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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Notes from outside Gary Peters' town hall meeting

Tuesday night was the first time I had ever gone to a town hall meeting, though I ended up spending the entire time outside in the crowd of people who could not get in.

A few quick thoughts and stories I thought were worth sharing:

- MOST (not all) protesters were much more civil than you see on the news. (Note that I am referring to the protests outside the hall only.) Even if the person next to them disagreed with them, most people stood peacefully with their signs and I saw several people debating calmly.

- There were a few people getting into shouting matches, but for the most part the only large group arguments consisted of opposing chants of "Kill the bill" and "Pass the bill."

- It wasn't all kind and respectful though. I heard many comments attacking individuals sexuality, intelligence and motivations as well as rumors of firearms (nothing on display though).

- Using children to promote your political views is extremely distasteful. There weren't a lot of people doing it, but both sides were guilty of it.

- Even though the crowd seemed pretty evenly split, people protesting against the current health care bill seemed to exaggerate the total number of people present when talking about the crowd. There were easily several hundred people present, but not thousands.

- I was personally accused of being a member of ACORN twice because I was filming and asking people questions.

- People protesting against the current bill carried homemade signs, while a majority of the people who showed up in support of the current bill were holding up pre-printed signs. This lead to accusations that ACORN was paying people to protest in support of the bill. However, the signs appeared to be brought by members of SEIU and distributed throughout the crowd.

- At one point, about 10 protesters gathered around several men holding signs with depicting pictures of Obama with Hitler's mustache and the group began shouting "Kill the bill." In response, two women stood silently in front of them holding up their signs showing support. After a moment, another protester accused the women of being paid to do so. I spoke briefly with both the silent protesters and the woman who accused them of being paid to do so after. One of the silent women was over 90 and could not speak over the crowd noise, but the other, who identified herself as her daughter said they didn't need to yell to speak their mind. The woman who accused them of being paid to do so said they were being disruptive to the other protesters, which I found odd considering the larger group was standing on a stone podium and yelling.

- Both sides accused the other of being "AstroTurf," though frm my interviews it seemed like mostly people who lived within 20 minutes of West Bloomfield High School (including some students).

- The "Chappaquiddick Incident" has absolutely nothing to do with the current health care bill, and I found people referencing it in protest to be in extremely poor taste.

- Regarding Obama/Hitler posters... comparing any modern politician to Hitler is a bad argument. No matter what arguments you have to present, you won't be taken seriously by anyone who doesn't already agree with you. Google Godwin's Law if you want all the details, but in short.... "overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact."

One woman who was openly against the current bill, however, said she was sickened to see posters like that, saying it distracts people from having real conversations about the issues and makes it easier for those who disagree with them to dismiss their arguments. Another, also against the bill, said she found the posters funny. Several people were vocally upset about the posters, saying they had relatives who died in WWII. I'll address this more in another blog entry.

- A woman who described herself as an independent who was standing quietly off the to the side said she got the feeling that most people there had not read the actual bill and were not really sure what they were protesting for/against. I don't know if that is true or not, but I did overhear several people claiming they had read the entire bill but failed to quote or reference it in any way beyond that.

- Even though most people could tell I didn't agree with everything they were saying, they were cordial, discussed things in a calm, mature fashion and we shook hands at the end (with the exception of the first person who accused me of being an ACORN spy). I wish I could say the same for everyone else, but there were plenty of nasty things said by both sides.

- Probably the most interesting thing I observed: Regardless if someone was for or against the current bill, most seemed to think it was going to pass, though most opponents added "... but I hope it doesn't."



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