In the interest of maintaining a public record, the following are my observations of Rep. Paul Broun's second Evans town hall meeting 8-10-09. This post runs from our arrival to just before Rep. Broun's entrance. I will post the rest separately. (See also photos of the event at the post below.)
We were a little late to Rep. Broun's town hall meeting in Evans and quickly found ourselves in backed-up traffic leading to the event. It was amazing, really--it takes something like a high school football game to get traffic this backed up around here. We chatted about the object of our trip in the car--D mentioned having heard that certain groups were sending out email alerts to get people to show up. I really wasn't that surprised about the numbers arriving--just surprised that the schedulers hadn't gone in for a larger venue than the Board of Ed auditorium. Perhaps, we figured, they'd move the meeting to the commons or gym of the adjoining middle school if it was too crowded.
We finally got to the complex and found parking at some distance from the B of E building, on the road to the middle school's bus lot. Parking was so tight that we felt a bit smug about owning a Honda Fit. (On the other hand, with a big honkin' SUV we could have jumped the curbs.) We waded through parked cars and some more of those big honkin' SUV's still wending their way through the parking lots to the building entrance, where we were relieved to find that at least there wasn't a line out the door.
The entrance hall, however, was more than three-quarters full, with more people arriving. The crowd seemed chatty but calm; signs were not really in evidence. Most of the attendees looked to be locals; there was a fairly good mix of ages and even a kid or two. Black residents of the county didn't seem to have turned out in great numbers, which I thought odd. I guessed (and from what I heard, was right) that most of the attendees were there to oppose the health care bill. I knew Rep. Broun would be opposing it too, so I wasn't expecting too much spirited debate. I figured it would be more like a pep rally, but I was interested to hear what Rep. Broun, a practicing physician, had to say. Though for the moment, we were still stuck out in the hall.
We stood around for a bit, wondering what to do. There wan't much movement and we guessed the auditorium was full. I was crowded and warm and the folks near us didn't seem to have any more idea what was going on; at least everybody was behaving themselves. Somebody passed around a sign-in sheet; we let it go by as we weren't too sure for what we were signing in. Next, an announcement for a Stop Obama Care rally, Sharpied onto a sheet of lined looseleaf, travelled around the room. D. overheard a fellow behind him mutter something about tearing it up, so after we snapped a picture of it he made a point of sending it in another direction. Eventually, the plan for the evening found its way to us: The six o'clock meeting was in progress with a full auditorium. They would end at seven, and a second meeting would be held for those of us willing to hang around for it at seven-thirty. Stop Obama Care had a table by the auditorium door and were the proprietors of the sign-in sheets.
Only a very few people left. We snapped some pictures, people-watched, and drew rock-concert parallels to pass the time. Two county police weaved through, eventually taking refuge behind the reception counter where there was some room and an air vent. One passed a desk chair out to an attendee who couldn't stand comfortably. I noticed a youngish man wearing a Confederate kepi and a "Don't Tread on Me" T-shirt. Around here, there's always one or two of those. I hoped he wasn't planning to call for secession (he didn't). I also noticed a lady carrying a sign. She looked to be fresh from the print shop; it was still packed up in a FedEx/Kinko's pouch. I wondered what it said. On the video I'd seen of town hall meetings around the country, jazzy professional signs were almost entirely the province of Obamacare supporters.
I was impressed with the organizers when seven rolled around: they emptied the auditorium via the back doors and got the second group in with surprising speed. It was another packed house and once the chairs were filled folks spread out along the walls and edges of the dais at the front or sat cross-legged between the chairs and podium--wherever there was room. There were a few police officers, including the two from the hall and a sheriff's official was bustling around but it didn't look at all like security was going to be a problem. I wondered how many other town hall meetings around the country had residents elbow-to-elbow with officials up behind the speakers' desk. I'd seen some video of my former representative Steny Hoyer's meeting in Maryland; that degree of coziness would have done his soul good.
Rep. Broun remained in the back room until 7:30 rolled around. We figured he was taking a break, but it turned out that he was squeezing in a phone interview with Helen Blocker Adams, a local radio talk show host. He had been scheduled to meet with her after the town hall meeting, but had to cancel when the one meeting morphed into two. We continued to survey the crowd. A foursome of young men in black scrubs and Medical College badges--doctors? nurses? med techs?--sat down on the floor in front of us; members of the local press wandered around looking for interview subjects. The sign lady, who had staked out a chair along the wall to our left, unpacked her sign. I was right--it said "83% support a public option." I wondered where she got her stats; D wondered 83% of whom. Farther back along the wall stood a young man holding up a "War is not the answer" sign, also professionally printed. Did he not get the memo? Did he grab the wrong sign on the way out of his house? As we are still at war we guessed he was just in perpetual protest mode against it, but he did seem incongruous. Those two were the only signs we saw except for an occasional 8.5x11 printer sheet.*
A few folks held full-page printouts of the Obama Joker image, which I didn't think was likely to add to dialogue. (Fortunately they got tired of waving them around quickly.) A local news cameraman pulled one of the guys in scrubs off the floor for an interview; another member of the press approached those of us on the floor and asked if anybody there was for the bill. "I have to try to get both sides of the story," he explained, "but everybody I talk to here says they're against it." We pointed him in the direction of the sign lady; she soon became the most popular person in the room as far as the press was concerned. I had noticed her chatting up her neighbors, and before long she was in a heated exchange with another woman. I suspect the cameraman of stoking it because he was grinning like the cat that ate the canary as he rolled film of the exchange. "Talk to her! She knows about socialized medicine!" shouted a lady behind me, designating her neighbor. It turned out, she'd been on a mission trip in Russia. Her observations were valid, but here we are in a military community and they couldn't produce somebody that's had to deal with the British NHS? It was kinda disappointing.
The sign lady went back to holding up her sign, and soon had a trio of women chanting slogans across the room at her. An official-looking lady on the dais quickly shut the group up with a sharp glare and a brisk "cut" gesture. It was clear they weren't going to brook disorder here. The sign lady made some remark I didn't catch, and another lady behind me addressed her with "This isn't the place for that," I again failed to catch her reply, but it elicited a "Shut up" from the other lady, who proceeded to ignore her. I did catch the sign lady's parting salvo, "Kiss my ***, b****!" No points for persuasive oratory there. If there was going to be trouble here, I had a good idea where it would start.
*Correction: D pointed out that he saw one Sharpie-on-posterboard near the back of the room. Some of the film footage from local TV corroborates.
Labels: Dixiana, U.S. Politics