Why we went to a health care reform town hall meeting in sizzling Spring Valley with Rep Susan Davis

by on August 30, 2009 · 16 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Health, Media, Organizing, San Diego

SPRING VALLEY, CA.  I knew I was in trouble with that phone call from ace OB Rag reporter Doug Porter. It was noon. “Where are you?” he asked impatiently. I stumbled for words. We were finishing up our morning business when he called, and I felt like a busted teenager. “We’ll be there real soon,” I mumbled, trying to brush away my hang-over.

Your OB Rag news blog had planned to send our troops to the Spring Valley Town Hall meeting, held on Saturday, August 29th. It was to be the last of Congresswoman Susan Davis’ series of such gatherings on health care reform.  A bunch of us from this blog had attended her event in Hillcrest earlier this month, and one of the memorable incidents of that scene had been the crowd of pro-reformists laughing at the motley band of thirty or so counter demonstrators.

“What’s it like there? What’s going on?” I managed to ask Doug, who was very understanding and not really impatient at all.

“The line (for the Town Hall meeting) snakes out to the street. There’s hundreds here.  It’s,” he said thoughtfully, “a sixty-forty split, progressives to conservatives.”

“Patty,” I yelled out, as I hung up the phone, “it’s time to go!”  She had been cleaning out an old desk, and muttered an okay. We grabbed the camera, extra batteries, my note pad and headed for the door.

“I got us a water bottle,” Patty said.  We knew it was going to be a hot one. The day before the heat had broken records. But yet, here we were, heading for the east and even more heat.  Why? Why would anyone suffer more by attending what promised to be a stuffy, hot early afternoon of rancor in the eastern environs of this huge county?

We had been watching the town hall meetings being held throughout the country this August.  We had recoiled in disgust at the news of gun-toting extremists, at the disruptions caused by more extremists as Congress-members attempted to hold discussions of the health care reform bill. When a right-winger at a Redding, California town hall meeting had announced that he was “a proud right-wing terrorist” and the Republican Congressman congratulated him to applause, we knew we had to be at any local town hall meeting.

Even though we knew it would be hotter than Hades, we had to go and show up as progressives, to counter the extremists, to stand as witnesses to the divisions in our country, our county. We also knew East San Diego County was home to more than one brand of right-wing extremism, so we were also pulled eastward to balance the political forces drawn to an event like this.

The Town Hall gathering itself was held in a hilly, residential suburb of Spring Valley.  Originally scheduled for the new Spring Valley Library, it had to be switched to a larger venue due to the numbers signaling their attendance during the weeks prior to the event. It was switched to the large gym of La Presa Middle School, which I had heard held a thousand people.

Upon our arrival, I could see that parking was a problem, so we had to rest our vehicle a block or so away.  This was our first indicator at the size of the crowd.  As we walked through the gate to the school, a long, black limo pulled up, and out jumped the Billionaires – a group of leftists in gowns and tuxedos masquerading as rich people wanting “wealthcare”.  They were great as they maintained their roles the entire day.

As we walked into the cavernous gymnasium, the chant “Health care for all!” was so thunderous, it was bouncing off the rafters.  I thought “great!” seems we did the best organizing – it appeared that most in the crowd wanted reform.

But Doug’s initial 60-40 breakdown was accurate, I believe, as the righties chanted and stood and waved their signs over the course of the next hour and half.   The place was packed – and people were lining the walls and standing in the aisles.

Patty and I starting moving about the room, and we ran into the other OB Ragsters: Anna, Rich, Doug, Monty – we saw others we knew scattered about.  I saw small groups of union people with same-colored T-shirts and a lot of older, gray-haired citizens with signs supporting health care reform.

I encountered one woman who held a sign that said “Deport Obama” – I asked her where he should be deported.  “Kenya!” she yelled back.  I offered that she was being “un-American” for not supporting our Constitutionally-mandated election held in November.

Yet the right-wing seemed better organized.  They sat in groups for support and were vocal critics of anything positive said about President Obama, or health care reform.  The right was more militant. They would jump up and chant and wave their banners aggressively.  There were a bunch of of angry older white men and women who opposed socialism and Obamacare.  A lot of the pro-reform folks seemed taken aback by the ferocity of the other side, and who didn’t seem to push our side as much.  I missed the militancy of yesteryear by leftists. Where were the youth who could stand up to such extremist tirades as were generated by the righties?

Congresswoman Susan Davis appeared, and after an intro by long-time Democratic Party activist George Mitrovich, she began her spiel.  Mitrovich had spelled out the rules and asked the crowd to be considerate and listen to others.  But the right didn’t listen. They constantly interrupted Davis in back-room shouts. And in general, she shined her smile and did not take on the rightists – as Congressman Barney Frank had done in Massachusetts earlier this month.

Davis, at the beginning, did ask for a show of hands, first of those who supported health care reform. It appeared to me at the back of the huge room, that most hands went flying up. She asked for those opposed, and only about one-quarter of the number had hands up.  This was encouraging.  Davis announced that this event was the only one of its kind held in all Southern California. Great, I thought, no wonder we got all the wingnuts here.

“One out of every six dollars,” I managed to hear Davis say, “is spent on health care in this country.” Then, “the U.S. rates 60th in health care among industrialized countries,” she said, “behind Cuba.” Oh, that was the wrong thing to say to this crowd. She was met with boos on that count.  The righties don’t want socialism, Cuba is “socialist” – and we’re even behind them. Ooooooooohh!

Standing in the rear of the huge room, we couldn’t hear everything that was said. Davis opened up for questions, and there was some supposed system of neutrality in picking questioners, but it certainly seemed like the tea party people, righties in general, got the majority of the questions.  Whenever a rightie asked a pointed question, their side would go wild.  And then when an older woman asked Davis  to improve Medicare – there was a small scattering of applause. Several of the first questions asked by righties were totally off topic – not about health care at all – and it was obvious they were pushing their own agenda – fed by right-wing radio pundits no doubt.

Another older woman asked Davis about taking government out of health care, David uttered her best line of the afternoon: “It’s pretty hard to take government out of Medicare.” Our side clapped.

As it turned out, both OB Ragsters Anna and Monty got to ask questions. What were the odds, huh? Our blog must have packed the box that questioners’ numbers were pulled out of.  I couldn’t hear what Monty said, except one of his last lines – something to the effect – to those who don’t want government in their lives – “if you drove here on government-funded roads, walk home!”

I thought that was a great line.  I yelled out “Walk home – it’s healthier!”

Every now and then the gym would rock with rival chants – and nobody could hear anything else.  There wasn’t much discussion going on over the loud speaker system, although every now and then, I could see and hear individuals arguing with someone from the other side. There was some genuine discourse occurring but it was in the corners of the gym, not at the center.  But there was yelling too. Across the room, across the aisle.

I argued with this one rightie who told me Obama had never shown his true birth certificate. “Oh,” I exclaimed, “you’re a birther!”  As she continued to press her case why the President was illegitimate, I finally said, “you’re a racist! You just can’t accept that we elected a Black president.” She accused me of being discourteous to her.  We argued so more but she turned and hurried away. A couple of people who had overheard us came up and agreed with me or thanked me.

It was sizzling inside. Even though the air temperature was comfortable, tempers were rising and the chanting and shouts were more angry.  “Recall Davis!” was one chant that erupted. “Health care reform!” was the answer.

Eight large Sheriffs deputies stood by the exits. At times the air was tense with anger and emotion – and Davis, Mitrovich and civility couldn’t control anything at those moments.  Davis simply seemed to smile as she stood there, helpless in the tirades aimed at her.

Mainstream Democrats, I thought, don’t know how to handle something like this.  And lefties aren’t used to facing down the righties. We’re used to our own rallies and meetings, and we’re not up to countering people more aggressive and uncivil than us.

The event was over. We streamed out and walked by as both sides had their last chance at waving signs at each other.  We were exhausted by time we reached the car, and I was hoarse from chanting and yelling myself.

It had been a draw.  There was more of us, but they were better at expressing their side’s politics and getting their points across. Yet, even in red-neck country like East County, the left had showed up – we are contenders in this County. No longer is the right-wing going to rule the roost here. Yet, we better get our act together.

Progressive observers of this Summer’s Town Hall meetings have witnessed a rising and agitated extremist right-wing movement feeling its oats. They are mobilizing – against health care reform, against Obama, against what they perceive as “socialism” – and their edges are crowded with people with a dream of returning to a White authoritarian America – that has to be fascist by nature. And progressives must counter this movement with a movement of our own.  We ignore them at our peril. We need to be better organized.

Leaflets were distributed inside the gym, announcing a right-wing post-meeting rally with radio rightie Rick Roberts later that day – they will be protesting “the march to socialism.”  Ignorance, manipulation, and fear grip our fellow Americans.  Some of them are willing to force the clock back.  And their angry and hateful words demonstrate that they are willing to use force to do it.

What are we willing to do?

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Danny Morales August 30, 2009 at 4:31 pm

A political circus is what this was. Susan Davis knew she would be headed for some rough waters. Thats why she sent the call out to various constituent groups on the “left” as it were. I went with my union wearing our colors (as did others) so she knew who to speak to when she would make a cogent point or otherwise make clear the obvious. The real pressure point at this time is Senator Feinstein. S. Davis is OK. Davis wont throw her electoral coalition under the bus like Donna Fryre did (remember the big box ordinance?). Boxer is solid in our camp as is Filner. The only (looks like a)blue dog in the yard is Senator F.

NOTICE: Congressional Send Off Rally 5PM
(Lets get It Done)
Thursday 9/3/2009 Broadway,between 3rd and 4th Avenues, San Diego


annagrace August 30, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Frank you were right that we while we were in the majority, they were more “unified.” They pretty much became the main presence in the front of the room holding up signs that were all over the right wing map, and only the Billionaires edged them out of that area.

The left is more unified in message and cogent in content; perhaps we’re just too damn polite or naively believe that a rational person listening to looneytune comments would be able to figure out what is going on…


mr fresh August 30, 2009 at 5:03 pm

once agin the obrag beats the heck out of daily fishwrap in terms of covering an event.


nunya August 30, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Great coverage, thank you :)


barbara cummings August 30, 2009 at 9:06 pm

I saw the confusion on the ignorant reptillian faces when the Billionaires walked in. It was a hoot! The left “got” it immediately but many if not most of the others did not until the end. Good coverage on this.


annagrace August 30, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Frank, my friend- I’m not willing to call this one a draw. Despite missed opportunities, it was a victory. The majority of people in that particular venue supported health care reform. That is undeniable.

In addition, our congresswoman stated that she has indeed read the 1000 page plus bill, and I believe her. Compare that to Inhofe’s comment that he hadn’t read the bill, didn’t need to read the bill and was going to vote against it. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/27/inhofe-ill-vote-against-r_n_270636.html That is a victory over ignorance.

She also “outed” some of the speakers- the last speaker who was outside of her district, and the guy who has showed up at multiple meetings with the same screed and who has obviously not listened to any of her responses.

Despite what could have been or should have been, we should all feel damn good about driving in our cars (some without air conditioning)with friends in tow to Spring valley to show our support for health care reform. It would have been a far different story if we weren’t there.


Ron August 31, 2009 at 10:41 am


Perhaps the view from the back of the room made it harder to sort out, but it is not true that the left was so caught off guard by the right wing chants. What I saw, sitting on the right side of the room, a few rows back from the front, was that every time the right stood up to wave signs and chant, if you looked from the front of the room, across the crowd toward the back of the room, many many people were standing up and yelling and waving pro-reform signs. At least twice the left mounted our own chant to drown out the right, after the right started a familiar chant.

Your observation that the left was less pro-active in raising chants and even applause is correct. But I think many people were consciously holding back because we really did want to hear a DISCUSSION not just slogans.


Jackie McElveny August 31, 2009 at 11:46 am

So heartening to read this, especially in light of the local news coverage. The news reports I saw seemed to focus almost exclusively on the opposition, with the subtext being that most of America is opposed to this and implying it’s something being rammed down our throats by the Obama administration. (We have GOT to address the media issue in this country at some point — they are given great latitude by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but refuse to accept that great RESPONSIBILITY goes hand in hand with that; that is an area in which they have abdicated.) Thanks to all of you who braved the heat and made it out there. I plan to be present at the next one that is within commuting distance; given that I use public transportation, SV would have been quite a stretch!


Frank Gormlie August 31, 2009 at 11:52 am

Ron, perhaps you and Monty were too close to the front to see the back. You know the analogy – too close to the trees to see the forest? But the back was not this sea of progressives waving their signs, but circles and cabals of conspiring conscientious conservative circumventing civility.


editor August 31, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Friends sent us this:

Thanks so much Frank! Here is a youtube you can link. Shane Finneran actually lives in OB and has much more to edit. They were cretins!

Footage from Billionaires! The people inside the building are so stupid and at the end this woman actually thanks us for opposing reform! Note how Shane stays in character till the very end!

Billionaires for Wealth Care at Susan Davis town hall in Spring Valley, California
alternative: http://vimeo.com/6353891


Lorrie Mowat August 31, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Many thanks to you, Patty and all the Raggers for this superb coverage and ongoing participation. We all owe you much.


Lorna Zukas August 31, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Frank, “Why We Went…” is a fantastic article. Thanks for going and for writing it.


OB Rat August 31, 2009 at 6:35 pm

The difference between true healthcare reform and what the government is trying to cram down our gullets is as big if not bigger than the opinion gap you reported. We need true reforms not some government grab of more of our rights.


Frank Gormlie August 31, 2009 at 8:27 pm

OB Rat – I agree with you that we need real health care reform. But what is your perception of “what the gov’t is trying to cram down our gullets”?

Do you believe in good health care for all, that health care is a right?

I do, and so do a lot of progressives, moderates, independents, republicans, anarchists, …

All we want is the same plan that Congress, the military and people with decent health care have.

Just what “rights” is the gov’t now trying to grab? Are these rights the same ones that George W Bush and Co. were grabbing … and destroying, or are they different rights, if so – which?


Alice Fichandler & Bill Eddy August 31, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Thanks so much for braving the elements and covering the Town Hall meeting for the rest of us! It scares me that the right is better organized, and the left has historically been so splintered. We really need to get it together, or we may see the resurgence of a far right government like the Bush-Cheney regime. We have alot to lose.


Monty August 31, 2009 at 10:19 pm

The reporting here, and the discussion here, is MUCH more informative than what the corporate censors have served up at the Union-Tribune, the local TV news, etc.

If only the OB Rag was reaching a million people in the area, instead of thousands! We have to keep introducing new people to the blog, and expanding the conversation.

I was pretty surprised to hear my name read on that slip of paper pulled out of the box, but I was ready, as far as what I hoped to say. I should have tested the microphone and my volume level (hey folks, remember that one, when your own name gets picked). So, I hope not too many others besides Frank had trouble hearing me.

What I said pretty much was:

“It is not true that the richest country in the world, the richest CAPITALIST country in the world, cannot afford all the things that we really need. There are many ways we could pay for a universal public health care system. One way, is that we have over 800 military bases in more than 40 countries worldwide. Bring the Troops Home Now! ALL of them! Close these bases!

“What we need is a single payer, Medicare For All system. It is NOT doing the right thing to only offer a “public option”. We need to get the parasitic for-profit health insurance industry out of the picture. We need to OUTLAW the parasites.

“And, I have something to say to the people who are saying that everything that is “socialized” is BAD: If you drove here, on our public roads, then WALK HOME!”


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