I just got back from the Town Hall meeting held by Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District Rep. Steve Cohen. I have to tell you, the turnout was pretty impressive. I livetweeted the event under the hashtag #cohen, as did some others at the meeting. Right now twitter search isn’t working too well, probably because of the DOS attack earlier this week, but you can follow me or just read my tweets from the event.
Thankfully, the event didn’t have as much of the hostility that’s been reported at other events, though there were some very vocal dissenters. While they were a bit disruptive, and their outbursts occasionally made it difficult to hear, the meeting went down without any real incident.
I arrived about 20 min. before the event was scheduled to start. At that point, the line was making it’s way around the corner. As we stood, waiting to enter, the line continued to grow. I’m not good at estimating numbers, but I would guess about 400+ people were in attendance.
Luckily I was near the front half of the line and was able to pick a spot upon entering. There were a lot of Seniors in the line and both the Congressional staff, and many of the attendees on both sides of the healthcare issue were cool about making sure those people had seats.
The meeting began about 15 min late, due in large part to the over-capacity crowd. The venue was pretty crowded, as the pictures that follow will show. After the pledge, which was punctuated by a shouted “under God”, and some general instructions by employees at his local office, Cohen began introducing members of his staff to groans from the people there to protest healthcare reform. Cohen brought his DC staff down for a retreat to meet with the local staff, and said he felt it was important that people know who’s working for them in DC as well as here in Memphis. At one point the crowd started getting restless, but was shouted down by a man who stood up and said, “I’m want to hear my Congressman!”, which elicited both applause and groans.
After the introductions, a line of about 8 Doctors formed to talk about healthcare reform. Many expressed concern about the “public option”. Cohen made no attempts to disagree with them or anything, but allowed them each to talk for a few minutes about both the problems and their concerns. This was not scripted or pre-planned. I really think, in the end, it was an effective strategy to keep the opposition off their game, and some good points were raised, though they were difficult to hear and impossible to record due to all the mumbling and grumbling that was a constant at the event.
There were some interesting moments in the Doctor comments section, though they were hard to make out due to the noise in the room, but as I tweeted Cohen held his own for the most part. The anti-reformers interrupted just about anyone who spoke, even people who supported their position. At one point Cohen asked people to “chill”, and later challenged a guy with a ”No Government Healthcare” sign, to which he answered, “I guess you’re against the VA, Medicare and Medicaid”, which brought down the house. Also, one of the doctors noted to the anti-reformers that “yelling lies over and over doesn’t make it true”, and another said, “anger and fear was trumping truth and facts”, which brought an expected response from the anti’s.
Once questions started, it became even more difficult to hear. The questions came from cards, rather than calling on people in the audience, another effective strategy at keeping the meeting orderly. Most of the questions centered around Healthcare, but some touched on Cap and Trade and other issues.
Over time, the anti folks started checking out of the meeting. Many left 30+ min early because they weren’t getting the play they wanted. Of course, the hardcore folks stayed at it, shouting all kinds of things that I can’t even remember at this point. I wish I could remember because it was some of the stupidest crap I’ve ever heard in my life, and I listen to right wing talk radio from time to time to get a laugh or get motivated against their messaging.
In the back of the room, where I was standing, the hyperbole was thick, and there was a lot of passing around right-wing chain emails and such. From that vantage point, I can say that there were more signs in support of reform, or the public option specifically than there were from the anti-reform folks, though theirs were more, shall I say, creative…if that’s what you want to call it.
Cohen did his best to dispel the myths about killing grandma and the “Palin Death Panel”. I don’t think he convinced anyone on the other side, though by the end they were not feeling victorious.
After the meeting most of them just took their signs and grumbled their way out of the hall. Most of the supporters went up to say hi to the Congressman.
I wish I had been able to take better notes, though the livetweet from the phone made my juggling act pretty difficult. All in all it was a successful meeting, despite the attempts to disrupt.
Thanks to all the residents of the 9th District who gave up part of their Saturday to participate, and even those from Arkansas and the surrounding districts, whose intentions may not have been as constructive. It takes all kinds, and I hope that, perhaps some of the misgivings about healthcare reform were quieted…though I doubt it.