Halfway through: ROP’s Reflections on Town Hall Madness

ROP has been coordinating with local member groups to get out a united, progressive voice at nearly every rural Town Hall. By the end of September, we will have coordinated nearly 40 teams of local organizers and activists in dozens of communities to bring strong messages for justice to our Congresspeople’s public meetings.
 
Bringing A Message of Unity
 
We are over halfway through this recess’s Town Halls and ROP members across the state are actively and passionately engaged! While these are traditionally low-key events where our Representatives in DC hear from local citizens about an array of issues, there’s been nothing low-key about this recess! And health care has been the biggest, and sometimes the only, issue discussed.
 
Healthcare reform is critical and we are at a moment where visible public opinion will truly sway the outcome of the debate. ROP supports reform and a more democratic healthcare system, and at the same time, we recognize that it cannot be isolated from the other issues that it intersects. So, ROP members and allies are bringing not just a clear message on healthcare – Everyone IN, No One OUT – we are also raising up other crucial issues:
 
Healthcare and Immigrants Rights are Human Rights.
Stop the wars abroad and the wars on immigrants at home.
 
On the Ground Realities
 
Why are these intersections so important to recognize and bring to light in a positive way?  As Linda Tarr in Port Orford (Curry County) reported,
 
“…the one area which no questioners addressed, but which was clearly an ugly undercurrent, is immigrant rights.  It’s clear to me that we do need to push [Rep. De Fazio] to do the right thing.  The only comment he made which I felt was politically smarmy was when he pointedly said that every citizen has a right to health care. This was interpreted by those who are blaming immigrants for the health care crisis as anti-immigrant, though he never said anything that was blatantly so.”
 
Columbia County Citizens for Human Dignity reported from St. Helens,
 
“CAUSA and LUFM [ROP member group, Latinos Unidos para un Futuro Mejor] were great – and encased their bodies with immigration sanity messages.  Stood out but sanely in a less then sane setting.  There was no overt (that I observed) anti-immigrant, latino, racists stuff outside of the HUGE racism towards Obama.”
 
Human Dignity Groups have put together teams to coordinate turnout, message and creative measures at almost every Town Hall. As Rep. DeFazio went on a 4 day 14 stop Town Hall binge – ROP was there with you bringing a calm progressive voice to the chaotic events. At DeFazio’s first Town Hall meeting in Cottage Grove, ROP board member and CG native Jess Campbell reported,
 
“We had signs that said "PUBLIC OPTION NOW" with "STOP disrupting DEMOCRACY" on the back. When people interrupted DeFazio or people asking questions, we held up the "STOP disrupting DEMOCRACY" side. We also had "Courteous Cottage Grove" signs to hold up during the outbursts.”
 
In places like McMinnville, where the voices of progressive Human Dignity folks were nearly drowned out by the voices shouting-down democracy, ROP members asked for a separate meeting with Rep. David Wu to discuss some of the biggest reforms in our country sitting at a table as adults.
 
“It was obvious we were not getting much out of the Town Hall and Julie and I think [a private meeting] is a better opportunity.  We can take all our materials to give him and have a real conversation with one of his staff for 30 minutes.  Congress seems to be ignoring single payer and we want to know why,” wrote Marni Haley, of the Newberg Coalition for Human Dignity.
 
In Coastal Newport, healthcare reform is a top priority. The community also sees law enforcement racially profiling Latino folks on the street. So ROP members let Rep. Schrader know that while healthcare is on everyone’s mind, that Newport hasn’t forgotten the most vulnerable members of our communities. Rep. Schrader heard loud and clear that we want healthcare for ALL people and Just and Humane Immigration Reform.
 
What We’re Learning
 
ROP is still hard at work coordinating a united progressive front as Senators Wyden and Merkley head into Eastern Oregon in the next week and a half. What we’ve learned from the last three weeks is an invaluable preparation tool for the work ahead of us:
 
·         Single payer is seen as politically impossible and the public option is under constant threat. The Town Halls are a critical moment to acknowledge that healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and to push our elected officials to take on the fight for Healthcare for ALL.
·         There is a nationally coordinated effort to build a Radical Right grassroots movement in rural Oregon based on the easiest wedge of all – fear.
·         People in rural Oregon are hurting – from the economic collapse, inaccessible healthcare, lack of family wage jobs, an exodus of youth and an unending war taking its toll. When people feel this sort of deep pain, they fall off the fence onto the side of justice seekers or into the hands of angry and dangerous conservatives. There are very few people without opinions!
·         Amidst the chaos, our power is strongest when we are the voice of reason. And in order to present a unified and calm voice, there are no substitutes for planning and discipline.
·         Political education and progressive movement infrastructure are critical to our success.
 
Heading into the Final Stretch
 
Now we head into the final stretch of Town Halls. Join with ROP in presenting a united progressive voice that refuses to be silenced by hate and fear. Although the nationally-funded, Radical Right political organizations may be actively organizing in our communities, the people shouting at the Town Halls are still our neighbors. There are bridges to be built and there is common ground to be found. As Columbia County Citizens for Human Dignity discovered at the Town Hall in St Helens, there is opportunity at these events to unite our communities through conversation and respect.
 
Marcy Westerling, in her role as a concerned citizen of Scappoose, stayed outside of the Town Hall meeting while other CCCHD members went inside the meeting. Her purpose: to find common ground in a group of polarized neighbors at Rep. Wu’s St Helen’s Town Hall:
 
“I did have a very high quality and engaging conversation with one of the leaders of the far right.  He goes back 20 years in the community, as do I. He approached me and then we went off to talk for almost an hour.  It was very fascinating conversation; we were discussing how we can cooperate to maintain community calm in the midst of turmoil.”
 
Keep your voices calm and strong – there are real reforms to win and now is the time to make our move!
 
Contact cara@rop.org to coordinate on Senator Merkley’s upcoming Town Hall meetings in Eastern, Central and frontier Oregon (calendar on the left sidebar!)
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