Town hall meetings are being held nationwide regarding health care reform and Barack Obama’s proposal to change how health care is distributed in the U.S. My friend Alex and I decided to drop in on a local town hall meeting hosted by Congressman Bill Cassidy (R) in Baton Rouge at Boudreaux’s. I wanted to see for myself how the meetings are conducted, and the type of people turning out for them. We learned rather quickly that this meeting, held August 13th, probably wasn’t the best example as we stepped foot into the venue. To start out, we discovered that the town hall was sponsored by the Tea Party of Louisiana. The second thing we noticed immediately was the demographic of the participants. Most of the people who turned out were over the age of 55 and white. I saw very few young people there and virtually no black people at all. Alex jokingly whispered, “I think we’re behind enemy lines…” I then responded with, “I believe we are.”
After about 30 minutes of standing around and taking note of my surroundings via pad and pen, I heard a familiar voice on the microphone. It was black local radio personality Ed Buggs. I wasn’t too surprised though, the meeting was his type of function. Buggs said a few words then handed the microphone over for prayer and the national anthem. I found it hilarious that everyone around us looked on to see if we would participate in the prayer and anthem…uh, duh. After that, Buggs introduced a Tea Party of Louisiana representative who then approached the microphone to give the audience a quick pep talk along with some background on their “grass root” organization. After reiterating several times that they are a bipartisan group, I tried not to laugh out loud on that one, the representative went on to say, “They are taking our government away from us.”, the crowd roar with applause and cheers. She then proceeded to give an open invite to their next presidential candidate, “We need a leader… so whoever wants to run well,
come on!” another burst of cheers followed.
Next I heard Ed Buggs’ voice again accompanied by a few corny jokes, and a story telling the audience how he and Congressman Cassidy met for the first time at a local gas station somewhere off of Scenic Hwy. “We had a great conversation about how wonderful America is.” He went on for a few more seconds, followed by his official invite for Congressman Cassidy to take over the meeting. The local physician opened with a brief speech generally explaining his views before the question and answer portion. “We all can agree that we want to provide healthcare for those that need it…If a woman finds a lump in her breast, she should be able to receive the care she needs.” The crowd applauded in agreement, and so did we.
Before I knew it, the question and answer portion had arrived. In the beginning the questions were only a tad ridiculous, “How can we cut up congress’s credit card?”,the crowd and Cassidy responded with laughter, but things started switching gears after someone brought up the republicans approach to health care reform. Congressman Cassidy began talking about a bill proposal he was working on with another Congressman who just so happened to be a democrat. I don’t know about the others in the venue, but the people around us weren’t too keen on the idea of a bipartisan bill. A few people started yelling out questions like, “How do we know it’s bipartisan for sure?” Bill Cassidy calmly stated that he would post the bill on the internet so people would be able to read it. That kind of calmed the audience a bit and the meeting continued with a few more questions, “Do the democrats plan on making this their health care plan as well?” I just scratched my head on that one and I’m sure Congressman Cassidy did too.
A few minutes later, a question regarding public healthcare and the charity hospital system in Louisiana was raised. Cassidy’s response was like music to my ears “We all know congress likes to spend, but when government run programs are underfunded they do not function properly.” Several people around me started walking out. He later used church burnings during the Civil Rights Movement as an example. The physician explained that when black and white churches were being torched in the south during that time, someone had to step in to regulate the situation. The same idea applies to healthcare reform. A few more people around me made their way to the door. The questions just got plain ignorant after that. “If the bill passes will we be able to annul the bill,” one woman asked. A man not too far from me glared at me while whispering to his friend, “Succeeding from the union is my choice.” Another woman asked, “Would it be possible to break off from the government and start our own healthcare program?” The crowd roared in approval of the idea. After the cheering died down Cassidy calmly tried to respond with, “No, if we break away from the government we lose federal fu-”, the audience broke out into cheers at the idea of losing federal funding, cutting the Congressman off in mid sentence. “I think it’s time for us to leave.” Alex said nervously. I agreed.
Health care reform is a very important issue in America and most want to debate calmly to come to a reasonable and bipartisan solution. My problem is with Americans who use an issue this
serious as an opportunity to act in, well racism. I know that a lot of the people who showed up really didn’t have a problem with the Obama health care reform proposal, but they do have a problem with the man behind it. This is the last of the Jim Crow generation’s opportunity to lash out on Obama simply because he’s black. I found it interesting that there were very few young republicans in attendance and I also found it interesting that before Congressman Cassidy mentioned his bipartisan proposal at the meeting, I hadn’t heard a counter proposal from anyone in the Republican Party. Bill Cassidy did the best he could to educate the audience on some of the issues. He’s a republican as well a true physician at heart who really cares about health care reform in America. Too bad most of the people who voted him in office don’t care to feel the same way.