If I had known I would have brought a sign. I got there at 3:30 and the anti-reform people were out in force, at least a hundred were there already. The pro-reform people arrived later, but enough were able to get inside to form a loud cheering section for Congressman Langevin to balance out the loud boos.
A couple of young men had set up a lunch table as a slam at ACORN, who they believed was going to lure hundreds to the site at noon by offering box lunches. I didn’t see ACORN anywhere, and the lunch table was wilting in the sun.
I got into conversation with one of them, a guy named Ryan. He had studied government and business, I work in nursing. I told him what I see happen to Americans who don’t get coverage until their health is wrecked and they qualify for disability. He acknowledged that people die for lack of care but said we can’t afford to cover everyone, and we don’t have enough doctors. If people choose not to get insurance they take the consequences. ‘This is not a Democracy’, he said, ‘it’s a Constitutional Republic.’ Not being a political scientist, I had no answer for this. I heard the same words exactly from a questioner inside later, so this is a talking point, clearly.
Ryan and I talked back and forth, but finally could agree only on the point that disease is bad and cures are welcome. At least the conversation was civil. I told Ryan that this ‘Nazi’ talk was offensive and he denied that anyone from their side would use such language. I was almost embarrassed to have brought it up. But before the line of citizens was allowed into the hall, someone had set up a huge picture of Barack Obama with a Hitler mustache, and later I saw a woman holding a glossy magazine with the same picture on the back cover. There was a bald guy with a bullhorn wearing ‘Joker’ makeup, I tried to make eye contact but maybe my nurse’s scrubs put him off, he avoided me.
A couple of Brown medical students were there in doctor garb advocating for the public option. Some friends over age 65 came with signs for health care reform.
Chris Young’s associate, a pretty young woman I have seen with him at hearings before, was holding an anti-abortion sign. This led to me getting into another conversation, with an intense man who decried ‘ripping babies from the womb’, but supported the Governor cutting insurance for pregnant women because women shouldn’t have babies they can’t afford. I guess I’m fortunate that my father was in the Army when I was born, and my mother got government health insurance.
To both of these men I argued that Medicare lifts a burden off my generation by giving us peace of mind about our parent’s medical care. Neither of them really had an answer to that, other than that Medicare’s okay, but we don’t want any expansion.
Having arrived so early I was toward the front of the line, I think about 400 were able to get in, filling all the seats and the gallery in back, with about 10 people in wheelchairs down front.
A screen displayed myths and facts about the health care legislation.
The Congressman was calm, had answers to all the questions, and firm on the benefits of reform and expanding coverage. There were many questions, mostly from the opposition. Many had come prepared with speeches, they were generally able to be heard.
It would have been even better if a loud contingent, mostly in the center of the room, had not taken the call to shut down discussion so literally. They hollered, they booed, they even drowned out questions from their own side, prompting others to yell, ‘shut up’. They set a nasty tone and slowed everything down. Chris Young hollered, he was escorted out, he came back and began hollering at intervals again. His associate shrieked, but only once. Thank you for your restraint, miss.
One of the most interesting moments was when a man with an accent asked if the plan would fill America’s hospitals with illegal aliens working as doctors and nurses so that we wouldn’t have to pay citizens. He heard it on Glenn Beck.
Many of my fellow-workers in health care were born outside of the US. They are here legally. We all undergo background checks every time we change jobs. Is it going to be open season on them now? A woman sitting in front of me, when Congressman Langevin asked ‘who are the uninsured?’ shouted–‘illegal aliens!’
The town hall wrapped up sometime around 7:30. The shouters managed to obstruct enough to prevent a large number of people from having a chance to speak by slowing things down.
Outside, the crowd was exuberant, the cameras were there. The anti-reform group had won the PR contest.
We don’t have a health care system. We have a fragmented mess. I think some of the fuel for this anger is a justified sense of insecurity. I think the blame is misplaced and that delay and half-measures will cost more and accomplish less.
I had a sense of religious zeal when I heard people speak about the ‘free market’– a faith I don’t share. But I’m a Unitarian, and I believe in the worth and dignity of every person, so religion motivates me as well.
I was not expecting to be face to face with nice, well-informed people who conceded that Americans will die for lack of care, but that’s how it is. It’s a philosophical gap I can’t get over.