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Rep. Dingell Town Hall: A Teabagger Extravaganza (PHOTOS)

by: Eclectablog

Fri Aug 07, 2009 at 00:51:45 AM EDT

(Excellent diary. - promoted by Eric B.)

Cross-posted at The Daily Kos and Eclectablog.

UPDATED below, please have a look.

Heading into last night's health care town hall meeting with U.S. Representative John Dingell, my wife and I anticipated that there would probably be a decent turnout of opposition from the tea bagger side of the tracks. I've been reading about how the Disrupticans (hat tip: Detroit Mark) have been shutting down any semblance of civil discourse at these events all around the country and there was little reason to think it would be any different here in Michigan.

And, of course, we were right.

Representative Dingell, bless his heart, did not shirk the crowd or the tough questions. There wasn't a single softball lobbed at him the entire night. Yet even when he refuted some of the most ridiculous myths and accusations of the tea baggers, he was shouted down, called a liar and treated as if he was personally responsible for the euthanasia of all senior citizens in the country.

More photos and commentary after the jump.

Eclectablog :: Rep. Dingell Town Hall: A Teabagger Extravaganza (PHOTOS)
All pictures by my wife, Anne Savage. Visit her website at Revolutionary Views, her blog: Glimpse and her Flickr page.

The event was held at the Romulus Athletic Center which sits at the end of one of the runways of Detroit Metro Airport. As we neared the venue a half hour before it was scheduled to start, it was clear that the turnout was HUGE. Before I had even parked the car, I saw a young African American guy carrying a 5-foot tall picture of President Obama with a Hitler mustache.

Game on.

We walked up to the Center and as I tweeted per slinkerwink's most excellent instructions, a friend walked up and told me the line was way too long and they were leaving. This was a shame because, as it turned out, although Romulus is a predominantly Democratic area, the tea baggers had effectively turned out an enormous group. Riding my photographer wife's coattails, I was able to slip inside with her and get a spot near the front. I carried a sign:

The press folks gleefully snapped photos and video of the many posters including mine (download the poster HERE [.pdf]) and interviewed people all around the room. Typically, the more hysterical the person's message was, the more likely they were to get attention from the press.

It became instantly clear that there were going to be some angry altercations during the meeting. As I sat in my chair waiting for the show to begin a middle-aged woman behind me rattled off a non-stop stream of Limbaugh/Hannity/Beck talking points about healthcarerationingeuthanizingtheelderlyfreeabortionssocialisttakeoverlyingcommunistnazi...

You get the picture. (That's her standing behind me in the green shirt.)

I looked around and everywhere tea baggers were in the faces of health care reformers, faces red, veins bulging in their necks, literally screaming at people mere inches away as if the loudest person wins.

Erick Schneidewind, state president of the AARP and former head of the Michigan Public Safety Commission, was the emcee. He introduced himself and was instantly assaulted by a barrage of "TRAITOR!" and "LIAR!" and boos from around the room. As he explained why the AARP is supporting health care reform (and they are doing a GREAT job debunking misinformation), his voice was drowned out by derisive catcalls and boos.

Mr. Schneidewind informed the crowd that, because there was such a large number of participants, they would hold the scheduled one hour town hall then clear the room and do a SECOND meeting to allow as many people to participate as possible.

He introduced disabled woman named Marcia Boehm, a university employee and small business owner. Marcia is a little person and stands about 3½ feet tall. As she spoke (or tried to), she was engulfed in more nasty commentary from the tea baggers in the audience. "SHE'S A PLANT!!!" and "GO HOME, LADY!" She told her story of losing her health care coverage and, due to her pre-existing condition, her inability to obtain further coverage. She asked the audience to think about how we decide "who deserves health care and who doesn't".

Needless to say, no reflection on her comments took place by most of the people in the audience.

Ms. Boehm introduced a Registered Nurse who spoke briefly but was nearly inaudible due to the incredibly rude and obnoxious crowd. She, in turn, introduced Representative John Dingell. At 83, Rep. Dingell is the oldest living person in Congress today. He has introduced a single-payer health care bill every single year since he took over from his father in 1955 and has been at the forefront of the debate this legislative session. He began with some opening remarks but found it difficult, however, to overcome the unbelievably disrespectful comments, jeers and shouts as he talked. He managed to make make it through his remarks but, between a malfunctioning microphone and the raucous din from the tea baggers, he had a difficult time communicating to those of us who came to hear his take on the legislation currently before the House.

I won't forget the image of this elderly-yet-stately gentleman, calmly facing a hostile crowd. He's truly a class act.

Before he could take questions, a large man pushed his way right in front of Rep. Dingell pushing a young man in his wheelchair.

He proceeded to scream (literally scream) at Rep. Dingell, telling him that, under this new legislation, his son with cerebral palsy would be euthanized. Although Rep. Dingell assured him that this was certainly not the case, the man became more and more incensed, egged on by the crowd behind him. Dingell staffers were finally forced to move forward to ensure the man did not threaten Rep. Dingell.

As he became more and more threatening, the Romulus police finally intervened and escorted him out of the room.

Questions that had been gathered on cards were read one at a time. These were tough questions, not cherry-picked to make his life easy.

"Will I lose my health insurance though my employer if this bill passes?"


"Will illegal aliens get health care under this bill?"


"Will abortions be covered under this bill?"


"Will elderly people be euthanized under this bill?"


On and on the questions went. The answers were almost always what the crowd probably would have wanted to hear. But they weren't listening. They were so well indoctrinated with the anti-reform talking points that, even when the answer was the "correct" one according to their worldview, they would simply scream "LIAR!" and "BULLSHIT!" and "DID YOU EVEN READ THE BILL???"

Did you even read the bill? They actually asked that. They asked the man that has been instrumental in WRITING legislation like this for over FIFTY YEARS if he had read the bill he himself helped to write. Unbelievable.

After the first session, the room was cleared and a second meeting began. The tone was about the same during the second session. However, while the first session was probably a third health care reform supporters, the ratio was much lower in the second session that was even more dominated by the tea baggers.

During this session, a youngish white man with a beret and skinny sunglasses, sporting a shirt reading "Uncle Ted Wants You Dead", sat right in the front row, continuously taunting and berating whoever was speaking.

When Ms. Boehm sat down to give the stage to Rep. Dingell, Beret Guy shouted at her, "Look at me! LOOK AT MEEEEE!!! You are being USED!!!" Clearly this guy was NOT at the first session when the large man pushed his son with cerebral palsy to the front of the room.

Half-way through the meeting, he pulled out a cell phone and began talking to someone as he sat there in the front row. Periodically he'd look up and shout "LIAR!", usually at an entirely inappropriate time like when a question was being read.

Finally, when Rep. Dingell answered a question in a way he didn't approve of, he stood, got the crowd riled up then approached the podium. At that point Romulus police officers moved in and grabbed him, escorting him from the room.

"So this is America???" he shouted as they hauled him off. All I could think was, "Yes, sadly, this is America where even loud-mouthed idiots are allowed to make public fools of themselves."

As the event wound up, I found myself staring at the audience, dumbfounded. I knew people like this were out there. I knew there was a great deal of anger and hatred around the country. But never had I experienced it so up close and personal. After both meetings a crowd moved to the front of the room to have words with Rep. Dingell. He was gracious and polite, even in the face of their malevolence.

One of the things that really struck me, other than the pure absurdity of people believing their government will euthanize people and other such weirdness, was the utter hypocrisy of the tea baggers. They will loudly cheer a man who wheels a son with cerebral palsy to the front of the crowd to make a point but then condemn a disabled woman who tells her personal story as a plant. They will bring their children to hold signs but shout down a nurse telling her story as if she is not valuable to society.

I don't understand these people but I can tell you this: nothing you or I or anyone else can say will change their minds. A woman holding a sign reading "Abortion is not health care" was told TWICE by Rep. Dingell that abortion would never be paid for with public funds under this bill and yet she still persisted in claiming it would. When he told the audience that illegal aliens will not be covered by this program, their response wasn't, "Oh, excellent", it was "LIAR!!!"

They can not be reasoned with; you will not change their minds. The thing to remember is that they are, in reality, a tiny minority. Vocal? Yes. Obnoxious? Yes. In the media? Yes. But do they represent mainstream America? I feel confident in saying, unequivocally: NO.

I'm just sayin'...


UPDATE: I just want to make a quick comment here where it will be seen. I know it's popular these last few days to talk about astroturfing and corporate sponsorship of protesters. However, I don't think much of that was going on tonight. These people are angry and afraid. They may be getting their talking points via the insurance industry but they were there because they wanted to fight what they are afraid of. They believe that this country is being turned into a socialist/fascist/communist/Nazi state (yes, many of them actually believe all of these things simultaneously) and that makes the angry, afraid and dangerous. Be wary of blaming this all on the insurance companies and their propaganda. Of course it plays a role. But these people were there tonight because they wanted to be. If you want to address this issue you need to get to the root of it: Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and all the other hate-radio/television profiteers.

If you want to combat this at your event, turn out your base. We had a very pitiful showing of supporters there tonight and shame on us for that. If we want to win this battle, we need to let these people know they are in the minority. If you're having an event like this in your area, get the word out and fill the room.

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Please Post the Update
I've "wasted" the morning at Kos reading this.  The update comment is as humane and sympathetic a comment as I've read.  

Electablog -- utterly, utterly f-ing outstanding.  

Thank you very, very much
That's a really nice comment, to be sure.

I have added the update as you suggested.

Thanks again.

- E.

Meet me at Eclectablog

[ Parent ]
All I have to say is....
...these teabaggers need to get their mouths off the balls of corporate america.

Great coverage
Great coverage and great photos. Think you more being there and documenting this. What a class act John Dingell is. Knowing the crap and abuse he was going to take, he opted for a second session.

Communications Guru The Conservative Media http://liberalmedianot.blogspot.com

Excellent post! n/t

An excellent job ... many thanks
Beret boy is a perfect statement on what the Right has become ... ugly, shouting all the time, and rude.  They demand answers, refuse to accept those given to them, and then demand an unlimited amount of time and access as they wish for which they also don't believe that they need stand for counterpoint.  When these demands are not met, they get even angrier and insist that their rights are being violated.

They're children.

Among the Trees

That's an insult to children

[ Parent ]
Well put
I just had a conversation with my 7 year old that was more adult than most I have with self-proclaimed conservatives.

Among the Trees

[ Parent ]
Nice job...
... with this posting.

Does make you wonder who these people really are, like Beret Guy for example... his scar on the right cheek is a dead give away, isn't it?

You think that's him???
Holy cow...

Meet me at Eclectablog

[ Parent ]
... if you think the scar a match. Would have to verify that of course though, lot of people have scars. Profile fits (Hillsdale, etc) though.

[ Parent ]
I emailed him and asked if it was him I saw
What the hell...

Meet me at Eclectablog

[ Parent ]
Nope, that's not him. It's this guy:
Motor City Mac. His blog is positively a hoot!

Meet me at Eclectablog

[ Parent ]
Excellent post and update
We had a very pitiful showing of supporters there tonight and shame on us for that.
I was there, too, and talked with you a bit afterward, thinking you might be the Obama for America (OfA) organizer (based on your Obama shirt) from Ka'zoo. I never found any OfA person, although I found several Democracy for America (DfA). Sadly, there just wasn't enough advance organizing done for the democratic/liberal/progressive home team. Apparently, most of those contacted by email didn't think it important enough.

Many of the trolls were really spoiling for a fight. I kept telling everybody around me, "Don't feed the trolls!" Don't argue, don't respond, keep the peace.

One silver-haired fellow (obvious alcohol on his breath at 5:30 pm) tried to get me to go outside and fight him. He pushed the camera of the retiree next to me in the face, and jabbed his finger in the chest of another. But the cops wouldn't take a formal complaint.

It was bizarre for them en masse to refer to the Dingell staff in red shirts: "Here come the brown shirts." Obviously, the hatred and terminology is stoked by some common source.

Aletheia Henry was there
She's the state OFA director. Also the staff person for the area around southeastern Michigan, Chris Wolff.

Email me at eclectablog at gmail dot com if you need Aletheia's address. She can put you in touch with the Kalamazoo staff person.

Meet me at Eclectablog

[ Parent ]
Just came in my inbox --
Health care, not warfare! On Tuesday, Aug. 11, Kalamazoo Single Payer Across the Nation (KSPAN) will be hosting a town hall discussion on health care reform. Congress is off for the month of August, returning to their districts to listen to their constituents' views on health care reform. Our federal elected officials have been invited to this event. Come to let them know what you feel about health care reform, what you'd like to see done and hear stories from people who have been negatively affected by the current, broken system.

Local grassroots health care reform organization Kalamazoo Single Payer Across the Nation (KSPAN) has received word that the local Tea Party Mob will attempt to disrupt next Tuesday's town hall meeting on health care, hoping to make a mockery of your health care stories and ideas for reform.

We need to turn out as many health care reform supporters as possible this Tuesday to show the health insurance industry that we can't be shouted down by a group of thugs! Bring your friends, bring your family, and we'll call the riot police. But, be sure to show up early to get your seat.

When: Tuesday, Aug. 11, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Where: Kalamazoo Public Library Van Duesen Room (3rd Floor), 315 S. Rose St.
Contact: Joanne Johnson at joanne.m.johnson@ wmich.edu

[ Parent ]
I just called Dingell's office -
told the staffer I have heard him speak many times in the past - at the convention in Denver last year, at the Michigan Policy Summit this spring - but have never been prouder of him than now, with his calm, gracious demeanor in the face of - well, I'll be polite and call it nonsense.

I'd like to go to a town hall myself, but of course Fred Upton is not holding one.

I've said some unfriendly things about the Dingells in the past
but I have a new respect for them lately. I've changed my ways ;D

Meet me at Eclectablog

[ Parent ]
Not Dingells plural
I agree that John did a good job in a bad situation. Even as his voice tired and grew more raspy, he was clear and concise. He seemed well prepared.

On the other hand, Debbie went outside to conduct a discussion of her own with those in line, and couldn't answer basic questions. She gets visibly angry and vocally shrill. Sadly, even after all these years, she just doesn't have John's abilities or knowledge.

You'd think that before putting herself out there, she'd put some real work in first....

[ Parent ]
Why the hell aren't our supporters more active?
Health care is the premier issue facing our country and the case for HR3200 is compelling.  If we spend just a fraction of the energy in this effort as we spent electing Obama last year, we'd be in like flint.  We need to fire up the troops!

The best lack all conviction,
While the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

            William Butler Yeats

We got tired.
After years of fighting the Bush administration, a lot of us just got too tired to keep fighting.

Trust me, one meeting with these tea bagging douchebags is all it's going to take to get the fight back in you.  You just need to see how truly insane these people are.  I'm not talking a little crazy.  These people are full bore, kill them all and let God sort them out crazy.  Tim McVeigh crazy.

[ Parent ]
Why the hell aren't our supporters more active?
This is a wild guess, but the original post mentioned the haters as afraid and angry. They feel they're under attack whereas we liberals/progressives/moderates don't seem to be wired that way. Actually, James Dean speaks to this in his book, "Conservatives Without Conscience."

Apparently, conservatives are way more fearful and intolerant of change. So, with the Limbugh/Hannity/Beck faction wiring these people up, they feel they're under assault and therefore will react with a higher output of force.

Just a guess, though.  

[ Parent ]
because we aren't scared...
...and i mean viscerally scared...by obama.

since no one else wants to say it, i will: the common link between teabaggers who didn't understand the stimulus package, who didn't understand about tax policy, who don't understand health care reform--and who don't care to be told the facts so that they would know something--is the fear that "our america was taken away from us" by a black man.

the rest is cover.

it pains me to have to say that, but it is what it is.

[ Parent ]
i forgot to mention...
..wait until you see how this tactic is used when the topic of debate is...immigration reform.

[ Parent ]
another reason may be
that they is very little in the proposed legislation for our side to be excited about...

They dumped universal at the start, are making deals with big pharma, are talking about dumping the public option...

And all the while the Blue Dogs are running around tying everything up while raking in the cash.

[ Parent ]
Many of the progressives
... that are coming out are supporters of universal care. We haven't entirely given up hope.

But I agree, they've made an awful lot of concessions. Reports today confirm that the administration made a deal with the Big Pharma devil, and there cannot be any more cost cutting measures than the unspecific promise to cut the rate of increase in drug costs over the next 10 years.


[ Parent ]
I'll bet that...
I'm guessing that if and when the Midland Daily News covers Dingell's Town Hall meetings, they will write approvingly of the TEA baggers, ignore the ugly behavior, and demand that "Democrat" members of congress take their "legitimate concerns" into account.  Gotta love this town...

More attention to Romulus Morons, and a Response
The NY Times ran a story on protesters across the country, and led with a photo of a woman yelling at Dingell.

Bill Maher has a piece over at HuffPo that nicely sums it all up:

And these are the idiots we want to weigh in on the minutia of health care policy? Please, this country is like a college chick after two Long Island Iced Teas: we can be talked into anything, like wars, and we can be talked out of anything, like health care. We should forget town halls, and replace them with study halls. There's a lot of populist anger directed towards Washington, but you know who concerned citizens should be most angry at? Their fellow citizens. "Inside the beltway" thinking may be wrong, but at least it's thinking, which is more than you can say for what's going on outside the beltway.

And if you want to call me an elitist for this, I say thank you. Yes, I want decisions made by an elite group of people who know what they're talking about. That means Obama budget director Peter Orszag, not Sarah Palin.

Carefully Orchestrated
You all realize this type of activity on the part of the TeaBaggers is being carefully orchestrated by the GOP and the Insurance Lobby. They are busing these people in to these meetings to disrupt and confuse the issues. Just like they did in Florida, Just like the so-called JOE THE PLUMBER. who by the way was not a PLUMBER or any stretch of the imagination. Their intention is to fill the room with their people and stop the honest people from asking questions that should be asked.  

That is incorrect
They did NOT bus people in for this event. These are real-live Michiganders that are afraid and angry and feeling backed into a corner. They are being led by the nose by the astroturfing Health Care Lobby and, just like they've done with things like abortion rights and gay marriage issues, they are using social issues to rile up uber-conservatives to fight for other causes.

Don't make the mistake of thinking these people were bused in. They were NOT.

Meet me at Eclectablog

[ Parent ]
Great Write-up
thanks for this write up. I just had to comment that I agree with you there skewed view that it is okay to shove their handicap son to the front of the room yet do not give respect to the speakers.

You are right - there is no changing their minds.

Thank you,

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