Town Hall Tumult

By Caitlin Taylor

Aug 7, 2009 11:02am

At town hall meetings in Tampa, Detroit, and St. Louis yesterday — chaos.


A forum on aging sponsored by Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo., resulted in protests and violence and six arrests — including that of a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter.


“The forum drew an overflow crowd of several hundred to Bernard Middle School gym in south St. Louis County,” the Post-Dispatch reports. “Dozens of people, many carrying signs about the health care debate, were kept out because of the turnout. The back and forth between factions within the crowd created a carnival-like atmosphere inside and out between members of the movement opposing President Barack Obama’s policies and groups who came to show support for the president’s proposals. The six people were arrested after confrontations outside the school…”


The forum was on aging, but while speakers tried to stick to the topic at hand they “were often interrupted by yells from audience members who wanted to shift the focus to health care.

“‘This isn’t even close to civil,’ said Steve Belosi, 52. “The rudeness was beyond compare.’…


Outside, conservative activist Kenneth Gladney handed out yellow flags with “Don’t tread on me” printed on them and was, he said, attacked. “He spoke to the Post-Dispatch from the emergency room at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center, where he said he was awaiting  treatment for injuries to his knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face. Gladney,  who is black, said one of his attackers, also a black man, used a racial slur against him before the attack.


“‘It just seems there’s no freedom of speech without being attacked,’ he said.”


In Ybor City, Florida, a town hall meeting sponsored by state Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, and the Service Employees International Union, and featuring Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Florida, turned into mayhem.


Hundreds of opponents of the health care reform proposals pushed by Democrats in Washington, DC, turned out, and shouting and screaming matches ensured.


“Bitter divisions over reforming America’s health care system exploded Thursday night in Tampa amid cat calls, jeering and shoving at a town hall meeting,” reports the St. Petersburg Times. “‘Tyranny! Tyranny! Tyranny!’ dozens of people shouted as U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor struggled to talk about health insurance reforms under consideration in Washington.”


“The spectacle at the Children’s Board in Ybor City sounded more like a wrestling cage match than a panel discussion on national policy, and it was just the latest example of a health care meeting disrupted by livid protesters. Similar scenes are likely to be repeated across the country as lawmakers head back to their home districts for the summer recess.”


A first person account from area resident John Hummel, who supports President Obama’s push for health care reform, can be read at his blog HERE.


Earlier in the week, reports the Miami Herald, a “raucous group of about 100 protesters confronted staffers of U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, expressing their displeasure with the healthcare overhaul bills being considered in Congress…The rally on Wednesday in Klein’s 22nd congressional district office was orchestrated by a Republican campaign rival…


“It was unclear how many people in the crowd live in Klein’s district; several declined to put their names on sign-in sheets. Many chanted in support of Klein’s GOP opponent, Allen West, a retired Army officer who lives in Deerfield Beach. West’s campaign circulated an e-mail this week billing Wednesday as a `unique chance to tell Congressman Klein how you REALLY feel about Government-run Healthcare.’”


In Romulus, Michigan, a town hall meeting sponsored by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., resulted in a shouting match as well.


“As Dingell opened the forum, Mike Sola of Milan interrupted the congressman as he pushed his son, Scott, in a wheelchair, to the podium,” reports the Detroit Free Press. “He said proposed changes wouldn’t help Scott and called Dingell a fraud.”


And it went downhill from there.


“The interruptions continued with virtually every question Dingell answered. Many Dingell supporters pleaded, ‘Let him speak,’ even as others yelled louder and shouted more…The hearing ended with opponents yelling, ‘Kill the bill!’ and proponents answering, ‘Health care now!’”


Many House Democrats are canceling town hall meetings in light of this type of dynamic, but asked this morning if he would recommend that members of Congress stop holding town halls, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said no. 


“I would recommend people that go to have their voices heard,” Gibbs said, “that they have some respect for everybody else’s ability to be heard and participate in a town hall meeting.”


Have you gone to any town hall meetings? What has your experience been?


-jpt

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