy body - a claim that lead to more jeers from the Shouters."
Anyone who can't follow that logic one step farther and see how ridiculous it is should not be talking about reasoned debate in the first place.

the Sushi Bandit said...

Thank you for your story.. it should be published in the newspapers!

Anonymous said...

I thought all this kind of behavior was A-OK, at least when the left did it. They even gave it a name: "Civil Disobedience." My, how your standards seem to differ from left to right...

DodgerBlue said...

Thank you for your accurate portrayal of last night. I too was astounded, and saddened. It didn't have to come to this. There could have been an honest debate.
I was always told that nothing good can come of something built on bad. I know it sounds like a simplistic way of explaining that your purpose for, and means of, action is integral to a good outcome. It is still true. The people we encountered last night are the most angry people I have ever personally seen. And the fact that their anger rules their behavior and thoughts means they cannot succeed.

John Hummel said...

@Anonymous #3 (I believe): Civil disobedience usually entails breaking a law to show the unjustness of the law. I'm certain you aren't claiming that any laws were broken.

But let's bring up your example. You're basically saying "Well, Jimmy did it, so it's OK if I do."

Of course, when "Jimmy", or, say Code Pink did it, then were promptly and properly ejected from the place where they were being disruptive. If they wanted to protest, they could exercise their free speech outside - not in a place that disrupted everyone else.

Here, you have people who aren't ejected, but are invited to stay and participate. And their response is 90 minutes of screeching.

So if you want to have it done the same way that other protesters are - and should - be treated when the protest a public event, then I have no problem with that. When people stand up and start acting like spoiled children who didn't get their 15th piece of candy, they will be promptly ejected, and they can hold their own event somewhere else where they can shout and scream all they like.

While the rest of us act like adults who may disagree, but believe that in a democracy, we can disagree without being asshats about it.

Nick said...

I found this on reddit and it was painful to read -- it sounds like the classic case of the 'moral' minority drowning out debate.

If you'd like to learn about what I think about health care reform (no screaming!) please visit!

Freedem said...

If ever there were a clear difference between the Antisocialists and the actually socialized this would be it.

The Socialism they fear is not dour Soviet style government (they are using those tactics) but a Socialized Government that behaves in the interest of its people much like a Socialized Child does not scream and grab whatever it wants, but works well with others.

When single payer protesters spoke up after being left out of discussions they were quickly arrested. When the Republicans ran things only very vetted people got anywhere near, the rest got "free Speech zones". They should have been a lot more prepared to spot these folks and keep them at bay.

Cheriot said...

Thanks for this post. The videos on-line never work and I wanted to learn more about this event.

I was signed up to go but had an emergency so I couldn't. I'm so glad I didn't because I probably would have cried.

This whole situation disgusts me and I appreciate you posting about it and fighting the good fight.

Half Cracker said...

I am deeply concerned about this aberration in the Democratic process. It has been clearly documented that these people, whether they are complicit or whether they are just being duped, are being used by the big corporations to disrupt the democratic process. I find what they are doing really disgusting and was pleased to find an inside view of what is going on. I have seen the documentation of how these people are organized NOT to add to the debate or to present an opposing view but rather to completely disrupt and shut down the process. I fear that the hate mongering that is also being stoked by many of the online pundits and by Fixed News will result in serious violence. By that I am not discrediting the violence that took place here as trivial but my fear is that worse could happen. I have heard the chanting and shouting that in some cases were threatening. That is not democracy in action but rather disruption by thuggery.

Stogie said...

Great Job, Thanks.

Daniel A said...

Your central contention is this:
"this [bill is] in direct contradiction to the supreme law of the land, the Constituion"

How, exactly?

If you take a near-anarchist view of the constitution, as you seem to, almost everything the government does is in "contradiction" of the Constitution.

Are you saying that these people have "woken" up after a long slumber and upon reflection realised that they are anarchists? And that's why they are out causing, appropriately, anarchy? You expect me to take your proposition seriously??..

zondar said...

Saying that "UPS is better" doesn't prove any point, and is untrue. I don't think anyone would want to pay UPS every time they mailed a letter or sent a bill payment.

Thanks for the first-hand report John.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I think what we are seeing is class warfare of the generations not seen since the 1970s. I respect my elders, but when I see 78 year old people SCREAMING about ObamaCare as if it's going to kill them, I am reminded of the rest of us that would like to grow older too. All I see currently is a bunch of older self-pity mostly selfish Americans which are the most selfish and ignorant of any I have known in my 44 years on this earth. I am ashamed that my elders can behave this way and not give a damm for anyone younger than 67- it's all about what they can get and to hell with the rest of America, they wont even let us speak without screaming murder or rape!! For the good senors here that relate to my side, I beg of you to please explain to these shouters what is really at stake here and that the shouters are nothing more than puppets for the medical insurance lobbies, even if their too ignorant to know it. When it comes to the 50 million Americans that cant find a job because of China-Mart, let alone any hopes of real medical insurance, the shouters pretend only THEY deserve medical insurance and the under 67 crowd can just die. In short this is nothing but generation warfare, and all of the propaganda by the far right and the health lobbyist can sit back and be proud of all the blame they have taken on. If they are not careful they might start a civil war (not by me though). We all wish to live long and healthy lives, none of us support killing people just because they collect Social Security. I pray God heals this country soon or I fear we will see a civil divide like none seen in this country in many decades.

angelduty said...

After reading this !****

Get A LIFE !!

Your comment "... Those w/o
health insurance, deserves it "!!!!



John Hummel said...

@angelduty: I'm pretty sure Poe's law applies here, so thanks for the laugh :).

Joshua said...

So, if the Shouters had their way, then Cubans coming fresh off boat shouldn't get any health care either, right? Oh, that's right, the Shouters LOVE Cubans! It's only the REAL brown/black people (ie.: Haitians, Mexicans, Central Americans) that they hate.

Micheal said...

Ahh, grassroots.

It always begs the question when I see the ol' Republican Astroturf machine in action: what good is this doing anyone? The answer is, of course, none at all. These people are, of course, actively working AGAINST their better interests in these shouting matches. This is what being a diehard follower of The Party gets you. You scream and rave against your best interest for the good of the corporate sponsors.

I do like Mr. May here's comparison of it to the 15 minute hate.

(To Blindweb, 9who I applaud for at least being able to reiterate some talking points and not hide anonymously), I say: Back that up. Demonstrate to me where the constitution talks about health care reform for the people being Not Okay. The constitution of the US itself cannot possibly condemn socialism, as it predates Marx.

I also ask: if you can only defend your particular ideals by SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS SO NO ONE CAN HEAR THE OTHER SIDE LALALALALA... how strong -are- those ideals? Are they really so threatened by the other side even being heard? That would imply that you live, not in a solid foundation, but in a house of cards.

We need to find the money trails into these people's campaigns, and shut them down cold. No two ways about it, politicians are bought and sold, and we need them representing -us-.