Public condemnation of bully tactics works.
I love Long Island, the fact that we live on an island and it seems like we only have 2 degrees of separation from each other instead of the usual 6 degrees.
I love Long Islanders, and I really loved them today. As I am typing this, I am sitting in the car about 20 feet away from a big health care rally. Both sides, or should I say all sides of the question are here, wearing goofy hats and carrying signs. There is even a guy playing the bagpipes.
Yes We Can LI sponsored a "honk if you want health care reform" rally at the corner of Jericho Turnpike and Route 110 on the Suffolk side of the Nassau/Suffolk border. The Teabaggers showed up, in force.
I was actually a bit apprehensive as I drove to this event expecting to see the two sides on opposite sides of the street, bitterly hostile to each other and perhaps inclined toward violence, what I actually found instead renewed my hope about how we islanders treat each other.
I saw people from Suffolk County 9-12 (a right of center group that wants to maintain the spirit of patriotism that existed in the day after 9-11) standing next to people from Planned Parenthood, who were standing next to people from the Conservative Society for Action standing next to people from the Long Island Coalition for a National Health Plan. People were all mingled together, instead of huddled in their own groups. Similar comingling and civility happened elsewhere today.
More to the point, I saw them actually talking TO each other, not AT each other. They were not just talking about health care. I overheard a conversation about Walt Whitman’s poetry collection "Leaves of Grass" (we were near the Walt Whitman Mall).
Think about that, two people each carrying signs at opposite ends of the health care debate spectrum, stopped in the middle of all the noise to discuss poems written by a transcendentalist "free lover" and fellow Long Islander. THAT’s the America I want to live in.
There were also teabaggers comparing notes about car models that qualified for the "cash for clunkers" trade-in that they intended to participate in. I know which side the people in that conversation were on, because they were wearing the red shirts that the LI teabaggers have chosen for identification.
As I was filming, standing in the busy street, people from both sides kept watch for coming cars, worried that some harm might come to me.
This is not the story I thought I would be writing when I got up this morning. I thought I was going to be writing a story about how things were getting increasingly uglier. But I think the reverse is true. The Tim Bishop on June 27th Town Hall event totally followed the game plan memo sent out by Dick Armey’s flying monkeys. It was disgraceful.
The Bellmore train station Gazebo was less confrontational. In fact, the only really really crazy vicious stuff came from Pam Geller. The other two teabag speakers, said things I disagree with and spewed a ton of disinformation, but they also acknowledged the need for health care reform and expressed a sincere love of country.
At today’s event, people are shouting their slogans "hands off health care" and "health care for all," but other than that — and a guy from some veteran’s group who called me a commie when he found out I was from FDL — people have been more respectful that I expected; and the longer they are out here in the sun, the more they seem to be engaging with one another and connecting on the things they have in common — rather than the things that divide them.
I’m not suggesting this is a love fest; it’s not, far from it. But I am seeing these protests de-escalating in venom and increasing in shared humanity. It seems that the Dick Armey’s manufactured Astroturf venom is losing its potency as we Islanders are reminded what very close neighbors we all are.