Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"Maybe someone will notice"--Life among the "left-behinders" at Rep. Wu's town hall meeting today

[See Wednesday morning follow-up here.]

Let me begin by telling you that this post doesn't have the one thing I'd hoped to have at this point: Even a crumb of information about what went on inside Rep. David Wu's town hall meeting in Portland at noon today.

Sixty seats were available at the auditorium on the Good Samaritan Hospital campus in NW Portland. According to the campus security person I spoke with, the first people were in line at 8am; the 60 available seats were filled by 9.30am. (Suffice it to say I got there sometime after 9.30am.) By 11.30am, the line stretched almost halfway around the block from the door.

Tom D'Antoni at Huffington Post described the turnout as "several hundred people." The rough count of fellow DL'er Michael Hagmeier, who was there with his camera, put about 240 people still in line at noon (after the first 60 people, who got the golden tickets, were already inside). There was also a floating group of 25-50 on the sidewalk across the street from the entrance at any one time.

The phrase everyone seemed to reach for was "well-behaved" (at least regarding the crowd outside the building; I'm still waiting to hear how things went in the meeting itself). although, to be blunt about it, I found myself stuck in line for a while next to a couple of real horses' asses, but that happens sometimes. Campus security and Portland police had a fairly easy time of it; their main concerns were keeping the sidewalks open to foot traffic and preventing jay-walking (at least preventing jay-walking from happening right under their noses) so that vehicle traffic could continue on 22nd.

By Kevin Kamberg's rough estimate, pro-reform outnumbered anti-reform by maybe 9 to 1 among the "left-behinders" outside the building. That ranged from people with hand-made "single payer" and "public option" signs, to more organized presences like folks from Health Care for America Now and the Oregon Nurses Association.

Kevin's estimate might be right, although my sense was that not all of the opponents of reform were waving Obama-as-Hitler posters or using a bullhorn, so while they were clearly outnumbered, the gap might be a little less. There was, for example, the woman who spent most of the time leaning against the wall near the entrance, listening to little knots of conversation around her but not really talking much to anyone. Every now and then, in response to a nearby comment, she would mutter something along the lines of, Yeah, I bet Hitler made the same promise. Mutterers Against Health Care Reform are often trickier to ennumerate in a crowd.

By one metric, at least, the supporters had a clear advantage over the opponents: When supporters began chanting "Health Care Now!", the fellow with the bullhorn tried to at least match them decibel for decibel, if not drown them out, but he never had much of a chance.

But what I really would have liked to know was the ratio within that 60 who were admitted. It wouldn't surprise me if the there were more opponents, proportionately, on the inside than on the outside. I'm watching and waiting for reports from inside on that.

I spoke with a woman I'll call "Number 61," the next person in line after the 60th ticket-holder went inside the building at about 11.45 am. She was philosophical about missing the seating cut-off. I asked her what she would have asked Rep. Wu if she'd been, say, Number 59? Make a pitch for the public option, she said. And as for the line of people outside? She smiled, a little sadly, and shrugged. It shows people care about this; that it's important.

"Maybe someone will notice," Number 61 added.

Although it was Rep. Wu's town hall, it was feelings about Obama, good or bad, that drove a lot of what was happening; almost no one in line mentioned Wu.

Three signature gatherers were working the line: Recall Sam Adams, Repeal the state corporate tax increase, and "Yes, I Want to Give Up My Government Medicare" (which had no signatures as of about 1.30pm).

I saw crews from two local TV stations setting up for some crowd shots, and--wait for it--Pajamas TV, who managed to find a self-described "serious 9-12'er," with a hand-lettered "No Government Healthcare!! No Cap & Trade" sign, to interview. (Click photo to enlarge; the PJTV logo is on the microphone.)

(Thanks to Michael for the PJM photo.)


Kevin said...

Oh! You found an actual pic with the Pajamas TV logo on it!

Geoffrey Ludt said...

love the "horses ass" link ... funny.

Geoffrey Ludt said...

Incidentally, after the event, I discovered that the megaphone was set to "2" on a scale of 1-10 ... oh well, you learn right?

Nothstine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nothstine said...

I think it was the late Saul Alinsky who said who said, "Always get a bullhorn that goes up to 11."

fbear said...

I believe it was his brother, Nigel.