Yesterday afternoon, Secretary Sebelius and Senator Specter gave a Town Hall at the Constitution Center on Independence Mall. The event was scheduled by the White House, and the idea was that, after opening ceremonies, each would make opening remarks and then take questions from the audience.
I received an email on Saturday about the event, with brief details, and a phone number to call if I wanted to volunteer. The phone number belonged to a very politically active friend. When I called to find out what she needed, she informed me that teabaggers were planning on attending and disrupting the event both inside and outside, and volunteers were needed on a strict non-engagement basis. The idea was to try to have enough people to stand quietly, with signs, so that if there were TV cameras, the pro-administration group would be as large as the idiot group.
The first thing you need to know about what happened yesterday is that it rained. If you've gone to protests, you know that a little rain doesn't stop anything - but this was something completely different. Roads were closed. The Schuylkill Expressway, the main artery in from the west, was closed due to flooding for the first time, probably ever. It tied up trafic throughout the region. Part of that hill shown on the left side of the photo collapsed, and water just poured in. The road was closed for hours, and affected attendance. By about a half hour into the Town Hall, though, the weather had cleared.
The US Constitution Center has two auditoriums, and a number of meeting rooms. Last year, when President Obama gave his speech on race, it was from one of the bigger rooms. With a stage and perfect acoustics. When Tom Daschle and Tommy Thompson gave their Health Care Town Hall last year, it was in the standard auditorium, complete with recording equipment. The daily shows on the history of the Constitution are in the theatre-in-the-round auditorium. This event was held on the second floor balcony. You can see in the picture that it is a pretty open area, with terrible acoustics. I'm trying to get a transcript, but have been unsuccessful so far. As you can see in the picture, there were a lot of people on the balcony, as well as some people just outside the door on the first floor. That large window faces Independence Mall, and the grassy area spreads two blocks south, passing the Visitor Center, and ending with Independence Hall facing the Constitution Center.
There were about 400 people on the balcony, and another 50 outside. All together, there were about 50 - 60 teabaggers, but they were loud, rude, angry and ugly. During the pledge of allegiance, they were close to chanting the "Under G-d" part. When Secretary Sebelius' name was mentioned in an introduction, they booed. When Senator Specter was introduced, they booed. When Specter tried to talk about his experiences as a cancer patient and how everyone deserved that level of care, they yelled to drown him out. When a woman from the audience, as part of her q-and-a with Secretary Sebelius, said that she was a retired nurse who would happily go back to practice under Single Payer, they called her names.
I started going to protests as a little kid at civil rights marches. I learned to drop and stay down at the age of 12 before I was allowed to go to anti-Vietnam protests, and in my life, I've never seen such a nasty, ugly mob at this sort of function. The general idea is to listen first, protest second during the speeches, but the teabaggers were having none of it. They believe their own lies, and would prefer to spread them than listen to facts and truth.
More on what went on outside, and another photo, after the jump.
The Secretary and the Senator did their best to answer questions, and not engage the morons. You can see them in the photo at the podium, and if you look carefully, you'll see people up front who legitimately were at the Town Hall to listen.
In addition to what was going on inside, there was a lot going on outside, too. The first thing that struck me was how many people were willing to let me take their pictures, but were unwilling to allow me to publish them here. These folks were both on the left and the right. The Government and Media Relations Coordinator of a pro-health refom group working in health care explained that they couldn't let me publish because they feared for the safety of their employees. Members of certain Democratic organizations would talk to me, but wanted me to know they "weren't really there."
On the other side was a guy who would only agree to a picture if he could hold up his jar. I'm not sure what was in that jar - I'm thinking "pig" but I never got that close. The people holding Nazi signs outside likewise were camera shy. There was a woman in a flowing red dress running around yelling "Jesus Loves You" at the teabaggers, and various ugly things to those with "Health Care Now" tags.
There were a number of terrific pro-reform people, but I've decided against posting the pictures - if the organizations fear for their employees, I'm going to be protective of "regular citizens."
You could easily tell who was who outside. The teabaggers dressed in Sunday best, and brought their kids. I spoke with one boy, about 10, and asked him if he knew what the Constitution Center was all about. He didn't. I gave a bit of background, but he was really a blank slate where history was concerned. I pointed at Independence Hall and talked about the Founding Fathers. In his little seersucker suit, with tie, his only question was whether they sell ice cream in the Visitor Center.
On the normal side, I met a woman who had been a delegate to the Convention last year. She was STILL THRILLED about having been in Denver: the excitement, the people, the speeches. I spoke with another woman who brought a two sided sign. One side said "All our families and children need single payer health care", the other said "Money for health care, not insurance companies."
The overwhelming majority of people were age 40 and above, on the side of truth and light. I can't figure out why this was. Do the young not care about health care? Do they feel that they voted in 2008, and that was enough? We're going to have to find a way to get them engaged.
That's all I have on this event for now. If I can get a transcript, I'll post it then. Later today, I have new polling numbers on Single Payer from a right-center source. Also information on people getting arrested related to health care reform.