Two "Hands Off My Health Care" buses have been making their way across the country as the central organizational tools for the conservative group Americans For Prosperity, acting as magnets for angry conservative protesters who have been venting their hatred for more than just health care reform.
The buses, which travel separately, have covered four states in the past week, each making up to seven stops a day at fairs, malls and other community epicenters. Each stop features a speaker who travels with the bus, telling a personal story about how America's free-market health care system has saved lives. Among the organization's speakers is AFP President Tim Phillips, who in 1997 founded Century Strategies with Ralph Reed, a Christian leader known for his role in jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff's Indian casino scheme.
The tour also features a petition campaign that urges Congress not to pass Obama's version of health care reform.
HuffPost's citizen journalists have spotted similar protest signs at Hands Off My Health Care bus stops and at the raucous health care town hall protests that have become commonplace. Americans For Prosperity distributes one of these pervasive signs, which reads, "SOCIALISM ISN'T COOL." It's unclear whether the same individuals have been attending every event organized against health care reform, as White House Press secretary Robert Gibbs opined, or whether Americans For Prosperity events and town hall meetings about health care reform simply inspire the same kind of creative signage.
HuffPost citizen reporter Erica Slead attended one AFP event in Colorado Springs, Colorado on August 6. She wrote:
Yesterday evening, about 500 people turned out at the Colorado Springs Flea Market. They weren't hunting deals -- they were hunting Obama's health care plan.
A "Hands Off My Health Care" bus tour event, facilitated by Patients First, a project of Americans for Prosperity, drew out this mostly-white crowd of diverse age, profession, and socioeconomic status. Many carried homemade signs, ranging from simple declarations opposing "Obamacare" to those listing President Obama amongst names like Stalin or Al Qaeda. While one participant classified herself as part of an "angry mob," this group's passion was palpable yet their actions peaceful, unlike the mobs seen at town hall meetings around the country. Few even bothered with heckling the few Obama supporters brave enough to demonstrate at the crowd's edge.
The speakers conveyed as much passion in their talks as the crowd evidenced by their sign-making and cheering throughout the rally. Jeff Crank, State Director of Colorado for Americans for Prosperity, spoke first. His son Joel, 12, lives with juvenile diabetes. Crank directly related his ability to choose his own type of health care to Joel's survival, while saying that in comparison the new bill "creates a government bureaucracy that decides....what insurance you have." Crank stressed the inherently invasive quality of a government-run health care system and wondered aloud what Joel's fate would be if the bill passes.
Next up was Dale Auer, retired veteran of the Air Force. A slight, everyday sort of man with a dry wit and quick smile, he shared that through opting for private health care he was able to receive life-saving procedures and drugs that TriCare, his secondary insurance and part of Medicaid, would not cover as the treatment was too expensive and too risky. He has colorectal cancer with liver metastases and was given a few months to live. This was back in 2007. Because of his doctor's aggressive treatment and insurer's willingness to cover the newer, riskier drugs, he is able to tour Colorado on a rigorous appearance schedule. He quoted a doctor, who said that she moved here because "America is the best place to be if you are a doctor or if you are a patient." A sentiment Auer himself evidently shares.
The speeches were short, the whole event lasting around 20 minutes. The crowd dispersed in a peaceful and orderly manner as the first heavy rain drops of a mountain afternoon sun shower began to fall.
Along with attacks against health care reform, a number of the signs carried by attendees of these bus stops feature attacks on legislation to combat climate change. One sign in Colorado Springs listed "Cap & Trade" high on the list of America's enemies, just below "Obama" and "Obamacare." In 2008, Americans for Prosperity launched a "Hot Air Tour" to protest "climate alarmism" in Congress. It was also one of the lead organizers of the Tax Day Tea Parties, which featured a number of offensive signs.
HuffPost's Eyes & Ears is looking for citizen journalists to attend local town hall meetings on health care. Click "Join Now" on this page to sign up.
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