(please note anything that i say someone said that i put quotations around is an exact quote.)
Our MS NOW president Jenni Smith had sent through a flyer to me about a "healthcare forum" being thrown by the radical right
. She thought that we should let people know that it was going on so that there could be a liberal presence there to ask some questions and counter lies if need be.
Tom & I decided that we would attend and hopefully ask some questions. I wondered if any of the speakers had actually read the 1,007 page bill (HR 3200) and also why Les Riley was one of the speakers chosen for the panel. I knew that the forum was at Lemuria Books in Banner Hall. I had never been there before but in my mind I pictured the gathering being small, 30-50 people in the bookstore the way it might be if an author was doing a reading and book signing. In actuality it was at the Lemuria annex, so we had to walk across to there and arrived right about 6pm. The place was already packed to standing room only and people had started sitting outside as there was a speaker that allowed us to hear what was going on inside.(According to Lemuria employees the annex seats 70 and that with standing would hold approximately 120 people.) I wanted to take notes so it was easier to do that sitting outside.
I had expected to hear some of the frequent misconceptions or lies about HR3200 so I had read up on it prior to the forum. What actually happened was quite different than anything I'd expected...
The question of why exactly Les Riley was speaking was answered in Angela McGowan's introduction. You see Les Riley is not a doctor, he's not an expert on healthcare, and if he graduated college his bio
doesn't say so. Les Riley is the organizer of "Personhood" MS, a voter initiative that hopes to amend the MS State constitution to classify fetuses as people in order to stop abortion and cloning. Yes, cloning. He is also a speaker at the anti-Obama "Tea Parties".
Riley was the first speaker of the evening. He opened by talking about Romans 13:1 & 4: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Riley interpreted this verse to mean the Government's (only) job Biblically is to punish evil. Even leaving verses 2 and 3 out I feel that this is a bit of a stretch. Reading verses 2 & 3
it becomes clear that this passage is actually telling Christians to obey the government and laws. In fact it's no surprise that Riley skipped verse 2 as it states: "he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves." Not so much of a stretch to say that protesting the President is rebelling against authority but then, I guess God didn't institute Obama? We won't go there, it brings up too many issues. ;)
Riley then informed us that those who are outside Christ will be seen naked on judgment day with their sin piled around them. He gave no chapter or verse for that. He then told a story of an email he received from someone who disagrees with him, informing him that Jesus were He here today would support universal healthcare as it cares for the poor. Riley's response to this was that the government doesn't actually use taxes to care for poor children. He said: "Socialism creates more poor people and enslaves them...That's why politicans love it." He told us that when his wife was pregnant with their 9th (yes 9th) child that he had just changed jobs and had no health insurance. His wife had complications and spend 90 days in the hospital and even then he didn't want the government's help. She didn't say whether or not she wanted the government's help as she was across from us on the deck; a tired looking woman in a long denim skirt watching over a brood of children where all the girls wore skirts.
He then told us that the "Liberal Left" says that the government shouldn't be involved in healthcare as an excuse for not protecting "tiny people". Now seeing as I am the liberal left and am also in the National Organization for Women one of the most committed pro-choice organizations in this country I can tell you that I have never said nor have I heard anyone say that the "government shouldn't be involved in HEALTHCARE" as an argument for a woman's right to choose. As far as I can tell the only thing even close to what he was saying was when we say that a woman's reproductive health choices are between her and her doctor. That is true regardless of who her insurance is coming from, the government or private insurance. He also said that because the bill doesn't state overtly anywhere that government run healthcare will not
pay for abortions that the bill can easily be changed later to say that it will. His main reason for not supporting this bill appears to be that he believes that someday his tax dollars will pay for a woman to have an abortion
. I hope he's right! Just kidding; or am I?
Riley then gave us his "Six reasons" for opposing universal healthcare. He went back and forth telling stories and talking as he gave his FIVE reasons for opposing it:
1. It harms the people it claims to protect. (He gave no examples of how.)
2. It is economically disastrous and will reduce opportunities for his children and grandchildren. (He didn't tell us how or why.)
3. He is Anti-Abortion and "this bill is Pro-Death" (He gave no explanation as to how it is pro-death.)
4. He is a "Constitutionalist and advocate for liberty." (I failed to see the relevance.)
5. "The Government cannot solve all of your problems only the Messiah can."
When he realized he had only given five reasons he then ended with "Because I'm a Christian."
After applause for Riley, Dr. Ed Holiday a dentist from Tupelo began to speak. As Riley did, Dr. Holiday mentioned within seconds of beginning to speak that he is married and has children. He then talked about his positive experiences speaking with "Tea Party" rallies. He informed us that we are "living under tyranny" just as in the time of Sam Adams. He believes that HR3200 "is about control not healthcare. The government wants to control all aspects of our lives." "[HR3200] is the pit of hell."
"A new trail of tears will begin. The economy will nose-dive. It will rob from our children by raising the National debt." Dr. Holiday sounded to Tom like an auctioneer and to myself like a fire & brimstone Southern Baptist preacher. Combine the two and what you imagine is what Dr. Holiday sounded like. Pretty quickly into his speech I noted that he was using impassioned tone of voice, a sense of urgency, and catch-phrases such as "my fellow americans" and "give me liberty or give me death" to evoke an emotional response in the listener meant to distract them from the fact that he pretty much said nothing
. Healthcare reform he says is like "Eve eating the tree of knowledge." "We need healthcare reform but not this Trojan Horse..." He tells us, "[meant to] rob, steal and destroy the economy." He ended his speech that contained very little by stating "The government wants the right to pull the plug on you." and that "Patriots are taking names."
He used the phrase "give me liberty or give me death" at least three times, and "my fellow Americans" no fewer than twice. When the third speaker Dr. Pat Barret began it was clear that they'd started off with the two most powerful speakers. Tom and I had been receiving suspicious looks from the time we walked in and sat down. This began when the young man with the "personhood" T-shirt asked me to sign their petition as we entered and I told him that I didn't want to miss any of the speeches and perhaps when we exited. I also realized that despite the fact I was wearing conservative business casual attire (black slacks, a pink tank top, a fairly expensive scarf, heels) that I obviously stood out as I have a nose ring, 2 visible tattoos, and was wearing pants instead of a skirt. In hindsight, I probably should've worn long sleeves and a skirt as to blend in better. I was the only one outside taking notes which also drew attention to me. As time elapsed I became more and more conscious of the fact that we were not among friends. I didn't feel safe honestly. I know in this state we are always around the "from my cold dead hands" types, the ones that wouldn't vote for Obama simply because he is black. I had never really felt surrounded by them in the way that I did then. Surrounded in a way that triggered my fight or flight instinct, and i knew there were too many of them to fight off.
I'm no coward mind you. I go to conservative Christian college in a car plastered with rainbow, NOW, liberal and pro-choice bumper stickers and it's often in the back of my mind that some crazy might get in my face about them. Worse, they might do more than get in my face. In a world where people claim to be pro-life and kill doctors i'm not sure that some of them aren't crazy enough to harm a person just for being pro-choice, or gay, or liberal even - as i stop at the stop sign that has a "lose liberals" sticker on it one block from where i have to park my car. I've honestly never wanted to blend in before. I let out a breath I did not know I'd been holding when we got up to leave. Unfortunately that would not keep me from looking behind me to make sure Tom was following and literally knock one of Les Riley's toddlers to the asphalt in the process. I was panicked and aghast because believe it or not, I'm pro-choice and probably want to have kids. He was fine, he didn't even cry. I was already incredibly on edge, which led me to shout out "Oh my God, I'm SO SORRY!" which probably earned no points as I used the Lord's name in vain. Mrs. Riley (as I am sure she would want to be referred to) assured me that he was fine and for a split second I felt like we were all just people. I wasn't a radical lesbian liberal feminist Christian who enjoys body modification; she wasn't a radical right-wing anti-choice mother of nine who won't wear pants and probably believes she should submit to her husband. For a split second there we were two people concerned about a child who had hit the pavement. People, just people.
That's something I think we all forget when we start thinking about politics. It's something we have to forget to an extent when we become activists for either side. "The enemy" becomes a theory rather than a flesh and blood human being. I fight for her right to choose to have nine children, she wants to take away the right of every other woman to not. It's odd to look into someone's eyes and for a split second forget all of that. In the end, I can give you no solid, statistical, valid reason for not supporting HR3200 because they didn't give one. If there are any, it appears that this particular group of people believe that their skills at playing on your fears, your inability or unwillingness to find out the facts for yourself, and your eagerness to be swept away in mob mentality are much more important than giving you concrete reasons to not support it. I'm pretty sure that alone tells you why you should.