What happens when impassioned demonstrators come this close to each other?
Opponents and defenders of the new national health care law found out this week, sometimes facing off outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices inside heard three days of oral arguments on the law’s constitutionality.
NPR discussed the experience with demonstrators from both sides of the debate, who traveled from other states or nearby cities to bring their voices to the steps of the high court:
Carolyn Weller, secretary:
“We don’t have a king. We don’t have a queen. We have elected officials who represent us and I think they’ve outstretched their bounds in the Constitution,” said Weller, who flew from Idaho to join the demonstrations. “I think we need some reform, but this is not the right law.”
Robert Yochem, community organizer:
“People were expecting the worse when they got here and when they saw the festive atmosphere it was just wonderful,” said Yochem, a Baltimore resident who supports the health care law. “We’re just dancing in line and singing and chanting and the other side, ringing their bells and chanting and singing, so it was democracy in action.”
Dot Michael, retired:
“The unfortunate thing is those that I tried to engage in conversation, asking them: ‘What is the most important thing about this law? What is the most important thing to you?’ and all I got was … hollering and screaming at me. I didn’t get anybody to really discuss [it], except for one woman,” said Michael, who demonstrated against the law. “My attempts have been rebuffed in discussing any of the issues.”
Ellen Dinerman, medical student:
“I’m here because I think I’ve seen firsthand how important it is that we have universal coverage,” said the 26-year-old Washington, D.C., resident. “I’ve seen firsthand, you know, many people use the emergency room without [paying], and of course we’re not going to deny them care. That goes against, you know, the ethics of our country. But I know that it’s crippling our health care. And I think that it’s a dead-end solution.”
Gregg Cummings, Tea Party organizer:
“There’s been a couple [conversations with the law’s supporters] and I really appreciate that,” said Cummings, founder of an Iowa Tea Party group. “I was in the military and I defended our freedom of speech. I love to have respectful dialogue back and forth with the opposition. … But if they come and they just start off calling names and being belligerent, then I don’t want to participate in that kind of debate.”
Joanne Bagnerise, grandmother:
“I just happen to be standing to the left of [demonstrators against the health care law] today,” said Bagnerise, a supporter of the law who drove in from nearby Dumfries, Va. “It’s a fair position and I wish for all Americans to have what congresspeople have, what other people have: proper insurance. And it’s just the American way.”