Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday evening on the Hill with democracy

So today has been the biggest day in this never-ending health care reform legislative effort, with the Democrats getting the bill through the House. I was back at home trying to work on school stuff when Bart Stupak and friends got the executive order they wanted on no federal funding for abortion and could support the reforms. We've won, I thought. (And no, the bill is not perfect. It's not death panels or socialism, it's a centrist bill. A public option would have been center-left, I really wanted that at least, and would have enrolled in the public option. Single-payer is what the true left wanted, and that includes me. But the Republicans have fought the battle for public opinion better because it's easier to smear legislation than to sell it... and they're unscrupulous. But Obama and the Democrats need this to pass for their political future, and it is an improvement to one of America's biggest problems.) And moved by the spirit of history and Obama's one-helluva-speech yesterday to the House Dems and the fine warm weather, I decided to abandon my work and hop the Metro from Columbia Heights and head down to the Mall.

Having read about the Tea Party folk chanting "kill the bill" at Congress, as well as some less savory things at John Lewis and Barney Frank, I expected to see animated Americans waving flags at Congress. And I did, although what I saw surprised me as I walked towards the Capitol from the Archives Metro stop. There were thousands, perhaps 10,000, of Latinos, mostly, wearing white shirts, waving American flags as well as Honduran ones and othes, and they were marching for immigration reform, chanting "Si, si puede." Obama supporters, trying to push him on an issue. I walked up Capitol Hill with them, tried to run across the street to get around the crowd at one point but was yelled at by a police officer, so joined in the march around the north (Senate) side of the Capitol, saw congresspeople waving from the east balcony of the House. Although I saw mounties and many police, the scene was hardly tense, just professionals and a big crowd, no sense of danger at all. I thought, "Well they picked a terrible time to march" given the current focus of the Congress and the country, but was also struck by the patriotism and activism of thousands of hard-working Americans trying to get a better deal in life with the help of their government. Which is the main thing that government is for. These are the people that healthcare reform will help. And I think a lot of the Tea Party and "Obama is a dictator bringing socialism to America" folk have a problem with that.

I'm sure I missed the height of the anti-health care protests, by 6 p.m. on Sunday, the fate of the bill in the House seemed to be concluded in favor of reform. But I was surprised by how few protesters were assembled calling for the bill to be killed, waving American, "Don't Tread On Me," and in one case a Virginian flag. There were about 200 people with signs and maybe another 200 basically watching. Most were anti-health care, but a few had come to support the bill. The signs included "Obamacare=Deathwarrant," "Obama: Communism you can believe in," "Has anyone in Congress read the Constitution," "No government can continue good, but under control of the PEOPLE - Thomas Jefferson," but also "Hope not hate," "People of Faith for Healthcare Reform," "Catholics for Healthcare Reform," "Pass healthcare reform for our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness," "Universal healthcare is a family value," and "Obama isn't Jesus, Jesus was a socialist." One guy yelled at another that he was a bigot and was told that he should go back to England rather than choosing to live in this country, but overall everyone seemed fairly civil to one another, engaged in democratic debate. A woman sitting on a railing was holding a sign telling the Democrats to show courage and pass healthcare reform. I gave her a thumbs up and she looked happy as a clam. Then I set out for the turns-out-to-unfortunately-be-closed-after-3pm Bagels and Baguettes, leaving Congress and the democratic activists to their work and their free speech.

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