Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Health Care Town Hall Meeting in Travelers Rest, SC

Crossing over to the West side of Greenville County, I worried.

I felt the right-wing southernism slowly creep into my consciousness, as I began to notice the tailgating and became acutely aware of my ANOTHER MAMA FOR OBAMA bumper sticker (which has caused me trouble ever since election day). I tried on my motto, Ain't Skeered (which came into redneck vogue during the No Fear era), but you know, I was skeered. I didn't know what to expect, although I told myself, nobody will be angry at Congressman Bob Inglis, ass-kissing Republican, since he totes water for the gung-ho southern right wing. But I realized I didn't want to see Republican anger, in any form.

I also realized that I would see what I really didn't want to see and have never wanted to face: southern racism in full battle cry.

Nah, Daisy, come on. This is Travelers Rest, South Carolina. The old town slogan was Travelers Rest: On the Way Up since it sits at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and (white) travelers really did rest there before continuing their trek up the mountains. It is known as TR (pronounced Tee Are) by locals. I used to attend the TR AA meeting, held in the Methodist Church, and once considered a core member of that group to be my best friend.

I kept reciting these facts to assure myself that I belonged at this meeting as much as anyone else. I've lived in this county since 1988, I repeated to myself like a mantra. 1988. 1988.

1988, dammit.

Maybe nobody will be there. TR is also known as Gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the suitably-named Gateway Elementary School is way out there, almost in the country. Ain't nobody coming, will be a sleepy little town hall meeting; some homeschooling kids will have been assigned the meeting as homework and have their little spiral-notebooks open, all prepared to learn about Civics and.... I just kept comforting myself.

Turning onto Hawkins Road, I saw the cars, parked waaaaaayyy out--almost to Highway 25. Ohhhh, holy shit. Lots of cars. Cars and more cars. SUVs and more SUVs. They easily overflowed the parking lot of Gateway Elementary, which displayed a sign welcoming Inglis.

I started sweating, a profuse sweat I didn't even have at the local John McCain rally last year. Was it the way they were purposefully and angrily striding into the building? Was it the fact that the crowd looked so Republican? (I know, not supposed to generalize; too bad, this is my blog, people!) Was it the blinding whiteness? I counted 3 black people in the crowd (of nearly 400, guessed one of Inglis' people) and carefully stood next to one. (Was I protecting her or was she protecting me?) I noticed she never clapped for anything they said.

And of course, neither did I.

I found myself flashing back to one of the most terrifying moments of my young Yippie life, the time we infiltrated a large kkk rally in a rural area outside of Middletown, Ohio. It was at a secret location out in the boonies, and we were so proud we had discovered it. So we drove, drove, drove... until we were waaay out in the sticks, dangerously so. I remember one very young Yippie whining, "I can't breathe, man, I can't breathe," and that was even before we saw all the cars. I experienced the same feeling last night in TR, as I had all those years ago at the kkk rally: There are so many more than I thought. We looked at each other in panic and realized, we never expected this many. Should we turn back? Are we identifiable as troublemakers? We realized that NO, we were not, since, haha, we weren't gonna make any trouble, were we? They were noticeably armed, carrying rifles and baseball bats openly and defiantly. As we got out of the van (which suddenly looked as raw-hippie as Ken Kesey's bus), I was so terrified I threw up, and another woman's knees buckled. We looked at each other, embarrassed at our fear; the guys were suddenly stoic, and I remember I wished I'd had some of that, although I usually hated masculine stoicism....

The memory came flooding back. And I hadn't thought about it in ages, even to blog about.

I wondered, should I write about my kkk flashback? Is that relevant to the story? What does it mean that I pull up to Bob Inglis' Gateway Elementary School town hall meeting and suddenly remember a scary backwoods ku klux klan meeting from three decades previous?

The same people, I thought reflexively, only older now?


There was a line to get in. I saw the Poor Clares from their local monastery and wondered what they were thinking. What would Clare do? I knew what she would do, and I thought maybe I should go stand next to them for some kinda spiritual uplift... but I waited too long, dithering over whether I should go inside... and they disappeared into the throng. A middle-aged man standing near me began talking to his friend about how the government could not manage health care; he had seen this up-close and personal at the Veterans' Administration clinic. He was still waiting for an operation on his eye, he said, and had been for a year.

So, I fumed, this guy gets free health care, and he doesn't want anyone else to have it? Some people won't get an operation no matter how long they wait!

I looked around. A proliferation of OLD PEOPLE, likely on Social Security, with free health care. But they don't want the government to manage it! Then stop taking your Social Security and Medicaid, you FUCKS!

Do they not see the contradiction here? Why don't they?

I held it together and decided I would go inside. I realized that in a group, I was always pretty brave, but by myself? Ha. Not hardly.

Inglis' flunkies handed me a sheet of paper announcing Bob Inglis' 16 reasons to oppose Obama care. These "reasons" were also prominently displayed on a poster up front, where Inglis, dressed like a mellow golfer dude for the evening, announced he was here to listen to whatever people had to say.

A few of these 16 reasons (lies), that jumped right out at me:

Could allow taxpayer-funded abortions.

Ignores medical liability reform.

Provides little incentive for quality outcomes.

Lacks focus on individual responsibility or choice.

Kills jobs by making them more costly.

And then, I flipped the printed sheet over, and read about Bob Inglis' stellar "ratings" from various conservative groups:

National Right to Life - 100%

Americans for Tax Reform - 75%

Chamber of Commerce
(listed as a conservative group!) - 80%

Americans for Prosperity - 86%

National Rifle Association - A

English First - A

American Conservative Union - 84%

Christian Coalition - 100%

And I saved the best for last:


The John Birch Society? He is proud of a rating from the crackpot John Birch Society? Again, the kkk flashback, "I can't breathe, man," and I almost hightailed it out of Gateway Elementary at that point.

No, Daisy, take pictures. You have a blog.

Staring at the printed sheet of GOP fibs, I suddenly got why they prefer the term "Obamacare"--because that is who they are really upset with. (I had seen tons of "Nobama" bumper stickers on my way in.)

The meeting started, with red meat thrown to the crowd at regular intervals. Quiet and well-behaved, they erupted loudly and cheered on cue when anyone criticized the government or Obama. It was basically a rehash of the Nuremberg Rally I had seen on C-Span over the weekend, the RightOnline Conference in Pittsburgh. But this was different--there was an undercurrent of menace. There was an undercurrent of fury. Nobody was smiling, and this is the south, where smiling is practically mandatory.

Standing Room Only.... as you can see from this photo, a lot of older people in attendance, who presumably already have their health care paid for.

There were no 'questions' to speak of... just older white men who already have health care (((fumes))) holding forth and spouting off in the manner you have all grown accustomed to on Fox News. Blah blah blah, we don't want government-run health care! (((cheers, huzzahs, whistles, yeahs!))) Inglis stood there holding the microphone like a mannequin and said maybe two sentences that I heard. He looked properly concerned, though, which I suppose is all he is required to do at these events.

As one fella stood up to bloviate at considerable decibels that fascism is coming to America (tell me about it!) because they are trying to shut down talk radio (we can only hope), I saw two older white women my age, weaving through the crowd and looking pissed. They exited the building in obvious disgust and I weaved through the crowd to run after them, "Hey, you girls!"

We attempted to chat, but we mostly just stood there speechless and shaking our heads at each other. "We don't belong in there," one said. I agreed with the sentiment. She told me another meeting was happening in Spartanburg, a PRO health care meeting.

Spartanburg. And then, another realization hit me:

Spartanburg is heavily black.

The upstate has re-segregated itself into Greenville (run by whites, although a large black population) and Spartanburg (run by blacks, although a large white population) Counties. Why were there so few blacks at this meeting? They need health care, too, okay? But if I was scared to go in, I assume they would be, too. In fact, no doubt: If I were black, I'd stay far away.

Tell me, is this DEMOCRACY in action, Congressman Inglis? Are you the representative of the white upstate or ALL the upstate?

One of the women pointed back at the entrance to Gateway, and told me authoritatively, "You know, this is all really about integration. That's really what it is. Always has been."

Yes, I know.


dieselsandwich said...


Don't feel bad about freezing up. I would have done so too. Hostile territory is hostile territory is hostile territory.

Just those pictures alone scare the crap out of me.

Zucchini Breath said...

Very nicely written. thanks for the glimpse.

I pray for socialized health care everyday.

Kia said...

Thanks so much for the behind enemy lines look at things.

And also for co signing my take on Greenville vs Spartanburg. My extended family from Cola, long entrenched in the North East, looks to me to fill them in on SC news and notes. With good friends in Greenville, I'm able to come to some conclusions myself but you help fill in the blanks.

Travinyle1 said...

Are you even serious? I attended last night and grilled Inglis on his vote on TARP.

Im neither left or right. I am outside of that false paradigm. Bot parties are controlled by offshore banks.

Your story reads like a fairy tale. You compared a civil informed town hall to a KKK meeting?

Please this is ridiculous. What is this KKK association based on said...

great blog keep up the good work

DaisyDeadhead said...

Travinyle1: You compared a civil informed town hall to a KKK meeting?

Civil "informed" town hall meeting? Apparently we attended two different events, which obviously explains the confusion.

Are you the person reading my blog from the Greenville Hospital System? You are welcome to post, but don't be an impolite asshole or I will delete your comments.

I used to believe in free speech for my blog, but to quote Alice Cooper: I used to be sucha sweet sweet thing till they gotta hold of meeee...


John Powers said...

There's been a feat of legerdemain where the issue of health care has been turned into the issue of health insurance. The Republicans have played the script well.

The problem for someone like me with little income and no health insurance in the debate about health insurance is that it comes down to whether or not to support a large and highly regressive tax increase on majorities making too little already. Mandates without a public option are in my view unfair.

LOL my view is a bit off-topic to your post and I'm sorry about that.

This post is great storytelling. It's not easy to reach out and to connect with our neighbors, but if things are going to get better not worse, we've got to try. And your story is very encouraging.

I'm interested in your observation of Greenville run by whites and Spartenburg run by blacks. I like where you take that to the powerful ending of your piece "You know, this is all really about integration. That's really what it is. Always has been."

But I'll go slightly on a tangent. What came to mind was the influence of the Milliken's. Local politics is enormously important, but there's a global game too. The Milliken's play the global game and their influence over local matters trumps.

I'm all for constituents giving their representatives and earful. But we all know that our representatives ears are mostly attuned to moneyed interests.

Travinyle1 said...

I just dont see any evidence of what your claiming.Your engaging in open slander against those of us there. I spoke at the meeting. I was very informed about what i ask him about. More than he was actually.

Again I just want you to cite ANYTHING racist at this meeting. I think i am being very polite. But of course it wouldnt surprise me if you censored me. Will you provide some evidence of any kind to back up your claims of backwoods and Klu Klux Klan statements.

Please dont engage in this kind of senseless, baseless hate speech of which you accuse a group of people of with no evidence.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Travinyle1, I have to ask: can you read? Are you illiterate?

I just dont see any evidence of what your claiming.

I am offering my thoughts and impressions. I am not "claiming" anything. (?) These are my feelings, and I am claiming these are my feelings about what I saw. I do not claim any journalistic objectivity, which I believe is bullshit anyway. THIS IS WHAT I THINK.

I will think what I please, thanks.

Your engaging in open slander against those of us there.

Excuse me? (Do you call that a polite statement, accusations of slander?)

I spoke at the meeting. I was very informed about what i ask him about.

I didn't say you didn't talk. Where did I say you didn't talk? I said what I saw, period. I did not even say how long I was in there, and made it clear I left early. I said Inglis said two sentences that I heard. I specifically and deliberately used that phrase: that I heard. (Again, let me ask: CAN YOU READ?) I was inside the auditorium maybe a half hour max. As I SAID (did you read it?) I followed those two women out.

Again I just want you to cite ANYTHING racist at this meeting.

The fact that there were only 3 blacks out of 400 people? Is that "representational" politics? I saw no Latinos or Asians, despite Greenville County being a high-immigration area. This makes what I said automatically true, of course. (What a dumb question; this is self-evident.)

Also, I noticed there were no Inglis staffers or volunteers who were not white.

THIS IN MY OPINION. Whether you agree with me about that or not, does not matter to me and I am not interested in listening.

Other reasons:

1) these mindless anti-health-care Stepford mobs have been stoked up by the right wing, and that makes them racist by default.

2) lack of decent health care disproportionately affects people of color, and opposing it makes you racist by default also.

Again, MY OPINION, which you asked for. I am not interested in yours, because I avoid right wing illiteracy whenever possible.

I think i am being very polite.

You mean like accusing me of slander? Oh yeah, that's real polite, charging onto someone's blog and accusing them of CRIMES!

But of course it wouldnt surprise me if you censored me.

That's good.

Will you provide some evidence of any kind to back up your claims of backwoods and Klu Klux Klan statements.

Can you read? Are you illiterate?

I said, these were flashbacks of mine. I found the two events, and my fears, to be similar. I found the undercurrents to be similar.

Can you read? Do you not understand what these words mean? They are my IMPRESSIONS.

You do not have to agree with my IMPRESSIONS, and of course, would be horrified if you did.

Please dont engage in this kind of senseless, baseless hate speech of which you accuse a group of people of with no evidence.

This is called projection. You are projecting your psychology onto me. I am not "accusing"--you are the person who has come here making accusations.

This is my blog and my space to write as I please. I wrote an account of my FEELINGS and my THOUGHTS, which I am entitled to do under the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. I am entitled to write my observations, as all writers throughout history have done. If you have a different account and you disagree with mine, write it yourself, on your own blog.

But you can't tell me what to write.

Isn't it enough that you people are running the fucking COUNTY? Why do you have to come here bothering me, too? How about you harass the Greenville News, they didn't cover your boyfriend Inglis AT ALL.

Jon said...

A great post. I just read an excellent post on health care and white supremacy:

Short and speculative in nature, but worth thinking about.

VeRonda said...

Man, what a good article. This is the first site I've visited where someone had actually attended the meeting and spoke on it. This thing seems like its taking over the world... in a bad way. I don't know what to say b/c with these things come a lot of ugliness.

Ruth Moss said...

Crikey. That sounds truly scary. And just occasionally I'm glad I'm a Brit and I have the NHS. How dare people oppose healthcare reform? Isn't access to healthcare a basic human right? Goodness.

Marion said...

You did good, Daisy, you projected how you felt at that meeting so well in your post,I felt quite nervous for you, myself.

Please be careful.

white rabbit said...

Brilliant post Daisy.

These people scare the crap out of me across 3,000 miles of Atlantic.

WTF is the matter with them?????

kay let's not go there...

Dave Dubya said...

Daisy, I'm proud of you for going into the belly of the beast. It's not easy to be amid so much anger and ignorance. But then again, welcome to America.

And I'll bet you dollars to donuts there WERE Klansmen there.

JoJo said...

Yikes, how creepy and scary.

Brian still is out of work and still has no health insurance. Anything looks good from this side of the issue.

Travinyle1 really missed the point of your blog post didn't he?

CrackerLilo said...

I don't really know what to say. But I want to tell you I respect your courage--I mean that--and thank you for both attending and writing this up.

I believe the anger is there. All I have to do is listen to my mom or some of my aunts and uncles. It's scary as hell.

Kikipotamus said...

I don't know if you're brave or crazy foolish to have gone in there, but in any case thank you for blogging it. Holy.

jovan b. said...

Exactly, Daisy. As I mentioned on another thread, not one GOP politican would dare spout their nonsense in predominantly black places like Wagener, Allendale, Blackville, Denmark, Orangeburg, Edgefield, Clarks Hill or Estill. They are keenly aware of what the reaction would be like in the aforementioned locales if they said the things they said in Travelers Rest or West Columbia.

sheila said...

None of these town halls reflect actual society. The number of minorities at these meetings shows that. I hope to God that people see what's going on but there's always that bunch you know. The ones who keep sending me stupid emails - the ones who don't follow actual news...just fox or soundbites.


I'm pretty sure we'll get a plan. I say they go head with the nuclear option and just vote.

I mean...we invaded Iraq with much less debate.

Anonymous said...

really really interesting post, daisy. I haven't had the strength to make it out to one of my town hall meetings--although there was recently a *loooovely* protest:

featuring signs saying "My grandma is not a clunker."---i just don't even know what to do with some of my fellow michiganders some times.


Anonymous said...

Hi. I just wanted to say that although I totally agree that healthcare needs reform I don't think either party has it right. I had a medical emergency this summer in Norway where the government provides the healthcare. I was in the hospital for a week and I can state absolutely we do not want state run healthcare. One minor example the nurse comes in 4 separate times with malfunctioning thermometers that don't work. After the 4th time she looked at me and said "do you feel like you have a temp.?" Another nurse while extolling the virtues of their system (I didn't argue with them as it would have been rude) told me how her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to wait 3 months for surgery. She then said "but that's exactly how it is in the states isn't it?" When I told her no she was shocked. I asked if her mother was doing okay now and was told she had died. My only point here is that while what we have has way too many gaps in it, I'll put it up against any in the world.
At least that's my perspective. :-) Have a happy start to the week!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I don't want to turn this into an aggravated discussion like trav, but I live in Travelers rest and I'm black and those people are my friends an neighbors, I even recognize 4 people in one of the pictures. They have their little quirks but they're good people that are just scared for their futures. You don't have to be worried about them, most of them love you no matter who you are.

Anonymous said...

oh an tha`KKK?

they was founded by Democrats

that sir is a fact...

you knewthat. said...

To my mind everyone may read it.