Last week I received an email from Kevin Jones who runs much of the Norwell Town Democratic Committee asking anyone interested in attending the Obama town hall meeting in Portsmouth, NH on Tuesday, August 11th, to respond. My mother is visting and I thought this was something we’d enjoy doing, so I promised the two of us would attend and assist in any way needed.
Days went by, we confirmed our volunteering and ability to drive ourselves up there, our ability to make a sign of some sort, and willingness to commit to an all day effort. Ok. All of this was being coordinated through John Bowes our key regional community organizer. Someone who has a clear future in politics.
Tuesday morning dawns, rain – maybe even hail – threatens but holds off during the 70 mile drive to Portsmouth. Mind you I’m in a 2001 Prius so the ecofootprint of this trip isn’t as bad as it might be. So we searched for the address we were given near the old Pease Air Force Base. No such address. We stopped a couple times and asked at what buildings were there… no such address. Called the organizer who said go to the Park and Ride we had passed. Still with me? We park, walk over to the bus, introduce ourselves, blah blah blah, get on the bus, …and THE SKY OPENS. Like a firehose. So far we were blessed! The bus fills up and starts over to a field where a rally is to take place. HA. No, I don’t think so.
Everyone who had been at the park was walking their wet way to the Portsmouth High School which was where the President’s town hall meeting was to take place.
This wasn’t pretty. A few stalwart souls were standing outside, drenched to the skin. The media folks must have been there the night before since lots of equipment was firmly established.
The bus was driving a circuit from the high school to the Park and Ride. Let me point out that the bus was never completely full, before I admit that we didn’t want to get out in the pouring rain and stand around outside at the high school. So my mother and I rode the circuit, along with a couple other wimpy souls, back to PnR and around again to the high school. This is around 8:30 or so am. Then the rain stopped. The sky brightened. We joined the crowd at the high school.
There were a large number of media folks, which was to be expected. Newspaper reporters with pads of paper, photographers and video folks with huge black cameras sporting what looked like very heavy lenses. There was a lot of interviewing going on and reporters were drawn particularly to older participants. Given the scare tactics being used, like Sarah Palin’s “death panel” allegation, the media was testing to see just how scared these older folks might be. Again, HA. They so do not know my mother. But being a white haired old biddy, she was interviewed several times. The most pleasant of which was by a lovely young lady shown below.
With respect to the crowd, the pro healthcare reform folks were on one side of the entry road and the paid shills and mislead lambs were on the other. The anti reform folks had that huge stupid color sign printed on vinyl purporting to show how the healthcare plan will work (an expensive scare tactic), they had bullhorns, they had an angry attitude. They shouted across the road at
people. The organizers had made a point to tell everyone, as they boarded the buses, not to respond to the antagonists, since that plays into their efforts to obtain publicity. Fortunately there were no serious confrontations all day.
There was one nutcake who was walking around with (what appeared to be) a large gun strapped to his leg. The police knew about it, so I figured that was their business, not mine. It does make one a bit nervous, however. In retrospect I assume it was a toy used for effect. The Charlotte Observer has some great photos, including one of this nutcake. Most of their photos are of the opposition. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/galleries/gallery/882852.html
So the angry folks festered, they shouted for supporters to go home, leave them their “freedom”, and keep government out of healthcare. And don’t mess with their Medicare, either. Wha?
On the other side of the street, the good guys were having a great time. Lots of individual groups had come together: AFL-CIO, Green Energy supporters, Mass Nurses, and others mostly recognizable as groups by their matching tshirts. And now and then a group shouted slogan. Mass Nurses’ slogan was “Everybody in, nobody out.” The whole scene was quite noisy.
There’s mom holding my hand made, heartfelt albeit not terribly artistic, sign. And this is why I appreciate graphic artists of all persuasions!
The best of the noise on our side was the African drum guys. They played all morning and were a delight. You can listen to a bit of it over on YouTube…
As if this wasn’t enough fun, there was a group called the Leftist Marching Band which was a real hoot. Hey, Democrats are a lot of fun, what can I say? And, like all good musicians, their dummer had a Zildjian cymbal (I’m a big fan and Zildjian is headquartered in my town).
Of course you have to hear them live… At one point the band and the drummers played together. I believe I was too busy dancing to tape that. Oops.
So that was pretty much the morning. The sun began to shine. Some of us had box lunches overflowing with goodies which we shared with people nearby. Bottles of ice water were wonderful in the heat and humidity. Everybody who was going to get into the High School for the Town Meeting had a ticket and was already in line. A line which snaked a long way, I might add.
John Bowes, our community organizer, came through with tickets for my mother and I. And we were ushered inside. Oh, yes, I bet you’d like to hear about the town meeting part of the day…. Obama was supposed to arrive around noon. We were inside the gym around 1:30 pm I think it was. There seemed to be maybe 2o00 or more people inside the gym. The group was in good spirits. The high school band played until the presidential seal was installed on the podium. A woman who had been an entrepreneur and had employed people herself spoke about how she was now uninsurable due to a condition she currently has, Hepatitis C, which had killed her husband. She introduced Obama.
It was a crowded room with plenty of media. One set, shown above, was against the back wall of the gym, another set was off to my right on the side of the room. Luckily Obama really “works” a room, going from side to side and addressing everyone, so I think all the media and attendees had a sense of connection. It seems a bit silly to include video of the President since he looks and sounds exactly like every single time you’ve ever seen him on TV. What you see is what you get. I began to think of the Secret Service guy on our side in front of the president as our personal watchdog. The guy actually made me a tad uncomfortable, but he certainly kept an eye on folks. Other Secret Service guys, state police, local police, etc. were all over the place. I think that is why the Obama town meeting was more “polite” than the meetings Senators and Congressmen have been holding.
The governor of Maine and governor of New Hampshire were both there, although not the governor of Massachusetts. The usual collection of Congresscritters and local politicians were all greeted individually by the President.
I’ve attached some pieces of Obama’s speech and his answers to various questions in the video below. He spoke about savings anticipated from Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and from eliminating the Medicare Advantage programs which have added no value to Medicare but have significantly increased the costs. (I’ve been struggling for hours to squeeze more and more seconds out of this video to get it under what YouTube thinks is 10 minutes or 2 GB whatever comes first. Very difficult. So if my editing sucks, well, so be it.)
In any event, even the people who had serious concerns (inside the gym) were polite. The speech and the Q&A were both conversational. The President made an effort to address not only those who agree with him, but those who disagreed and had concerns. I still think the event organizers managed to keep the screaming crazies outside. The process of obtaining tickets to the town hall meeting was said to be open to everyone and was posted on the whitehouse website, so if the other side did not register for tickets in time, I can only imagine that is because the organizers tried like crazy to get all the tickets signed up before the opposition learned about them. That seems fair enough, given the way politics is generally fought. And particularly so on this issue.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the President walked around, shook hands with and spoke briefly with a great many people. Probably driving his Secret Service guys a bit nuts.
That second photo was the last one I was able to take before the President was close enough that I could shake his hand, and so I did. Cool. I think the world of the man and am pleased to have been able to tell him I support his effort on healthcare.
We left after that, eventually took a shuttle back to the Park and Ride to see a line of trucks, cars and people pressed up against the Pease fences across the road. Air Force One was sitting on the ground and about to take off momentarily by the time we got there. That thing really takes off fast. I thought I’d have more time to get a picture, but …that’s all foks.
We had a great time, enjoyed seeing the President live, and were pleased to have lent our support on this important issue.
Last night and early today the various media already had their stories about the event printed, aired, and posted on the internet. Here are links to a few:
NECN http://necn.com/Boston/Politics/2009/08/11/President-takes-pitch-for/1249982712.html this is ABOUT the NH meeting, but no video from it.
NECN http://necn.com/Boston/Politics/2009/08/11/Obama-Americans-shouldnt/1250022649.html this is part of the speech
WSJ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124999368750322533.html headline reads Under Pressure, Obama Defends Health-Care Plan / In Town Meeting at New Hampshire School, President Faces Friendly Audience in the Hall as Protestors Chant on Streets Outside. (Well, actually it was on the driveway leading into the school. And they were noisy. But so was the other side. Guess you can’t expect the WSJ to be objective on this.)
AP via Yahoo News – this is a well written, comprehensive summary http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090811/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_obama_health_care_overhaul
Voice of America http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-08-11-voa48.cfm (decent article but needs editing)
Christian Science Monitor http://features.csmonitor.com/politics/2009/08/11/obama-steps-up-attack-on-healthcare-status-quo/
You Tube – somebody else fascinated with the drummers, there may be more videos up there, don’t know. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsciYt0oZ4w
The Portsmouth Herald covered the arrest of a guy who broke into the high school just before the town meeting event and had a gun in his truck http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20090812-NEWS-908129980
report on the meeting and related topics http://www.seacoastonline.com/articles/20090812-NEWS-908120357
Boston Channel [WCVB] has 5 pieces – the comments mostly appear to the from the paid lobby or the sadly mislead. http://www.thebostonchannel.com/news/20359043/detail.html
Boston Herald has what we’ve come to expect.
Boston Globe, Boston.com has a lot of stuff – my favorite being a quote from AFL-CIO president Mark MacKenzie “New Hampshire workers desperately need major healthcare reform and we will not let our voices be silenced by the corporate-funded mobs on the other side.” http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/08/12/at_nh_forum_obama_hits_wild_criticism_of_healthcare_overhaul/