It was the best of times and it was the worst of times, all depending with whom you spoke Tuesday evening in Alhambra. The meeting Tuesday was perhaps a microcosm of the nation’s pulse on the issue. Amid scattered cat calls and the occasional “recall Schiff”, 29th District Representative Adam Schiff hosted a boisterous and spirited town hall meeting moderated by NBC4’s Dr. Bruce Hensel.
Through the cheers and the jeers, Rep. Schiff attempted to provide an update on the health care proposal (H.R. 3200) currently under consideration in Congress. But opponents would hear nothing of it and hundreds in the audience expressed their disgust with the plan in no uncertain terms.
One African American gentleman who held an altered image of President Obama depicted as Adolph Hitler was in attendance as a representative of the Lyndon H. LaRouche movement, which had no shame in likening the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal to the genocidal policies of Nazi Germany’s Third Reich during the 1940’s.
LaRouche is a long time political figure in the U.S., having run for the office of President in no less than eight elections since 1976, once as a U.S. Labor Party candidate and seven times as a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination.
The volunteers peddling Hitler-moustached Obama swag at Tuesday’s event were there as representatives of the Larouche PAC, a political action committee dedicated to, among other things, the fight against what they call “Obama’s Nazi Health Plan” and a “Campaign Against Green Fascism”, as well as broad economic reforms in the wake of the global credit meltdown.
While Larouche’s supporters have described him as the “greatest living economist” and “a political leader in the tradition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King”, his critics maintain him to be an extremist, conspiracy theorist, and little more than the leader of adevoted political cult.
Speaking with one of the group’s representatives, it became less clear why the group chose to compare President Obama to Adolf Hitler. Mark, a twenty-something LaRouche activist from Los Angeles spoke intelligently about a broad range of global issues from behind a table filled with pamphlets, the cover of which bore a Photoshop-altered image of Obama and Hitler knocking around like old pals in a Nazi bunker. But the issues all seemed unrelated, the group’s focus unclear. That thinking, I was told, was exactly why I “didn’t get it”.
To be sure, extremes on both sides of the issue were out in force Tuesday evening in Alhambra. Several people held signs saying things like, “Obama’s world, No Health Care for Granny”, while others thanked Schiff for supporting the President’s plan.
Someone held up a drawing of a fish with the words “There’s something fishy going on here”, while a retiree held up a sign that read, “I lived in Canada. Guess What? It worked!”
For his part, Rep. Schiff pointed out that the proposed Health Care Plan would not affect anyone’s current insurance circumstances, presuming they were happy with their current provider. He also pointed out that seniors “would not be left to die”, as many have been lead to fear or believe. The democratic congressman attempted to allay fears by pointing out that there has been a lot of heated rhetoric and even more misinformation about the proposed reform.
We spoke with Representative Schiff during a brief respite from jury duty on Wednesday afternoon. When asked about the massive turnout for his Town Meeting on Health Care Reform, Schiff exclaimed that the event had been a “fascinating evening!”
“Initially”, said Schiff, “we went from a modest expectation of 250 attendees, to the outdoor event it became with approximately 2000 people in attendance. Each one brought their passion with them.”
Schiff added that he was pleased with the crowd’s enthusiasm but glad they didn’t manage to drown out the carefully selected panel of distinguished doctors and professionals in the field of health care.
Mr. Schiff went on to say, “I think the crowd was about 50 percent against, perhaps with a little more on our side”, referring to those in favor of the bill.
When asked if he was surprised by the huge turnout, possibly the largest in California thus far on this issue, Schiff replied, “I think it is the nature of this particular issue – a reflection of a dedicated campaign to turn up the volume.” Overall, Schiff said he thought the evening went “very well” and was pleased there were no incidents, threats or arrests.
Health care for illegal aliens also seemed to be a hot topic for some and Victoria Jackson (a Saturday Night Live Alumna) held a sign atop her head that read “Fishy! What’s the Rush? Afraid We’ll READ the Bill?”
Whether or not Ms. Jackson has herself read the 1000 page proposal was not immediately clear. But it can be assumed from the language in her sign that she was in need of more time to complete the task.
The town hall also included a panel discussion with local health care experts. However, with the sheer number of people who attended with their strong and divided opinions in tow Rep. Schiff and the other panelists had somewhat of a difficult time engaging in conversation with the crowd of thousands.
Dr. Benjamin Chu, President Southern California Region, Kaiser; Dr. Richard Brown, Director, UCLA Center for Health Policy and Research and Leeba Lessin, President of CareMore Health Plan were part of the panel that at times people had difficulty hearing due to the raucous audience.
Frequent interruptions didn’t seem to deter Congressman Adam Schiff, and he even joked and told the audience not to be shy about the issue.
The Alhambra Police Dept. had its work cut out for them with numerous small altercations amid the swelling crowd, but for the most part it was a relatively peaceful gathering of two deeply divided factions.
On the home front, Rep. Schiff has been hard at work already on smaller health care initiatives.
On July 24 the House passed the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 3293), which included funding Rep. Schiff helped secure for two non-profit health care service providers in the 29th Congressional District. The funding will help provide critical health care services to local residents.
“During tough economic times like these, many parents struggle to afford health care for their kids and for themselves,” said Schiff. “These funds will help provide a small patch to help those in need, while we in Congress work to overhaul our health care system to ensure all citizens receive the care they need.”
The Community Health Alliance of Pasadena (CHAP) will receive $100,000 for its Education & Counseling Center.
The funds will be used to renovate space at the Center and provide an alternative to hospital emergency room usage by families who lack the financial means to pay for health services. The center provides individual counseling, group support and education to low income families. There are more than 200,000 residents in CHAP’s primary service area which covers Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre. It is estimated that about one-in-four residents lack health insurance, with many living below the poverty level.
“Federal support for the CHAP Education and Counseling Center will positively impact the overall health of our community’s low-income, uninsured and unemployed residents, said Margaret B. Martinez, CEO of CHAP. “The integration of behavioral health services with primary medical care will help our chronically ill patients better manage their conditions.”
Photographs by Terry Miller