Health care town hall comes to SF

August 21, 2009 7:30:59 PM PDT
Democrats have some work to do to gain support for President Barack Obama's health care reform plan. And they have adopted a new strategy for getting their message out in congressional districts around the country.

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It started out as old-style politics -- the town hall meeting. But the problem has become, when a representative shows up, they can never be sure what the response will be like.

At a church in San Francisco Friday, the latest voices chimed into what has become a national town hall debate.

"It's in a town, and a hall, but we're calling it a 'community meeting,' because it was originally set up as a community meeting," organizer Marlene Nadell said.

The listening ears at the meeting belonged to Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo).

"I'm here to inform and I'm here to listen," she said.

Officially, the discussion included multiple national issues, but Mr. Obama's health care legislation loomed largest.

In other town hall meetings in other cities and states, rancor has stolen the moments. Opponents of the president's health care plan have shown up in large numbers, with signs, name calling and tough questions.

There is room for all sides to be heard, not for people to just bring in lies," meeting attendee Betty Kissilove said.

Political scientists describe such hijackings of town hall meetings as the newest evolution of an old grass roots technique, except that now they have a new name for it -- artificial grass roots, or Astroturf.

"It is for show, but for show with a reason, by getting publicity on this, you can influence public opinion on the margin," ABC7 political analyst Bruce Cain said.

At the church in deeply Democratic San Francisco, it was a more harmonious crowd. But for a politician, it is risk taking just the same. The mere act of talking and listening and waiting for a critical voice becomes a statement in itself.

"It's the new reality TV in America; we're going to town halls," Speier said.

Unlike other so-called town hall meetings, Friday's really was open to all comers. All who attended had an opportunity to speak, although one less sympathetic woman said when leaving, it was a stacked deck.

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