Case in point: It's now being reported that some conservative "think tanks" -- funded by lobbyists and corporate interests -- are orchestrating a nationwide effort to mobilize protesters to disrupt Congressional Town Hall meetings during the August recess.
First, Politico.com, a respected news source for national politics, reported that crowds of angry, disruptive and threatening protesters are turning town hall meetings all across the nation into a circus. "Screaming constituents, protesters dragged out by the cops, congressmen fearful for their safety — welcome to the new town-hall-style meeting," Alex Isenstadt wrote, "the once-staid forum that is rapidly turning into a house of horrors for members of Congress."
Then, the Progressive States Network released a copy of an e-mail that has been circulating among health care reform opponents describing, in step-by-step detail, how political terrorists "should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress." Among the best practices recommended in the memo are to "spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half (of the room)," "yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early," and "the goal is to rattle (the Congressman)..."
The Progressive States Network did some digging into these think tanks, and their funding sources, and concluded that "the principle organizers of the local events are actually the lobbyist-run think tanks Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. The two groups are heavily staffed and well funded, and are providing all the logistical and public relations work necessary for planning coast-to-coast protests..."
And it's happening right here in our back yard.
WFSE members who receive the Federation Hotline knew that Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA) recently held a town hall meeting on health care reform. I wasn't able to attend in person, but an e-mail I received from someone who did has taken on new significance. The following are excerpts from an eyewitness report distributed among the members of the Healthy Washington Coalition:
"I attended Congressman Smith's health care town meeting this past Saturday, and it was a horrifying experience. To begin the meeting, Cong. Smith gave a pretty rational and informative presentation about the state of the health care reform process. When he concluded that this was an issue too important to rush, thus he would not support the President's efforts to pass legislation before the August recess, the room erupted in applause...
Then Cong. Smith asked for comments, and the comments began. The first question: would this new plan include tax payer support for abortion? The next question, from one of the young fellas sitting in front of me: on page ... of the House bill, (reading from a copy he had obtained from the internet) it says plainly that if an individual elects the public insurance option, he can never ever have private insurance again. Then many people in the room started to vocalize and clap, drowning out Cong. Smith's response, and shouting arguments to him.
He asked for people to line up at the microphones for comments. Many people did line up... They spoke of their distrust of the government; the post office, social security, etc; they did not want their health care in the hands of bureaucrats. Several people said in a very angry tone of voice, I just want you (Cong. Smith) to be the first to take this new public insurance, and see how YOU like it. At this, the people in the room jeered, some shook their fists, some said angrily Yeah!
When Cong Smith then took a question from an elderly person sitting up front, who had not lined up at the microphone, a young man shouted loudly that she should wait her turn, why did HE have to stand up if she didn't... Much supportive vocalization from the seated people. More comments from the next person at the microphone: People who are uninsured now can afford to buy insurance, they just don't. Many people qualify for medicaid and they just don't bother. The statistics of infant mortality (the US being number 42 or so in industrialized countries) are false...
I wanted to describe my experience of this town meeting so you all would know that people who I believe are the lunatic fringe of opposition to health care reform are out-organizing us..."
At the time, I thought it was unfortunate that proponents were outmobilized at Cong. Smith's town hall meeting. Now I learn it's all part of a cynical ploy engineered by people wearing $5,000 suits. Is this what political discourse has come to in our nation? Barry Goldwater must be rolling over in his grave
The fact is an overwhelming majority of WFSE members support the President's efforts to reform our nation's health care system, but our voices are being drowned out by a handful of well-heeled interests and some noisy extremists.
We've got to step up our game. If we want to see health care reform happen, we're going to have to earn it. -- Dennis