Here’s a video of the riot outside last night’s Tampa town hall meeting:
If you listen, at one point you can hear someone by the doors who appears to be a police officer trying to explain that the hall was filled to capacity and that allowing more people in would be a violation of fire safety code. The rioters weren’t buying it.
With fists pounding on exterior windows like a street mob out of a 1930s newsreel, a crowd of right-wing agitators against health insurance reform descended on a town hall meeting in Tampa, Florida, “banging on windows” until police and organizers were forced to end the event. The result? A violent mob silenced the voices of each and every American desperate to find a way out of the endless cycle of fear, shame and family bankruptcy brought on by an inhumane, profit-driven health insurance market. Moreover, by using violence to shut down civic discussion between neighbors, this right-wing horde trampled underfoot one of the most sacred and historic symbols of American democracy.
There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom of Speech,” depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.’s “Four Freedoms,” shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind.
That’s a far cry from what has been happening at recent town halls, where angry protesters — some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting “This is America!” — have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform.
As a columnist who regularly dishes out sharp criticism, I try not to question the motives of people with whom I don’t agree. Today, I’m going to step over that line.
The recent attacks by Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers on the effort to reform the health-care system have been so misleading, so disingenuous, that they could only spring from a cynical effort to gain partisan political advantage. By poisoning the political well, they’ve given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They’ve become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems.
They’ve become political terrorists. Yeah, pretty much.
Apparently at a meeting in St. Louis, the wingnut mob was met by equal numbers of pro-reform counter-protesters, and at least one counter-protester (and a Post-Dispatch reporter) were arrested. It’s very possible the St. Louis police held counter-protesters to a different standard.
Even so, I say again that if anyone is going to go to the town hall meetings to counter the mob, non-violence is essential. Otherwise you’re just taking the bait.
That said, I found a list of upcoming town hall meetings on an astroturf site that the mob is using to pick its targets. Do what you think you need to do.
Update: Ellen Goodman writes a thoughtful and intelligent column about end-of-life decisions. However, flaming wingnuts screaming about socialism and killing granny dominate the comments. I am genuinely disturbed.