I've told this story to other people and they looked at me like I must be lying, so bear with me. I went to the San Francisco City Hall rally for health care reform yesterday. It was an uncharacteristically warm day, no fog, and we rode our bikes (in shorts even!). Our friend Kelly of CIR/SEIU was there, pregnant as all get out, health care an urgent concern both for her and her doctor/internist constituents.
It was a nice crowd, exuberant in the golden hour sunlight, seemingly optimistic even. Speaker after speaker touted the recent survey of the Healthy San Francisco members (our communist experiment in health care) showing %94 satisfaction. The biggest cheers came for a prominent doctor supporter who shouted "I'm a San Francisco Liberal and damned proud of it! If San Francisco values means everyone's covered by good health care, than those should be AMERICAN values." As he finished up, another friend showed up and told us that on the other side of the stage were a couple right-wingers waving their signs at passing cars. Having heard so much about the crazy town halls, I couldn't resist. I wanted to see what a real live wingnut looked like. We don't see them around these parts much.
I walked over to the road that separated the plaza from city hall, and sure enough, flanked by several dozen pro-reform sign-wavers inspiring horn hoots from passing cars were four people holding signs like "Government off my body". I walked out into the street to take a picture to prove to my friends that I'd seen real live wingnuts in San Francisco, and while focusing noticed that one of the sign-holders was sort of standing off to the side by himself. Three of the folks were classic suburban looking folks, clumped together, well-manicured with a glint of severe madness in there eyes, but the fourth was a rather large fellow holding a "Read the Bill" sign (see picture).
I went up to him and very friendly-like asked him,
"Which bill should I read?"
"The one that's in congress right now..." he said in a heavily accented voice, couldn't quite ID the origin.
"Well, there are a couple, and it would help to know which one."
"I guess you should read all of them."
"Wow! Are you serious? That's, like, thousands and thousands of pages...Maybe if you give me an idea of what bothered you about the bill, I could narrow it down and just read that one."
"Well...the one where they might take disability away from Medicare."
"Hmm...I don't remember any bill like that. Have YOU read the bill?"
He laughed. "No no no...but he has." He pointed at a guy in sunglasses who was currently in a heated argument. "He told me about it, and, like, hired me to hold this sign."
"He hired you to hold the sign??"
"No no no, I don't mean hired...like, asked me to hold it."
"I see, he didn't pay you?"
I still felt a little suspicious, but moved on. "So, let me get this straight...you are mad because the bill would take away Medicare from disabled people?"
"Yes...like disability and all that. It used to be everyone could see a doctor, but now that's not true."
"Wait, it sounds like you actually want reform...those people over there are demanding change, so more people can see doctors. Also, they want to expand Medicare to cover more people, not less people."
"No, I don't want reform."
"But you DO want more people to be covered, for things to change."
"Yes, I guess so."
"That's what those people over there want too."
"Yeah. This guy," I pointed at the sunglasses man, "is trying to stop change."
He looked at me silently for a minute.
"Then I don't know what I'm doing here with this," and he put his sign down. "Thanks."
And he walked away from the street into the large reform crowd, a big smile on his face.
I still get goose bumps from telling this. I know all the wingnuts won't be this easy to peel off, but the power of a direct, friendly conversation should never be underestimated. Was he hired? Or just confused? Either way, there were three where there used to be four.