Saturday, August 22, 2009

R3volution: Outside the Town Hall Meeting

Yesterday was a busy day in the cause of Liberty.

In the morning I attended a meeting of a South Valley patriot group to drum up support for the Continental Congress and to publicize our Constitution Seminar. The meeting was interesting, and I believe successful. I also learned that a few sessions at Toastmasters would be good for me. Too many "ummms" and "ands", and I apparently violated a rule or two of political speaking that I did not know existed. Fortunately, Ken Cavanaugh, the Chair of the NM Libertarian Party was there to help me rescue the situation and coach me on them.

In the afternoon, the Engineering Geek and I attended Congressman Heinrich's (NM District 1) Townhall Meeting. We got there too late to get in, as we knew we would, but our plan was to work the line and the crowd, passing out literature about the Continental Congress, as well as for New Mexican's for Liberty, and the Libertarian party.

The people in line showed their divisions clearly, for the most part. Those opposed to Obamacare (about 20%, we estimated), were carrying handmade signs for the most part, whereas the people for HB 3200 were well organized, wearing white shirts sporting red, white and blue stickers that proclaimed "Health Care for America Now!", and carrying identical pre-printed signs. The stickers were to prove particularly effective after the people reached a checkpoint where they were divested of their signs, purses and umbrellas (the New Mexico sun was brutal yesterday), or else turned away.

All in all, given the red ACORN shirts, the union buttons, and the pre-printed signs, as opposed to homemade signs and a certain lonely defensiveness, it was easy to see who were the grassroots individuals and who the organized astroturfers were.

Aside: Early that morning, on my way to the South Valley meeting, I passed a Union hall in the University Heights neighborhood. There I saw a crowd of people on the front walk, white shirts being passed, and a bus being boarded. I have no proof of what it was about, but it looked like they were getting ready to go to the Town Hall.

In some parts of the line there was conversation between the pro and con groups. Some of was animated but friendly, but others were more heated and emotional. Given a nasty and angry encounter between the EG (who is not terribly tactful) and a very emotional woman from our synagogue, we huddled with Ken and a few other Libertarians, and decided right then and there to scan for those most open to our message, as we did not want trouble, and we did want to use our inadequate supply of literature effectively. Later we ran into some other New Mexicans for Liberty who had decided the same thing.

So the EG and I focused on those people who did not have stickers on, and who had signs opposing HB 3200 or promoted liberty or the Constitution. Some of these people had already had nasty encounters with the statists, and a few were very suspicious of us (the EG had a white shirt on as we didn't know that was a directive of the pro-government faction). The EG was passing out flyers that looked like a giant million dollar bill, so he began each encouter saying, "You look like you could use a million dollars!" This was an effective way to let the more defensive people know that we did not condemn them. I'd then chime in with, "Yeah, that and $2 bucks will buy you a regular coffee at Starbucks!"

During the time we worked the line (before they started letting people in), I had several less than pleasant encounters with pro-government organizers. Once they told me that I could not pass out literature. I pointed out that we were on public property and that I was asserting my first amendment rights. No official or law enforcement person was called to back up the assertion, so I ignored them. Next, a group of people handing out signs that said "Democracy Requires Civility" began to hassle me, saying, "Where were you when Bush was spending millions of dollars?" I disarmed them by asking if they had read Naomi Wolf and engaging them in a conversation about boisterous public protest. (Turns out they represented some group associated with the New Mexico film industry). I ended by taking their picture because, I said, I wanted to show on my blog the many groups present.

But the question they asked was repeated several times by others, and even less politely. Each time, I shut them up by answering that I was against the war as it was unconstitutional, as has been every war since WWII. I did not begin any discourse on why my opposition was different than theirs, instead I politely asked the most rude guy (and they were always big, loud, rude guys) "Sir. Excuse me, but I have a question for you. Should those citizens who are just finding their voices be barred from their first amendment rights because they found their voices later than you found yours?" That usually shut them up permanently. In one case I had to ask some guy where he was in the '80s and '90s when I was in the streets. IOW, don't try to teach your mother how to suck eggs.

(These guys are true astroturfers, all full of piss and vinegar, but fed ideas by others. Their slogans aren't actually logical arguments. Most of them are too young to have been in the streets during the Bush era, let alone before that, yet they believe that they own the idea of public protest because they learned it from the campaing of the Annointed One).

Once the line began moving inside, there was some commotion as the Heinrich staffers began telling people that they had to give up their signs, umbrellas, and, in one instance, a cane. I approached an older staffer about that one and pointed out how bad it looked. She agreed, introduced herself, and after intervening, we had a pleasant conversation about the East Mountains. I don't think that she ever knew that I dislike her boss. Intensely.

After the line moved inside, the EG and I crossed the street to where a mixed motly of protesters stood. Most were oppposed to Obamacare, and here we saw some more homemade signs.

Here, we encountered two men who own small businesses. One did not have a sign, but had come down to see what impact HB 3200 might have on his business. He has 14 employees in a small aerospace contracting business, he told us. He pays 100% of their insurance and benefits. He had read the bill carefully, he said, and was worried that if it passed he'd not only not be able to afford this, but would likely have to cut the number of employees.

The other man has a carefully researched sign, "Have you read all 1,017 pages?", with information that was footnoted. he had nine employees, he said. And if the bill passed, he would be so pressed by the new taxes on his business that he thought he would just have to shut it down. He also handed me a flyer he had printed up on resume paper. It called for "real free-market healthcare" that cuts costs by getting rid of government intervention and regulation, and in which real mal-practice was dealt with through the courts. I told him that his ideas were essentially libertarian. We talked for a while and he took my LPNM literature. He let me keep his flyer--he had only one left--on the promise that I would improve it and pass it on.

I then ran into another man who had no sign. It turned out he was a former CEO of University Hospital. (This checks out with the name he gave me). I asked him, since he was clearly well-informed, what ought to be done for healthcare in New Mexico. First, he pointed out that New Mexico has a very good system, Salud, that provides basic care for the uninsured. Then he told me that many of the uninsured (all pregnant women and children and many others)have access to that system, but they choose not to use it for their own reasons. He said he thought that keeping that state-run system would be more cost-effective (it is contracted through three different private insurers, and people on it have a choice), than a federal, single-payer system. He then rattled off a bunch of statistics for me, to show me that the number of uninsured in the US is greatly exagerated, and that including the number of voluntarily uninsured is only part of that inflation of numbers.

He then began telling me what the consequences of HB 3200 would be for New Mexicans. More people would go without care, he said, because "they are planning to completely take the system down," not reform it. The chaos, he said, would be unbelievable. He said bitterly that this president, who has no adminstrative experience at all, and knows nothing about medicine, is going to destroy health care in the US, and that poor states like New Mexico will suffer the most from his hubris. When I asked him why he was not in the Town Hall saying this, he laughed bitterly and said that he had said it policy meetings a great many times. "They don't want to hear me," he said. "And I don't want to waste my time." He's retired, now, he told me, and his experience with Medicare (he had to wait 6 months to see a dermitologist and is waiting now until November to get a carcinoma removed from his neck) makes him fear for what will happen under Obamacare.

My last encounter was most interesting. I stepped up to talk to a guy with a sign that said, "Atlas is Shrugging." When I allowed as to how much I liked his sign, he asked me if I had read the book. I told him I was raised on Ayn Rand. Then I saw the OCON lanyard around his neck and I began talking to him more deeply about Objectivism.

This man turned out to be Jim McCrory, a libertarian before being Objectivist, and founder of The Association for Objective Law.

One thing he knew that many Objectivists do not, is that Ayn Rand had a great deal of influence on the early Libertarian movement, and though (being a cranky Russian-Jewish grandmother type at the time) she repudiated the Libertarians, they never repudiated her. Libertarians are, well, too libertarian, to eject people, although being libertarian, they tend to disagree amongst themselves on a fairly regular basis.

I told Jim McCrory that I remembered, as a child, when all of that went down, and that I think Rand was right when she told the early Libertarians that they should not concentrate so heavily on national politics, because even if they got elected (the chances were vanishingly small) they'd be unlikely to accomplish anything because one had to change how people thought before any change in politics and government could be accomplished.

I mentioned to McCrory that I understood that Objectivists tend to shun libertarians, and following Rand's diatribes against them in her later years, make some pretty nasty (and often unfounded) smears against us.(These tend to be generalizations of the behavior or positions of individual libertarians to the whole group, and this tendency is an instance of sloppy thinking by Objectivists that is puzzlingly at odds with their usual clear thinking). I therefore told him I appreciated his willingness to talk to me, and we had a good conversation.

I told Jim that I have had some conversation on the internet with a few more adventurous Objectivists, but they usually stop commenting when they learn I am a libertarian.

Aside: For this reason, I think that the movement could well remain insular and closed, for if they will not even associate with somewhat like-minded people what chance have they to influence others whose thought is much further afield? Therefore, they are quite unlikely to change how people think, if this is indeed their goal.

Although there is much more to tell about this encounter with Jim McCrory, two good things came out of it. First, as we talked, several people approached to react to his sign. With one, we had an extensive conversation, and Jim's model of reasoned response to what were sometimes provacative statements was enlightening to me. I also asked the man a question to get him thinking about the buzz words he was using. All in all, though, I learned more watching Jim. There was another, shorter encounter that went the same way, and there was one person who was so unreasonable that Jim just smiled and said, "Yes. I think Ayn Rand was right." The guy went on, and Jim told me, "You just can't talk to some people." True enough.

The second good thing was that when we talked, he understood that I did know a bit about Objectivism and could speak intelligently about philosophy. And so he told me he was interested in conversing more with me, and he was positively excited that I appreciate the quality of The Objective Standard (TOS). We discussed Yaron Brook, as well, when the subject of religion came up during our discussion with the first questioner, and I mentioned that I was a Jew. In short, this man is not adverse to questions, and has offered to talk to me and the EG further.

I am so hungry for discussions with the magnitude of thought that Objectivists bring to any conversation! This is why I read TOS online, as well as the weekly Objectivist blog carnival.

I am very excited about all of this, but feeling a bit wary, too. Nevertheless, if, as Ma Ingalls used to say, we don't do anything new, we'd never do anything at all.

Overall, what I learned from the Town Hall is that the patriot movement needs to become more reasoned in our approach to discussion with opponents and bring a principled approach to it, and that we flat-out need to be more organized for these protests.

For me personally, though, the whole day yesterday was a great deal of fun. Though today I am physically recovering (who forgot the sunscreen??), I also have a great deal to think about.

Thinking about big ideas makes me happy.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for that coverage. I would love if you could expand on your comment: "the patriot movement needs to become more reasoned in our approach to discussion with opponents and bring a principled approach to it..."
Any guidance would be welcome! After what seem futile attempts to bring reason to opponents, I am beginning to feel Jon Voight was right in describing a huge divide in our country, as

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Anonymous, I will check out Jon Voight after a conference call. In the meantime what I meant is more in line with "A soft answer turns away wrath." The people who had the most problems with the opposition were those who argued from emotion, got loud and upset. Although this is understandable, we must keep pounding principles and be polite and ask reasonable questions even when we are being bombarded with nasty statements or questions.

The country is indeed divided.