Written with Khalil, Afrose and Tyler Zimmerman.
At the end of August, a Health Care Forum was organized in Austin, TX, by the Democratic Party and a number of liberal organizations including MoveOn.org. With the forum the Democrats sought to “honor their commitment to grassroots organization” by bringing out Obama supporters and the media to hear “real voices for change” like Congressman Lloyd Doggett, who has been perceived as progressive for supporting a public option in the health care plan. This forum was a response to a town hall meeting with Doggett that was shut down by anti-reform protestors earlier in the month (the terms pro- and anti-“reform” are being used loosely here, as they are somewhat misleading about the character of the actual health care proposals on the table).
Close to 2,000 people attended the forum, filling to capacity the First United Methodist Church where the panelists spoke and a nearby AFL-CIO hall that was open for additional seating. There was a small union presence, mostly from the Texas State Employee Union (TSEU) which has been involved in some important health care battles among graduate students at the University of Texas. Unfortunately, the union’s organizing has centered around lobbying at the Capitol, a strategy which doesn’t stray far from how the AFL-CIO, with which TSEU is affiliated, has intervened in the health care debate. The Democrats brought in supporters from nearby cities like San Antonio and tightly controlled the forum, prohibiting Q&A or any disruptions.
A majority of people who came out supported some type of health care reform, with a general consensus that the current state of affairs was untenable and a clear failure. There was also a very visible and vocal minority of rightwing protestors against reform. The latter arrived more prepared with chants and placards. The protestors consisted of a mixed bag of “astro-turf” groups – associated with and/or receiving funding from inside the Republican Party – as well as rightwing libertarian types and unaffiliated individuals. It wasn’t clear whether larger organizations that have attended town hall meetings elsewhere – such as Dick Armey’s Freedom Works, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, or Americans for Prosperity – were actually present in Austin, but their influence could be felt. There was a lot of rhetoric about Obama’s secret socialist agenda, Obama = Hitler, “Show me the birth certificate,” and images of Obama dressed as the Joker from Batman, as well as other slogans like “My Body, My Choice” (ironic how the right takes a slogan usually reserved to the pro-choice left and animates it with an anti-choice politics).
Continue reading Thoughts on a Health Care Forum