The Townhall action finally arrived in South Florida on Thursday, August 20. I am active as Events Director for South Florida Tea Party and prior to Thursday, I spent several days with a phone glued to my ear. The Congressmen down here have declined to have any public townhalls except for Congressman Rooney (R) who had one this week in Stuart. It has become a game of hide and seek with most of the elected officials, of course, us mobsters are quite tenacious and we were able to zero in on Wexler making a rare public appearance during recess at a Florida Alliance for Retired Americans’ annual meeting where he was appearing to discuss healthcare and his support of HR3200.
The venue was a Civic Center here in Delray Beach which would seat 500. In speaking with Tony Fransetta, Director of Florida Alliance prior to the event, he said that it was a ticketed event but that any seats not claimed by their members would be open to the public and they were creating a will call list. Tony explained to me that as this was their annual meeting versus a true public townhall, he had to open it to their membership first which was understandable. By Sunday evening, though, there were no tickets left. Tony rang me to tell me that for the first time in their history of annual meetings, their membership had taken all 500 tickets. We discussed that there would be room for us to demonstrate outside and I coordinated this with Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office as well.
Prior to the event, emails were flying fast and furious – besides Tea Partiers, 912 groups, the Constitution Party and various other Conservative groups were all planning to be there. The opposition was also calling up their members and planning to attend and demonstrate. I received 2 emails that went out from Floridians for Healthcare and moveon.org and I would like to share their representation of the event.
From Floridians for Healthcare:
The right wing crazies are planning to come out in force to demonstrate on Jog Road outside of the Forum with their message of lies and misrepresentations. Local TV cameras (and maybe C-Span) will be there filming the event. WE DO NOT WANT THE OPPOSITION TO BE THE ONLY VISUAL THEY PUT ON TV. We are planning a COUNTER DEMONSTRATION in favor of health reform. (from the email)
Although we have been negatively characterized throughout the summer, it is always stunning to see how they inflame their membership. The email from moveon.org had similar language:
Your local MoveOn Council is organizing an important event tomorrow in Delray Beach—can you be there?
We’re taking action at events like these because this is a make-or-break moment—right-wing extremists are crashing political events around the country and trying to dominate the public debate over President Obama’s agenda.
How interesting that what we viewed as a way to get our message out to our elected officials, is viewed by simply left versus right by the left.
Thursday was hot and sunny and when I arrived on site, many of the healthcare bill supporters were already on site, as well as Palm Beach County Sheriffs office and Homeland Security.
Congressman Alcee Hastings decided to attend the meeting as well and he brought several county school buses with his supporters and a school band! The kids did a great job but how very interesting that many of them were wearing Obama shirts and all the transport was provided by county owned buses. The same county owned buses that would not be available to any other groups that required transport. I had a very pleasant chat with one of Rep. Hastings’ employees who said that they came to this event as one was not scheduled in their area. I asked why Rep. Hastings did not have an event and he said – Do you really think all these people would come down the the ghetto for a meeting? Alcee Hastings is in a gerrymandered district in Broward County. I expressed interest in possibly working together for a townhall so I will follow up on that and see what happens. Rep. Hastings was a federal judge who was impeached for lying and bribery and is now a House Rep – here is an article about who Alcee Hastings is.
We had a pavilion nearby and the civic center was actually a great place for a venue as there were bathrooms and picnic tables and plenty of shade. The media was also present in great numbers – all local channels and CNN were there and requesting interviews…primarily with the Healthcare supporters funny enough. Our estimate on numbers for the day was about 2000 and we outnumbered healthcare supporters by about 2 to 1.
Although FLARA membership took the tickets, we had been promised one ticket by Tony Fransetta (head of FLARA) for a Tea Party Rep to be inside and possibly ask a question or at least to observe the meeting. We nominated one of our ladies to go in on everyone’s behalf. I went with Miss M to the front of the civic center where lists were being checked and many people were waiting to get in. After submitting our names, we were informed that we were not on the list and the door was slammed in our faces when I tried to explain the situation. Two men were standing in front of the door – one who offered to go and find Tony to check on the ticket. The other man waited a minute and then stepped toward me and said – You’re not on the list. I said Yes but we would wait for Tony. He smirked and said that there was no Tony list so it would not do any good. We asked who he was and he said that they had the list and he was with the AFL-CIO. Apparently, we had been misinformed the whole time and the Union was actually running the show. This elderly gentleman did his best to be intimidating but it would take a much larger and scarier Union thug to intimidate me :), although he seemed eager to provoke us. The whole situation became moot in the next few seconds as the announcement was made that the venue was full, even for those that had tickets and the fire marshal was not letting anyone else in. We now know that FLARA members did not take the last 250 tickets – it was the AFL-CIO and these were the constituents that Wexler and Hastings were interested in talking to.
The overall atmosphere was quite good. There were many heated exchanges but most people were respectful. We had many instances of people talking rationally from both sides and agreeing to disagree – I called that the Democracy in Action Movement and it was great.
Organize for America, Acorn, SEIU, moveon.org and HCAN were all present and accounted for with their pre-printed signs and many members who could do no more than parrot the same talking points verbatim. The agitators in the crowd were very obvious and very different than those who came because they were doing the same as us – trying to get their message across to the Reps that had dodged all of us. We had one man who came over to us and shoved his sign in front of ours then demanded of the police officer that I said he could not be there and I should be arrested. My technique for handling these situations is to kill them with kindness and since I have no problem with anyone expressing their views, I reassured him that he could be where he wanted and I would even take his picture!
This same man was one of the professional agitators in my opinion as he seemed more interested in causing contention throughout the day than speaking rationally. There were 2 incidents of minor assaults – both times it was Organize for America people that smacked someone from the Tea Party group. No arrests were made but the OFA people were warned to stop the behavior or the next stop would be the back of a police car. Youtube journalists abounded and many people were asked baiting questions while on video. Spirits throughout were high and I have to say that Democracy in Action was really the theme of the day! Please check my flickr for more pics and also pics from another Tea Partier.
Towards the end of the day, a man was walking through the crowd with a sign that said: “Acorn Bus Leaves in 10 Minutes”. I thought this was a joke but about 20 minutes later – we saw the buses pulling out – again, all county buses! And this was after the band had already left – SO I SAW THE BUSES! How exciting :)! We also spoke to several OFA members who shared that they were paid to be there. As well, most of the healthcare supporter signs were pre-printed while homemade signs were the order of the day from our side.
Overall – I think the day was a success! I met alot of great people, including candidates that were out introducing themselves in preparation for 2010. I put alot of faces with emails and enjoyed a hot summer day and alot of Democracy in Action!