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Ordinary Americans Continue to Deliver Progressive Messages at Republican Town Hall Meetings

Two years ago, a concerted effort by a corporate-funded Tea Party movement to get conservatives out to town hall meetings changed the dynamic in Washington on health care reform and paved the way for the eventual House GOP takeover in the 2010 elections. In two separate work periods this year, ordinary citizens, with absolutely no help or encouragement from an organized progressive movement, have made their voices heard at town hall meetings, in particular by harassing conservative lawmakers about their plans to end Medicare and put forward a balanced budget amendment, as well as their opposition to tax fairness. If this organic movement were happening on the right, it would be front-page news in every national newspaper in the country. We know because the distinctly non-organic movement in 2009 was front-page news.

In order to find out about this movement, you have to go to local news sites. The Dickinson Press, Dickinson, North Dakota:

(North Dakota Republican Rep. Rick) Berg said he voted for the (debt limit) package because of one provision added in the final hours of debate: a requirement that both houses of Congress vote on a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Berg said he believes it “is the one thing out there that can get our country back on track.”

However, several residents criticized Berg’s position, saying the amendment won’t solve immediate problems — like getting unemployed Americans back to work.

“The balanced budget amendment is like trying to drain a lake to save a drowning person,” West Fargo resident Darrel Lund said. “People are in trouble now.”

Lund said Congress ought to have just raised the debt ceiling as they were tasked to do, instead of adding to the problem through political deadlock.

“That’s what’s caused uncertainty — that Congress can’t even do one thing,” Lund said to applause. “They had to make a political statement.”

The Duluth News Tribune, Duluth, Minnesota:

(Republican Rep. Chip) Cravaack said he wanted to bring down the tax rate to 25 percent for small businesses because higher taxes are passed on to consumers or result in layoffs.

Audience member Dave Garshelis of Cohasset said President George W. Bush tried that plan and it didn’t work.

“Is this an experiment or a concept or do you have information from somewhere that shows this works?” he asked. “I’m wondering when the jobs are going to happen.”

Cravaack said he wants reduced taxes with the addition of tax reform. He said jobs went to places like Mexico and China because of high taxes in the U.S.

Kevin Kooiker of Pequot Lakes wasn’t so sure of Cravaack’s answer and said the tax rate today is lower than it’s been in years. He said major corporations are known to be sitting on sizeable amounts of money instead of creating new jobs.

“People need to get more money in their pockets,” he said. “The stimulus bill was way too small.”

KOLD, Tuscon, Arizona:

(John McCain) said, “Sir, you’ve got to let me finish and then I’ll let you talk. Ok? Remember what I said at the beginning. So let me just finally say, let’s cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent.”

The boos and cat calls then rang out.

One man asked, “Why do you believe that tax breaks to the wealthy create jobs?”

McCain found himself answering variations of that question all through the town hall.

WBRE, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania:

A group of protesters rallied outside a Chamber of Commerce breakfast attended by Congressman Lou Barletta in Wilkes-Barre Tuesday morning.

They say they were having a tough time getting Barletta to answer their questions directly– so they got creative.

The group of about 10 ralliers came armed with personal stories of their own hardships– and cardboard cutouts of the congressman.

They say the cut-outs haven’t provided any answers– in their opinion, just like the real lawmaker.

They chanted, “Lou…where are the jobs? Lou…where are the jobs?”

Silver City Sun-News, Silver City, New Mexico:

A woman stormed out of Congressman Steve Pearce’s town hall meeting Tuesday night at the Silver City Senior Center, after calling Pearce a liar and saying “You’re just (BSing) everyone and we don’t buy it.”

“He got off on the wrong foot with me because he started to lie because he said the reason we got downgraded by S&P was because of our deficit,” said Anne Nitopi of Silver City. “That’s not the reason. Those very credit agencies approved junk bonds that turned out to not be worth the paper they were printed on, which created a financial collapse. The government’s inability to compromise is the reason they downgraded us. He took the debt ceiling debate and linked it to the debate about a budget and our deficit. They allowed the Tea Party extremists to threaten our country with default.” […]

A person before her had said that he heard the 400 wealthiest families in the U.S. had more money than 90 percent of the population and that 80 percent of Americans support a balanced approach to balancing the budget – meaning cutting spending and raising taxes – but Pearce said he vowed that he would never raise taxes.

WKRC, Cincinnati, Ohio:

The protesters wanted to ask (Rep. Steve) Chabot about Ohio jobs. Rally organizers claim that Hamilton and Butler counties lost 57,000 jobs this past year. We made calls to both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services. They say that number is incorrect and that the entire state lost 35,000 jobs.

Despite the numbers, those taking part in the rally say Congress has done a poor job creating work for those in the middle class. “They campaign on message of creating jobs and bringing America back to glory, yet not seeing that happen. In fact, we see benefits go to top 2 percent of country.”

Lincoln Journal-Star, Lincoln, Nebraska:

“The wealthy just hoard the cash.”

“The old tax rates worked well for the economy under Clinton.”

“Quit listening to the scare tactics, all the crap in the media.”

Jennifer Wendelin, who waited to be recognized by (Sen. Mike) Johanns before voicing her opinion, said additional revenue has to be part of the debt reduction solution along with spending cuts.

“Big corporations and the rich have to pay their fair share,” she said after the meeting had concluded. “If we have to bite the bullet, they do, too.

“We can’t be forced to shoulder the entire burden,” she said.

This is just a representative sample. One person compiling results found over 100 news items on protests like this.

These Americans are coming forward without a compelling, overriding narrative to draw from. They’re picking up bits and pieces of information and comparing it to their everyday lives. But the overall message is remarkably similar. It says that government has a role to play in fixing the economy, that increased revenues on the rich to reduce their political economy as much as their share of national wealth would be a positive step, that people are seeing their labor and livelihoods extracted by the top 2% and they cannot stand it. This is a message about inequality, about fairness, about the need for a priority on job creation. It’s representative of a very basic and fundamental set of values that have been endemic to America for a long time. And it’s representative of a frustration that nobody in Washington shares those values.

If only this sentiment could be concentrated, if only these people organized, if only their voices heard!

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David Dayen

David Dayen