As members of Congress retreated to their home states and districts during the 2009 August recess, the growing Tea Party movement and anger over the pending health care reform bill led protesters across the country to confront their elected representatives at town hall meetings.
Demonstrations at some of these gatherings led to fistfights, arrests and even hospitalizations. News networks and protesters with camcorders and cell phones captured the often unruly gatherings as disgruntled citizens took the opportunity to execute — often loudly — their right to free speech.
At one particularly hostile town hall meeting in Lebanon, Pa., a man in the audience rose to shout that former Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., was “trampling on our constitutional rights” and that someday God would judge Specter and his fellow “cronies on the Hill.” The veteran senator left the meeting after being shoved and booed by other audience members. “We’ve just had a demonstration of democracy,” Specter quipped uncomfortably before moving on to another question.
At the beginning of a rowdy forum hosted by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., Mike Sola of Milan, Mich., pushed his wheelchair-bound son up to the podium where Dingell stood and began to yell, “I’m his father and I want to talk to you face to face.”
Dingell was only accepting questions written in advance on notecards. Sola went on to loudly claim that Obama’s health care plan would provide “no care whatsoever” to his son, who has cerebral palsy. “You’ve ordered a death sentence to this young man,” he shouts in a video of the incident before being escorted out of the room by police.
Sola appeared on Fox News criticizing the health care plan and threatening to use “lethal force” against people he said were harassing his family and trespassing at his house in the middle of the night after video of his outburst was widely circulated on YouTube and television.
Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., made headlines that summer when he responded angrily to a man in the audience who confronted him about the health care bill at a meeting designed to discuss a controversial highway plan. “What you’ve got to understand is, those of you are here, who have taken and came and hijacked this event that we’re dealing with here … this is not a health care event. You’ve played the choice to come here,” he told the man.
Scott spoke with NPR’s Tell Me More in 2009 about the meeting and what he called racist reaction to his support of the bill.
Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., struggled to keep a health care reform town hall meeting in Tampa under control as protesters crowded the room and the struggle turned physical. Hundreds of people showed up for the meeting to protest Obama’s plan and many were not allowed into the room. That didn’t stop them from banging on the door and drowning out the congresswoman’s remarks with shouts of “you work for us” and “tyranny.”
Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., returned to Long Island during the August recess to find a crowd of angry protesters outside a town hall meeting prepared with chants like “Bishop, Pelosi — ain’t no difference,” “Throw the bums out” and “No cap and trade.”
In this video, Bishop walks by protesters who shout, “Anything to say to your constituents? Stop spending our money,” which they follow with passionate renditions of the Pledge of Allegiance and “God Bless America.”