Friday, August 28, 2009

My Experience Of Democracy In Action

Mary Landrieu at the mic.

All right. Enough procrastinating about writing a post on Mary Landrieu's town meeting in Reserve, Louisiana, on health care reform. The local newspaper accounts are in the Times-Picayune and the Advocate. Check out the Advocate for the picture of the sign which reads:

OBAMA HAS A PRESCRIPTION FOR AMERICA - next to a hammer and sickle.

My account will be personal. It appears that this meeting may the only town meeting Mary will hold, so I suppose it was a good thing we went, although my experience of democracy in action left me shaken, as I still am today, and pondering gloomily on the future of democracy in this country. I reached home yesterday in a state of exhaustion.

We arrived at the National Guard armory at around 11:00 AM on Thursday for the meeting that was to begin at 2:00 PM to check things out, intending to grab a quick lunch and return to wait for the doors to open. When we saw the numbers of people arriving, we decided not to leave. We had water, and that was good enough.

As we walked to the door we encountered friendly folks who were handing out signs and stickers in favor of health care reform. We took the stickers and stuck them on, but not signs, because I was already carrying my purse and my laptop. I was sorry afterward that I did not take a sign. The stickers read:


The weather was hot, but we found a place under the shade of the canopy in front of the door of the building. If we had left, we would definitely have lost our places in the shade, and Grandpère's bald head would have been exposed to the sun for two hours, because he didn't have his cap with him.

Apparently, our stickers were enough to attract those opposed to any type of health care reform, because they began to approach us with their spiels, "Do you know this about Obama?" "Do you know this about the health care bill?" GP would not contend with them, saying simply that he believed that we needed some type of reform and then letting it go. But - surprise, surprise! - I began to point out that some of what they said was not true. I began to cite information of my own. Some of the folks were quite civil. One woman showed me a picture of her 24 year old daughter, who has cystic fibrosis and is near death. She is a beautiful girl, and her story is heartbreaking. I asked the woman what sort of health insurance she had. She told me she had insurance from her husband's employer and from Medicaid. This woman wants no reform of health care which includes federal programs, but her daughter is covered partially by a federal-state program called Medicaid. Ordinarily, her income would be too high to have Medicaid coverage, but right here in decadent and backward Louisiana is a little known program whereby people with chronic diseases, which require expensive treatments, may, on a case by case basis, get waivers and be covered by Medicaid. My friend's son, who has hemophilia is partially covered by Medicaid, although he has health insurance, and his income would ordinarily be considered too high for Medicaid.

So here is this very sweet lady and her beautiful, but tragically ill, daughter covered partially by a federal program, but who is campaigning against any health care reform at all by the federal government because it will be socialistic. I don't get this at all. I pointed out that Medicaid was a federal-state program. She said, "I know, but I want to keep what I have." She has a son in Afghanistan, and I said that I would pray for his safety and for her daughter and for her whole family. And I said no more to her.

Another very sweet and polite woman (covered by Medicare and yet campaigning against any interference by the federal government in health care reform) and several others spoke of page 16 of the bill out of the House of Representatives, that allegedly would make private health insurance illegal. I did not know what was on page 16 of the House bill, but I said that I could not take their word for it, because I would have to see it in print to believe it. Here is the refutation of the page 16 allegations if you care to read. Too late to help those folk, of course, not that they would have been persuaded anyway.

Then the meanies came. The first woman told me one thing after another about Obama and the health care bill that I knew were not true, which I pointed out to her. I asked her if she thought health care was a moral issue, and she told me that she did and that her husband made quite a lot of money and why should her tax money go to pay for the health care of others, including deadbeats? That was the moral of her story. I tried to explain about what insurance was for, that it was about spreading cost and risk, but that got nowhere. She continued to get angrier and angrier and more and more in my face, until she was screaming and waving her sign so close that I thought she would hit me. Once we were inside the meeting room, and she saw that I was taking pictures, she posed sweetly, especially for me, with her sign. You see her below in the middle of the picture. Her sign reads:


The next woman who approached me said that she'd had cancer and been treated at M. D. Anderson in Houston, and that she wanted to be able to go there if she ever had cancer again. She appeared to have had major surgery around her chin and mouth. I told her that I'd had cancer, too. When she said things that were false, I said, "But that's not true." And then she started on page 16, too, and I repeated that I didn't believe that, and she got really angry and said, "Fuck you, you bitch!" and walked away.

The nice woman who had the sick daughter insisted that I go over to talk to a Cuban-American woman. I had my sandals off and was standing on top of them, because my feet hurt from standing so long, and as I was trying to put them back on, the Cuban woman said, "She doesn't want to hear it." I put my sandals back on, and walked over to them, and the vital information that she had was, "Obama is Fidel". I said, "No, he is not." She turned away in disgust.

Then another woman droned on and on about socialism. I asked her, too, if she thought everyone had a right to health care and if it was a moral issue. She said that life isn't fair, it could never be fair, and that everyone didn't have the same rights. Then she proceeded to tell a long story to illustrate her point, of a teacher in the classroom with children, some of whom were doing well and others poorly, except she made the story really long and dragged out. Trust me, really long. I confess that I broke in once to ask her what the story had to do with health care. She said, "Wait! Let me finish!" It turned out that the story had nothing at all to do with health care, but, at the end, she asked me if I wanted the teacher to give all the kids good grades just to be fair. I said, "Of course not! But what does that have to do with health care?" She said the story was to illustrate that things couldn't be the same for everyone.

The group included a good many angry people and a good many ignorant people, and sometimes the anger and ignorance were present in the same person. The level of hatred for Obama should not be underestimated. Yes, hatred. I asked the screaming woman (before she started screaming) where she thought Obama was born. She said, "I haven't seen a birth certificate." When I said, "I haven't actually held the birth certificate in my hand, but I have seen pictures of it on TV and on the internet," she smirked and shook her head. "Why didn't he have to prove that he was born in the US?"

I never initiated one conversation. I did not indulge in name-calling. I may have raised my voice at times as the exchanges got heated, and I confess that I burst out laughing a few times at the absurdity of some of what was said, and that probably inflamed the opposition. I would not soon want to repeat this experience.

"Kill the bill! Kill the bill!" the crowd chanted over and over.

And tort reform will save us all. It's the answer for everything. I'll say more about that tomorrow in my post about the actual meeting.

What I heard just standing outside the building caused me to doubt the wisdom of democracy. "Lord, give us a king!" But what would be better?

As you see, my post is quite long. I've used the post to vent, because I needed to. I was stunned by the level of anger, and the level of ignorance, and the level of hatred for Obama. I've seen the same sort of thing here where I live, but on a smaller scale, and to see such a large group of people exhibit such anger, ignorance, and hatred was quite disturbing. The hatred of Obama is partly racism and partly the Muslim connection. He's not a real American.

Those who supported health care reform were perhaps a third of the group, and they were much less vocal. Let me emphasize that Mary Landrieu and her supporters were the good guys in this movie.


John Shuck said...

I guess we are getting our civics lessons aren't we? Your meeting was more dramatic than mine, but I left with the same feelings.

Thanks for the report. : )

Paul said...

Thank you for showing up and bearing witness.

IT said...

How demoralizing....

Ann said...

Thanks for your sacrifice for all of us. Good work Grandmere and Grandpere

it's margaret said...

YUCH! --Grandmere, facing the basest part of humanity is always difficult... I hope that in the coming weeks you will be reminded of hope and grace and be restored.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Where do these people come from? No, seriously. Are they Americans, or have they been imported from another planet just to show up at these Town Meetings? Sometimes I wonder.

Good job, Grandmere and Grandpere. Thanks for your witness.

Grandmère Mimi said...

It's very worrying. They are Americans. They dwell amongst us.

Paul said...

They are the parts of ourselves we wish we could deny, ignore, repress. As Grandmère reminds us, they are Americans. I think of the line from The Waste Land: "vous, hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère" - you, hypocrite reader, my like, my brother.

Ciss B said...

One of our representative will be having one here is W. Michigan soon too, but the ones that have come before have mostly been for show it seems. There seems to be nothing but shouting, but little real dialog.

Where's the real interaction that gives us a sense of where the compromises will come from - for surely in order to get something that will probably end up some what like Medicare through we need real dialog!!

There's just so many people trying to bully their way into stopping this bill!

Catherine in Japan said...

Thanks to you and Grandpere for attending the meeting.
The palpable hatred sounds so scary to witness.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

This is very sad. Still, let's hope for the best. And Thank you Mimi and GP!

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Could you tell me what this "tort" is supposed to be? It aint English.

Counterlight said...

Splendid reporting.

You're getting linked over at my blog.

SCG said...

As an UNinsured, "deadbeat" aka "working poor" person, I am so grateful to you and Grandpere for doing your part to bear witness to the realities of my, and millions of others, situation.

The meeting I attended had much the same feel. Even though the Congressman was saying things that should have made the majority in the room happy, they didn't want to hear it.

"Lord, send us a king!" Gee, how Old Testament!

Counterlight said...

By the way, I thought you acted very well in that situation. You were far more civilized than I would have been.
I have too short a fuse and too thin a skin.

Jay Simser said...

As I read about these people from all over the Internets they seem to all be reading from the same script.

I just saw a clip of your Senator after Hurricane Katrina being "scolded /interviewed by Anderson Cooper. It is interesting that you made a favorable comment about her.

The entire fiasco all over the country makes me doubt anyone who wants to describe us as a "Christian" nation. We talk about the schools not doing their jobs. Seems to me some of the churches aren't either. Thanks for your excellent posting.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

I, Me, Mine - and may the rest float or sink as they please, seems to be the spirit.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

A Moral question, indeed.

JayV said...

Thanks for this report. Lord have mercy. I also linked on my blog.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Who are these people?

Paul, I'm afraid you're right. My first impulse last night was to write "They R us", and I didn't have the nerve.

Göran, tort reform refers to legal reform that caps the amount of money that a person can collect in a personal injury lawsuit. Texas has passed such a law, but their health care costs have not dropped as a result. It's not a panacea.

Those of us on the side of health care reform were advised by email:

P.S. -- Please don't forget to be respectful of all attendees at these events. We're not trying to out-yell our opposition, but rather to show them who has the best ideas about reforming our nation's health care system.

I tried.

Bloggers, thanks for the links.

SCG, I hope we get enough of a reform bill to make it possible for folks like you to get health insurance at a reasonable price.

JayS, there is a script. How else would all those folks know about page 16? I try to keep up with what's going on, but I haven't read the whole of the bill that came out of the House. They haven't either, but the page 16 false info circulates like a wildfire around the internet.

I, me, mine. I heard a lot of that.

Thanks for reading my long post. More to come!

Can you believe that I typed "cycle" instead of "sickle"? I left my mistake for the world to see.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Dear Mimi,
Bless you for braving this and being a witness to it. The level of mendacity, mendacity, mendacity just keeps rising!

This is the peril of democracy, as Pogo said, "We has met the enemy and they is us."

Suzer said...

My experience at a town hall meeting was a little different. The supporters outnumbered the anti-reformers, but the anti's were still very loud and yelling all the lies you share here.

I, too, wondered "where do these people come from"? They are so angry, so fearful of someone taking what is "theirs." What they don't seem to realize or understand is that they are ALREADY paying for the uninsured through higher premiums, and other societal costs, which could be relieved with true universal health care. Which isn't even what the Obama plan proposes.

I, too, came away with a sick and shaky feeling, and not sure I want to go to another one of these meetings. And the meeting I went to sounds like it wasn't as divisive as yours. I have an idea now of how GWB won (or not) the election 2 times: these people are very effective at bullying and shouting down opposition to their selfishness and greed.

Obama needs to deal swiftly and strongly with these people, but since they have already taken over the conversation, I don't know if that will happen. How DOES one deal with bullies? How do you, in a free society, shut them down and disallow them the power of ignorance they disseminate?

Ann said...

I thought Obama had blown it by not entering into the fray sooner -but now I wonder as people are seeing these protesters as whackos -- maybe he was correct to let them rant away . Tell your senators and reps that 86% of people want coverage for all in some form -- don't listen to those who say NO.

Beryl Simkins said...

It is very frightening, isn't it that people who yell, and scream and behave abusively are allowed so much media time, and seem to have the power. What happened to civility? If you can't explain your position coherently, you have nothing to say in my opinion. And you must be willing to listen to reasonable answers to your questions. I just don't get it and I find it unacceptable that our representatives in Washington would give credence to that kind of behavior. Let's have some reasonableness guiding what happens in the House of Representatives and Senate.

I think that what is sad is that so much is influenced by donations to politicans by insurance companies.

Two Auntees said...

I,too, am left stunned by the level of opposition and hatred to health care reform. As if the public sector has done such a good job.

The people who seem to be the most anti health care reform are those who are partaking of government health programs in one form or another. Do they think that helping others is going to take their help away?

I am a former employee of the state of Georgia. My health insurance is part of my benefits from my previous job and part of a government run system. It's not too bad. AND I wish that people who do not have access to health insurance could have insurance like I do or better.

People do not understand that we pay for folks who do not have health care. Only we pay when the price is exhorbitant.......when their health issues have become so bad that they can no longer work or contribute to society in a meaningful way. We pay for nursing home care, we pay for dialysis, we pay for cancer treatment, etc. WHAT if we paid for health care that caught these and other health problems early when the treatment is much cheaper and person could continue to work. AND yes, many of the people who are insured work.

Health care IS a moral issue and I want EVERYONE to have access to health care.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I'm still in recovery. Today I was going to write my post about the actual meeting, but then it's the anniversary of Katrina, and I'm sad about that. I just wasn't up to it.

I fear that too many in the US, maybe a majority, have no concept of the common good. And racism is alive and well.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

It's very worrying. We live in a "I've got mine; screw you" culture. Even though some of these people don't have it nearly as good as they think they have.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Ruth, that kills me. People are me, me, me, and yet they campaign against policies that would be beneficial to them.

David Roane said...

Congressman Phil Roe met with his faithful yesterday in the very republican Elizabethton, TN, where the local paper reported,

"As he wiped away tears, one guest told the audience, 'Since when does freedom come with so many guarantees,'" meaning that health care is not to be expected in a 'free' country.

Have we lost the sense of the common good? Marcus Borg suggests that when the focus of religion turns to the internal moral state of the individual, concern for the common good is diminished. If all I need is my own assurance, I need not be concerned so much about you. If my salvation resides in what I believe, how important is it what I do?

Ormonde Plater said...

Tell GP I always wear my cap, even indoors.

Doorman-Priest said...

Grandmere, it IS chilling that misinformation passes for free speech.

Good for you, though, for sticking with it.

Grandmère Mimi said...

David, you make an excellent point. "Are you saved?" is not really the right question. And yet, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church is being called a heretic for saying we are saved in community, not as individuals.

Ormonde, do you wear your cap at the table?

Good for me, DP? I'm beginning to wonder.

MarkBrunson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nijma said...

The fact that they were all talking about this same "page 16" thing pretty much tells you they were organized by someone. I bet they weren't even from your district. If anyone is interested, I took videos of my local meeting with a little digital camera with a video setting. Jesse Jackson Jr. is my rep and the meeting was overwhelmingly in favor of the bill. The Larouchies were there (outside) with a Obama/Hitler mustache poster and I have a short video of that, but the video that has gotten almost a thousand hits so far is the one about the "tenth amendment" argument that the libertarians are making.