August 6th, 2009
01:55 PM ET
9 years ago

Liberal groups launch town hall counteroffensive

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Liberal groups are sending supporters detailed instructions on strategies to counter what they call organized disruptions of congressional town halls - events that have become new front lines in the fight over President Obama's health care proposal.

Conservative groups critical of the overhaul headed into the August recess with their own battle plans for the events, sending opponents of the Democratic approach to health care reform information like links to search engines and lists that relayed the locations of upcoming town halls; confrontational questions to ask members of Congress; and chants and slogans to use in and around the venues.

The increasingly tense face-offs have grabbed headlines, and national Democrats have spent the week highlighting reports of everything from rowdy crowds to physical assaults and death threats directed at lawmakers who are current or prospective backers of the president's plan.

Over the past few days, groups like Health Care for America Now, the AFL-CIO - which is describing the town halls as the "principal battleground" in the health care fight - and Organizing for America, the president's campaign arm at the Democratic National Committee, have sent supporters logistical tips for dealing with any hostile conservative presence at the town halls, and for organizing lobbying efforts to neutralize their impact.

OFA sent its e-mail list a message Thursday that pointed to the protests as a fresh hurdle that called for a concerted push to contact members of Congress in response. "The goal of these disruptions is for a few people to get a lot a media attention and hijack the entire public discourse," wrote executive director Mitch Stewart. The message identifies the lawmaker who represents the specific congressional district of the e-mail recipient, and provides contact information.

A new campaign by the group also asks supporters to make their presence felt at town hall meetings. "Our congressional representatives are back home this month, and they’re facing more and more pressure from special interests on health insurance reform. It’s critical that we get out there and show them where we stand," says an OFA e-mail.

HCAN – the massive umbrella organization that represents the lobbying effort on behalf of major progressive groups and unions like MoveOn, the NAACP, and the SEIU – has given its supporters instructions on their own set of defensive town hall tactics.

The group advises them to coordinate event-day strategy in advance with congressional aides; arrive far earlier than opponents and gather "in the front to create a wall around the Member"; and to assign individuals to shadow reporters and "be assertive in shaping the narrative." It provides suggested questions and possible chants to use in drowning out raucous opponents.

The instructions also offer "precautions to make sure that you can keep meetings you organize under control." Those guidelines include making sure attendees are "easily identifiable"; establishing a strictly-controlled question-asking protocol; and banning and collecting any signs and leaflets that they have not issued themselves.

"Plan for disturbances and assign marshals," say the guidelines. "Make sure that you assign marshals to take care of moving the crowd, keeping people organized and orderly, and acting as security should any need arise to ask noisy or disruptive protesters to leave. If you have cause to think that you will need more back-up, notify the police ahead of time."

Opponents of the Obama plan have taken note of the new efforts. Thursday afternoon, conservative blog RedState noted that a Democratic Florida congresswoman had scheduled a "last-minute town hall" in an effort to "avoid middle class workers opposed to Obamacare."

"She'll be surrounded by union goons from the SEIU to feed middle class voters to alligators if they dare criticize Obamacare," said the blog, which advised readers who lived in the area that "you should show up. Just remember, the union goons are going to do their best to pick fights with you so they can get video for TV a proof that you guys are a mob. Don't let them win, but get your questions asked."

Moderate Democrats and fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats in particular are being targeted with lobbying campaigns, millions of dollars in radio and television ads, and grassroots pressure from both parties and groups across the political spectrum over the August recess, as Congress continues to weigh the president's proposed overhaul of the nation's health care system.

Filed under: Health care
soundoff (108 Responses)
  1. DiBiase/Bad Newz, VA

    If I were the congress people, I would send out fake town hall locations.

    August 6, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  2. cnn=right wing media

    Please fellow democrats bring your wmd to those metings

    August 6, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  3. reggie

    Liberals are acting like cry-babies. They behaved much more "mob-like" durning the past 8 years. At least, the new protests are legitimate.

    August 6, 2009 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  4. aware

    Obama is an extremely poor communicator.

    He can't listen – he doesn't hear – he just dictates! He refuses to tolerate anything but his own voice! 😦

    August 6, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  5. Wanted Posters

    We will find out who these paid shills for the industry are and where they live.

    August 6, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  6. Rick in OP


    The same terms used by the DNC and the White House to describe some attendees of recent town hall meetings were once used to describe my distant relatives who fought the British in the American Revolution. I dare say, at the same time, the ancestors of many on the Left were living on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, groveling under the boot of some tyrannical power. Evidently, having a dependency upon and being submissive to a central power authority is a family tradition for some in our country. I can assure you it is not a trait that runs in our family.

    The DNC and the White House have no clue as to what they have just stirred up. I encourage them to continue with the derogatory rhetoric. We take their insults as compliments of the highest order.

    August 6, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  7. HonestMistake

    And this is different from what they claim the GOP is doing how?

    August 6, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  8. single mom

    And what happens if 'something' happens? People of opposing views in an enclosed space tend to get riled up and try to push each other's buttons. I'm willing to bet that by the end of this August recess that at least three townhall meetings have scuffles.

    Is it so hard for leftie/liberals to accept that not everyone follows their beliefs? Why is it that those who preach 'tolerance for all' can't tolerate anyone who believes differently?

    Last time I checked this was still a country where you could speak your mind. Just no threatening anyone. That's a sign of weakness and lack of class.

    August 6, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  9. arithmetic is liberal

    It's very easy. Let these people stand outside and chant all they want But check the IDs outside the door. These town halls for specific congressmen should be for district member's only! Not for bussed-in hate radio mouth pieces.

    Who should check the ID's? Why YOU of course!! GET INVOLVED!!!

    August 6, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  10. Obama Victim

    DNC sending in the Brown Shirts.....................can the SS be far behind??

    August 6, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  11. carlo

    Good. A town hall meeting should afford both sides a chance to ask questions and to speak. When one side tries to terrorize and intimidate the other side into silence or to sabatoge, then fix it. Hats off to the unions. People make fun of unions, but if they want to see a workforce without a union, check out the sweatshops of Mumbai, Taiwan, and China.

    August 6, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  12. Predicta

    Waste of time since these people are democrats voicing their opposition to their own party. Republicans have little, if anything to do with this. I was at my democratic congressman's gathering in a New York City precinct over the weekend. Ninety-nine percent of the people there were democrats and were not pleased with the responses our congressman was giving us on health care. Many retorted that they would make it their mission to unseat him if he votes for this legislation.

    August 6, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  13. Ken from missouri

    This is way out of control this is a recipe for disaster.

    August 6, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  14. Lisa in FL

    In the immortal words (and book) of Jack Cafferty: "It's getting ugly out there"!

    August 6, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  15. Former Military

    Thank goodness! Finally, Democrats willing to step up and fight fire with fire. I am so proud to be a member of the Democratic party! Where do I sign up to be a part of the teams going out?! It is sad that the other side has created a situation where adult discussion and rational conversation is no longer a possibility, but, let's end this technique of theirs and see if we can help restore civility to politcal discourse. Maybe, just maybe, the media will promote that concept. Oh yeah, I forgot, the media is basically taking cues from the Jerry Springer show these days. Thanks CNN!

    August 6, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  16. phoenix86

    So now we see an organized liberal offensive against a rather unorganized by vocal group who dare to question the current administrations' policies.

    Liberals and dems are increasingly intollerant.

    August 6, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  17. Angus McDugan

    Sounds like a low grade and non-violent civil war.

    August 6, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  18. Robert

    If you want to see how a civilized country conducts town meeting look a the picture and article in today's NY Times showing Japanese men an women leaving their shoes at the doorway of the meeting room, and quietly sitting on the floor waiting to have the exchange with their representative.

    I guess American troops after World War II taught Japan a better brand of democracy than we conduct in our own intolerant country.

    Too bad for America.

    Japan has been around for thousands of years, and the US only 200.

    Maybe some day we will learn to be civil to each other, but I doubt it.

    August 6, 2009 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  19. Mr. Moderate

    That noise you hear is the founding fathers spinning in their graves.

    What ever happened to rational discourse? Come America grow up and think!

    August 6, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  20. Maria - Proud Democrat

    So now we are encouraging people to get in each others face and start a fight?

    Will these organizations be taking responsibility when a full blown riot break out and an innocent bystander gets hurt?

    I was planning to attend a health care meeting being held in our city next week and support the President and healthcare.

    However, with these new instructions coming out.....the last thing I want to do is be in the middle of a full blown riot.

    Additionally if anyone gets hurt I hope criminal charges are brought up against those who are promoting violence and rioting.

    August 6, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  21. writegirl

    It is so interesting that conservatives who consider themselves "patriotic" are now joining in a mob effort to deny others freedom of speech. I guess to them, people are only free to speak if they agree with their point of view. When will poor and middle class conservatives wise up and realize that they are being used by the wealthy (and yes elitist) Sean Hannitys and Rush Limbaughs of the world. When will they learn to speak and work for their own best economic interests instead of promoting the interests of rich people who could care less about them.

    August 6, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  22. Jackie

    The hipocracy is that the Liberal Groups have been disruptive to all Republican speakers from day one. The Conservative Groups have for the most part, been respectful. The problem in this case is that the people are not having a choice, having a Healthcare Policy rammed down their throat, and no one on either sides knows what's even in the bill. Not to mention our Congressman have come right out and said they will use a judgment call because they don't have the time or will not take the time to even read what's in such an important bill. Big differences in what the Republicans are being vocal on vs. what Democrats are vocal on.

    August 6, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  23. Skip, a black man

    Obama needs to step down!

    August 6, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  24. George

    The greedy will spend millions to save billions. America better realize that the health care people do not want change. That means they lose money and we get better coverage. Do you understand why they are sending goons to these town hall meetings. They are sending people more stupid than Joe the Plumber if that is possible.

    August 6, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  25. Mississippi Mike

    This is too good to be true. Republicans have been confronting their elected officials demanding answers to relevant questions and have been accused of being tools of lobbyists. Liberal activitst groups (i.e. lobbyists) have rallied their professional protesters to confront Republicans who are voicing their concerns to their elected officials. Who is guilty of inciting riots here? Is it the citizens demanding answers or the shock troopers being moblized to confront them?

    August 6, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
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