The Democratic Alliance of Northwest Indiana (DANI ) hosted a meeting with Rep. Pete Visclosky (D, IN-01), on Monday, Aug. 3, 6:30 PM. We invited the public and their written questions. It seems good to share with the Daily Kos readership some lessons we learned.
• We had an orderly and productive meeting.
• No one stood up, shouted out and sat down.
• At no point was our Congressman or audience rattled.
• DANI accomplished its objective. We provided the public an opportunity to question our Congressman about Health Care and Clean Energy.
• Tea Baggers came out in force, but they failed to disrupt the meeting.
• Local reporters attended.
Lessons learned follow below the fold.
- We sent out Public Service Announcements to the local media a week in advance, and then followed up with phone calls to each outlet the Thursday before the weekend. The event got good exposure.
- The topic of Health Care Reform draws the Tea Baggers, no problem. But oddly, it proved somewhat difficult to rouse enough Progressives to attend. We recommend a strong, multifaceted approach. We posted the event with MoveOn and Organizing for America. But, we also blasted e-mail to lists scoured from the 2006 election. In this effort, we succeeded, but barely. The attendance inside was split roughly evenly between Progressives and Tea Baggers. The meeting room filled to its capacity of 110 well before our start time. About 40 Tea Baggers and 20 Progressives remained outside. Both sides had their signs.
- Physical separation proved very important. We were lucky to have a foyer between the meeting room and the Tea Baggers outside. The Tea Baggers chanted for the duration, but only occasionally did their noise perturb the meeting. Rep. Visclosky was able to address the audience without resort to a microphone, and only a few times did he find it necessary to raise his voice. Without the foyer, the meeting might have been far less successful.
- Don't call them Tea Baggers to their faces in a public setting. Yes, we all know—they self-identified as Tea Baggers early on. But, in a public meeting, it gives them a pretext to take umbrage. Don't go there.
- People entered single file, signed in, and filled out a name tag. This simple measure helped set an orderly tone to the meeting.
- The local police were present inside and out, in force. The Congressman didn't call them, nor did DANI. Our meeting was at a library. The Library staff got wind of the Tea Baggers and called the police well in advance. DANI officers were loath to go heavy. But, the police presence proved crucial to success. DANI just got lucky. Don't leave this element to chance.
- DANI members and friends gained early entrance and sat in front. Make sure your Progressives know to get to your event early.
- The DANI executive board consulted closely with Visclosky's office to draft the Public Service Announcement and to set up ground rules for the meeting. So, we opened the meeting by laying down the ground rules.
- Written questions went directly to Visclosky's staffer, not to DANI members or officers. Do not stand between the people and their representative.
- And then in opening remarks, I blew the Tea Baggers' cover. Roughly, it went like this:
Meetings like this one continue a democratic tradition more than 2500 years old, that of the ancient Greek "Ecclesia." The term means "those called out"—called out to discuss and decide civic matters, and to defend their ancient Greek city-states, to defend their democracy. And you all were called out by notices in the local papers, radio stations, by e-mail and internet, to discuss Health Care Reform and Clean Energy with our Representative tonight.
So know this: efforts to disrupt and thwart public discourse on civic matters are profoundly anti-democratic. But, that's an obstacle we face tonight. It's public knowledge that groups known as Tea Baggers intend to disrupt and thwart the public discourse on Health Care Reform in meetings like this during this month's Congressional Recess. They want Democracy to fail. So, let's face this obstacle together.
The Tea Baggers' instructions are also public knowledge. If some people stand up, shout out and sit down; if some try to rattle us and the Congressman; if some pretend numeric superiority; if some try to stifle intelligent debate; then we can compare that behavior to the Tea Baggers' instructions and draw our own conclusions.
That was my "appeal to first principles" of Democracy. Karen Kroczek followed by laying down the law: unruly behavior would not be permitted. Period. Violators would be escorted out of the meeting. End of story. The police presence inside lent credibility.
- As it turned out, Rep. Visclosky took one look at the stack of about 100 index cards with questions, and decided to make some opening remarks, and then simply invite verbal questions from the floor, one-at-a-time. His approach worked very well.
- At one point, Rep. Visclosky said he agreed that government has a natural role and responsibility in health care. The Tea Baggers booed him roundly. It was the only serious breach of decorum. One Tea Bagger even challenged the constitutionality of a governmental role in health care. So, at these meetings, we should raise the point that the Preamble to the Constitution includes the phrase "promote the general welfare" as one of its key organizing principles.
- Rep. Visclosky responded that MediCare is 44 years old and has not been challenged on constitutional grounds. He went on to note that MediCare was enacted in 1965, just after the last time Indiana turned Blue, in the 1964 election. He drew a round of applause from the Progressives. It was a delicious moment, and I think it was ad lib.
- As a side effect of this meeting's success, DANI will grow stronger. Many of the local Progressives attending did not know about DANI before this meeting, but now intend to join up. And the Tea Baggers will shrivel.