One of the things that has surprised me in the last couple of weeks was how quickly most of the media adopted the Democrats narrative that opponents of the health care reform bill were "disrupting" the town hall meetings. Check out the Wikipedia definition of what a town hall meeting is:
A town hall meeting is an informal public meeting derived from the traditional town meetings of New England. Similarly to those meetings, everybody in a community is invited to attend, voice their opinions, and hear the responses from public figures and elected officials, although attendees rarely vote on an issue. In today's heterogeneous communities with large populations, more often, town hall meetings are held so that people can influence elected officials in their decision making or to give them a chance to feel that their voices are being heard.
There are no specific rules or guidelines for holding a town hall meeting. If the turnout is large, and the objective is to give as many people as possible an opportunity to speak, the group can be broken down into smaller discussion groups. Participants all hear an opening presentation and then group-up to discuss an aspect of the presentation. Each group appoints someone to summarize their group's discussion.
So they are intended to be a forum for community members to show up voice their opinions. In recent years however, town hall meetings have degenerated into largely staged events where politicians carefully control the course of the meetings and messages coming out of them. The dog and pony shows that masqueraded as "town halls" during the 2008 campaign were a grotesque twist on the original intent and purpose of the meetings.
I always chuckled when candidates talked about all the suffering and misery they heard about at their health care town hall meetings. Really? Gee, you think maybe the people who bothered showed up might just not be representative of the community at large. Not many folks are going to come out to such an event to let you know that everything's just fine.
So now, the politicians (and media) are shocked when opponents of government health care actually are turning out to such events, challenging the politicians to answer their questions, and demanding that they get a chance to have their voice heard. Seems to me that's exactly what town hall meetings are really supposed to be all about.
As Michael Warren noted last week, Rude protests are an American tradition:
In any event, the Founding Fathers would likely be appalled by the notion that vigorous protests--yes, even those that are rude, obnoxious and interfere with the carefully orchestrated plans of government officials--is "un-American."
UPDATE: MoveOn.org e-mails to brag on their impact at town halls:
Our demand for real reform is getting through in communities nationwide, thanks in big part to MoveOn volunteers organizing events across the country. Check out the latest:
* At a debate in Dallas, Texas, the MoveOn Council brought over 120 people--far outnumbering right-wing protesters.
* MoveOn members around the country have been tenacious in getting through to key senators. In the last two weeks, members have had face-to-face conversations with senators in Indiana, North Dakota, Maine, and Nebraska.
* In Boulder, Colorado, pro-reform constituents packed a town hall with Rep. Jared Polis. The message they sent was positive, respectful, and crystal clear.
Our democracy is burning.