09/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Stark Contrast at Health Care Town Hall in California

The crowds that jammed Fremont's Senior Center and Alameda's City Hall yesterday came to be heard by--and not listen to--Rep. Pete Stark, who tried to explain his support for HR 3200, America's Affordable Health Choices Act, which he co-authored. Members of the Minutemen, supporters of the LaRouche movement, and other conservatives loudly brought their agendas to the public meetings.

What occurred at the meetings was deceptive. The crowd that gathered before 8 a.m. at the Fremont Senior Center seemed benign. Mrs. Marie McKeever, a resident of Freemont for thirty-seven years who has voted for Stark repeatedly, said "I love my Medicare and I want to leave it for my kids." She commented positively on the bill and on Stark's frequent town halls.

Before the meeting, local leaders for Organizing for America instructed supporters of health care reform not to engage in name calling, but by the time the meeting ended at 10 a.m., they were facing off with the bill's opponents, chanting--and sometimes screaming--so loudly that they blocked the debate inside.

A few conservatives carried copies of Mark R. Levin's Liberty and Tyranny. They feared that new health care legislation would bring increased taxes and government access to their medical records. In Alameda, Stark spoke firmly against the misinformation circulated by health care reform foes, the "myths" that worry his constituents. "Illegal residents will not be covered by the bill," he said. "They will receive no federal payments." Stark refuted Governor Sarah Palin's claim that reform would lead to the creation of "death panels," explaining that under the proposed bill, Medicare would offer patients with terminal illness the option of voluntary counseling by a physician regarding end of life decisions, e.g., living wills and hospice care.

When Don Bechler, chair of Single Payer Now, asked if Stark supported the Kucinich Amendment, the congressman ducked the question, noting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for a vote on the subject when the House of Representatives reconvenes.

While Stark is not totally satisfied with HR 3200, he nonetheless urges its passage, noting that within five years 90 percent of Americans would be covered by affordable health care.

Correction (8/21): My apologies to the East Bay chapter of Democracy for America (DFA). It was Organizing for America (OFA) members who had the table at the Fremont meeting and who instructed the crowd before the Town Hall on behavior. But some of the OFA and unidentified folks outside the meeting got caught up by the rhetoric, the signs, and the chanting.