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.