Monday, September 14, 2009

A Town Hall Meeting That Worked: Sta. Clara, CA

I was heartened by Rep. Mike Honda's civil, orderly town hall meeting at Santa Clara University at 1 pm in Sunday. There were about 400 advocates for health reform, including a strong public option, and about a dozen or so opponents. At about 12:45, they showed a videotape of 3 local residents with health care stories, interspersed with facts about the number and percent of people in the country and the district who are suffering from lack of coverage, health-related bankruptcies, etc. I saw 2 of the people from the video in the crowd. They included: A retired county worker with an uninsured son; a woman whose grown son could not get coverage, having developed juvenile diabetes early in life; a man who identified himself as a Republican, and whose wife had a serious chronic condition that would never be covered if he lost his job and insurance.

Rep. Honda opened the meeting with a welcome, and a request for mutual respect. He called on constituents to submit written questions on index cards, including name and address; questions from constituents were chosen at random; he then invited the constituents to stand and pose their questions. Reflecting the crowd, most of the questioners spoke in favor of a strong public option, or a single payer. A few were opposed. We cheered every time he responded that he supported a strong public option, and had no plans to compromise on that; the dozen booed. We cheered for a brave young Latina who works in reproductive rights, and said that coverage for abortion was important to her; the dozen booed. (The cheers and boo's took a few seconds, then stopped; we all respected Rep. Honda's request for respect.) A few times Mike pointed out that the present system of private insurance had had quite a bit of time to work, if it was going to, and that too many people were hurting financially and physically (he gave details); it was time for a change. We all cheered. No one booed. The final 2 questioners asked how we could afford the President's health proposal, since similar socialistic systems like Great Britain are facing financial shortfalls. Mike said there is a way to do it, and we would. He promised to respond in writing to the remaining questions. That was it.

Outside an older man approached a younger fellow giving out water and wearing a pro-reform button. Tell me one government program that works! he demanded. Medicare, was the response. End of conversation.

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