Henry Waxman's Secret Town Hall Meeting That Wasn't Really A Town Hall Meeting - 8/21/09
Recently, there has been a great deal of media coverage of demonstrations, both pro and con, at town hall style meetings on health care reform being held by members of the United States Congress, and so, like a good citizen, I've been closely watching the website of my US Representative, (D) Howard Berman, to see when he would hold one in my district. Well, it didn't take long for me to realize that Congressman Berman had no plans to hold a "town hall meeting" at all, and that he was doing his best to hang low until the summer recess was over. So when I received an email from Code Pink on Aug. 17th informing me that the congressman who represents the district adjacent to mine, (D) Henry Waxman, would be holding a "town hall" meeting at UCLA on Aug 21st, I thought this might be my only chance. The email read:
Friday, August 21, 2009 - 10 AM
Henry Waxman's Town Hall
Where: Korn Hall on the UCLA campus, 110 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles 90035
"Let's not be out-organized by violent, right-wing tools of insurance corporations incited by Fox News. It's time to get out from behind our computers and get into town halls, rallies, Congressional offices, the streets. Let's not cut off debate with senseless shouting and threats, but open the debate to include calls for Healthcare Not Warfare and Medicare for All."
The first thing I did was check Henry Waxman's website for information, but I couldn't find anything about a "town hall" meeting on health care. Later, that same day, I received another email, this time from Organizing For America also informing me about Henry Waxman's "Town Hall" at UCLA. The email instructed me bring signs supporting President Obama's "health care plan".
A forum on AB-32, California's landmark climate change bill with Rep. Henry Waxman and Sen. Fran Pavley and Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board.
Friday, August 21, 2009
10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
REGISTRATION IS NOW CLOSED: "Seating will be limited only to those who registered via the UCLA RSVP site and received a confirmation or wait-list notice will be admitted. Individuals on the waitlist or walk-ups can not be guaranteed seats. This is a UCLA-sponsored event only. Only those who have registered with UCLA will be admitted."
So this "town hall" meeting was not really about "health care" at all, it was about "climate change", and, no doubt, Waxman was going to be there to defend his "Cap and Trade" bill in front of a friendly audience of academics and environmentalists.
I decided to go anyhow.
At about 9:30am I arrived on the UCLA campus and soon saw three ladies carrying about 15 handmade signs supporting President Obama and health care reform. I asked them if they knew the way to Korn Hall and one of them asked me, "are you a good guy or a bad guy?" I said, "I'm a good guy", and they pointed me in the right direction.
As I climbed the stairs which led to the forum, I could hear the chanting: "Yes We Can! Yes We Can! Yes We Can!", repeated endlessly.
When I reached the plaza outside of the hall I saw that two protest areas had been set up, one, presumably for "good guys", and the other one for the "bad guys".
On the pro-Obama side, there were a couple of hundred people chanting and waving signs. Many of the signs were hand-made, but many more were professionally printed with the official Obama logo and website on both sides.
The professionally printed signs were being handed out by Organizing For America workers with clipboards in their hands. One side of these pre-made signs said: "Standing Together For Health Insurance Reform"
On the other side was printed the words: "Thank You"
"Thank You"???...Ive been to quite a few political demonstrations, and I've witnessed some pretty strange behavior before, but I never thought the day would come when I'd see activists marching around waving pre-printed, pro-government signs that said "Thank You".
Some of the demonstrators appeared to have printed "Thank You" signs on their home computers directly from the Organizing For America website.
While others drew their own personalized "Thank You" placards by hand.
Over in the other protest area I saw no more 15 demonstrators, most of them holding signs critical of Waxman's "Cap and Trade" bill - which was the real subject of the forum taking place within the hall - as well as a few people holding signs against President Obama's health care bill, HR 3200.
Apparently some anti-Obama protestors have shown up at demonstrations holding offensive signs, or as Nancy Pelosi put it, "carrying swastikas and symbols like that to a town meeting on healthcare"… and so I made sure to check every placard for anything that might be construed as egregious. The worst that I could find was a man holding a sign which featured a hammer & sickle…
…and another fellow (a local LA eccentric known as Melrose Larry who made a name for himself years ago when he was regularly featured on Howard Stern's radio program) holding a small picture of President Obama as The Joker from the Batman movies.
Those two signs were the only ones I could find among the anti-Obama demonstrators that even came close to being distasteful… That is until I went back to the pro-Obama side and noticed that a small contingent of Lyndon LaRouche cultists had set up tables at the back of the protest area.
In the following Video clip, you can see one Obama supporter repeatedly call the La Rouche supporter a "Nazi", while a woman walks up and rips the Obama/Hitler poster off the front of the table and throws it at the La Rouchie.
A person from Organizing for America soon approached the LaRouchies and told them that they had to pack up and leave right away, that they did not have the right to be there. The young woman in the following photograph calmly told the man that they have been setting up tables on campus for the past seven years and that they have just as much right as he does to promote their cause. She said that if the police asked her to leave, she would go. The man walked off in a huff. At this point, I walked up to the same young woman and asked her if anyone ever this got upset with them during the previous seven years when LaRouche was promoting the idea that Vice President Dick Cheney was Satan. She laughed and told me, "no, they liked us then". I asked her, "Don't you think that by portraying Barack Obama as Hitler you are defeating your own cause?", and her response caught me by surprise. She said, "America is polarized. We're trying to further that polarization. This is really not about health care; it's about tearing the country apart. Real change will not come until the country is ripped in half".
So the only truly offensive signs that I was able to find were held by the followers of a former Communist and long time peripheral Democratic Presidential candidate, Lyndon LaRouche.
In the following video, I scan across the protest, starting with the "conservatives", moving across to the Obama supporters. Watch and decide for yourself which group seems more heated, more overwrought and more driven by their emotions…
Eventually, a group of perhaps 20 pro-Obama protesters moved into the anti-Obama area, pushing their way to the front, blocking the anti-Obamacare demonstrators signs.
This guy walked among the anti-Obama protesters holding his witty little sign over people's heads, accusing them of getting their "ideas from Rush Limbaugh".
The "idea" that opponents of President Obama's political agenda blindly take their marching orders from Rush Limbaugh is a common theme among Obama's supporters.
So, if Limbaugh can't be trusted, where should we go to get "the facts"?… The answer being: from The White House, of course.
Now let's take a little walk around the demonstration and have a look at the messages on the signs held by the participants.
The following sign is apparently an appeal to the enlightened self interest of toothless hicks.
And this sign probably could have been worded a little better.
The most common theme among the pro-Obamacare crowd was the insistence that any health care reform must include a public option.
And my favorite sign of the day…
I didn't see any "Obamacare = Death Panels" signs on the anti-Obama side, but I did see a number of signs equating insurance companies with "death panels".
And I didn't see any signs claiming that Obama was a fascist (aside from the LaRouchies), but I did see a few signs which implied that opposition to Obama might be.
I also did not see any anti-Obama protestors carrying firearms, but I did see a couple of Obama supporters with guns on their hips.
A few more pictures of the pro-Obamacare demonstrators…
Of course, Code Pink was there mugging for the cameras. In this picture you can see Jodie Evans, the Code Pink nutball who was dragged out of the Republican Convention last year after screaming anti-war slogans during Sarah Palin's speech.
Eventually, a couple of anti-Obama protesters decided to carry their signs into the pro-Obama congregation.
They were heckled as the crowd chanted "Loser! Loser! Loser!"
On the other side - the anti-Obama side - it was quieter as people, both pro and con, passionately but civilly, debated health care and other issues.
It was actually a nice moment watching people from both groups speaking respectfully and even listening to one another… that is, until some guy wearing a pig mask showed up pretending to be an anti-health care protester and ruined the moment.
All and all, it was a pretty tame event, entirely set up by Organizing for America to appear as if it were a real, grassroots protest… In other words, it was the very definition of "astroturfing".
Thank You, Henry Waxman.
If you feel that I have helped in some way, please, do not hesitate to donate to keep this site up and running. Any amount will be much appreciated, thank you.