Last night I went to a town hall meeting in West Hartford, Connecticut hosted by first district representative the Honorable John Larsen. I planned to sit in on the health care reform debate inside the auditorium, but the real story, from my perspective, was outside on the granite steps of the gracious old building.
The two opposing factions had mustered early. The conservative coalition, opposed to health care insurance reform, needed time to set up their props at the edge of the lawn closest to the well traveled main thoroughfare. The street theater tableau included a full size coffin complete with a Halloween skeleton. 'OBAMACARE KILLS SENIORS' was crudely stenciled on the lid.
I did a quick head count of the folks clustered around the coffin and the balance of the tricornered hat, flag waving, proponents of limited government, arrayed up the steps to the front doors of town hall. There were about 80-90. A man with a bullhorn called the tunes. So began the chants: "WHERE'S YOUR FLAG" over and over, followed by several minutes of '"IT'S NOT YOUR MONEY' and 'HAND'S OFF OUR HEALTH CARE" the big finish was 'LET FREEDOM RING' The relentless chanting of slogans began sometime in the hour of five and lasted until well after sun set.
The most colorful character at the protest also had the biggest flag. The man looked to be about sixty, he was dressed in flag pants and a star bandana to compliment a Viet Nam vintage t-shirt which read 'I'm still not Fonda Hanoi Jane'. From what I was able to deduce from his rant, I think the man might have been from the former Yugoslavia, as there was a lot of 'Tito' and 'Communism' in his otherwise unintelligible diatribe. From time to time he would in inexplicably leap into the air and swing his really big flag in circles. Both sides gave him wide berth.
The conservative activists, to my mind, made up for the discrepancy in their number by the intensity of their zeal.
The pro health care reform group (unlike the angry patriots) was a much more diverse group comprised of more women and many different ethnicities. They were, by and large, younger and not nearly as exorcised as those on the right. Many carried professionally printed signs and wore matching red t-shirts which read 'Healthcare 4 All ' There were approximately 150-160 pro health care reform activists on the lawn and up the steps. Among their number were a half dozen medical students in white coats with stethoscopes hanging around their necks. Their chant in reply to the opposition's cry "Kill the bill'" was "Read the bill."
Promptly at five o:clock the police unlocked the doors. The fire marshal admitted exactly the number of citizens as was permitted by the occupancy placard posted above the interior doors. The doors were then locked again. I was at the front of the line but did not make the cut in the first round.
I was not wearing anything that would immediately identify me with either position but I carried a pad and was writing down my observations. The people most interested in talking to me were those opposed to health care insurance reform. Their principle theme was couched as 'We are patriotic and so by definition the people who disagree with our position against health care for all, are unpatriotic.' Socialism was another prevailing theme.
If you were for available, affordable healthcare for everyone you were branded a socialist, along with those other notable socialists, Representative John Larsen and President Barack Obama.
The Most Oblique Placard of the day award went to the quote attributed to Ronald Reagan, "Evil is Powerless if the Good are Unafraid."
Eventually I was admitted to the inside meeting. Questions were asked and answered respectfully by Representative Larsen and a panel of four experts from the insurance and medical fields. There were only a few out bursts from the opposition which were hushed with a librarian style 'shush' from the crowd. Comity prevailed.
As I left the building at the end of the meeting most of the crowd had dispersed with the exception of the a small band of conservative patriots still chanting " DON"T MISS YOUR BUS."