Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cincinnati Health Care Forum Draws Big Crowd, Mixed Emotions

On Tuesday evening, the Hamilton County Democratic Forum held an what was dubbed an "educational program about Health Care" at the 20th Century Theater in the neighborhood of Oakley in Cincinnati, Ohio. The event featured Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) and Jessica McNiece who represented Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and allowed the event to be open to the public so that questions could be asked and so that the issue of health care could be discussed.

As I have reported previously, the past two events which have featured Rep. Driehaus as a speaker, have drawn crowds which have been very vocal in either their support or their resistance to the current health care reforms that are being proposed by members of Congress. While this gathering was not quite the spectacle, many familiar faces were again present to make their voices heard. There were citizens representing the Cincinnati Tea Party organization, the Cincinnati 9/12 Project, Cincinnati Progressive Action, and Planned Parenthood in attendance and contrary to the first public meeting on health care reform, those who are in favor of both a single-payer system or a public option greatly outnumbered those who were advocating against reform.

Security was tight as I entered the 20th Century Theater about a half hour before the event was scheduled to start. I was met at the door by security officials and my bags were inspected before I was allowed to enter. Employees of the theater were also collecting signs and banners that activists had brought to the event and placed them outside so that they could be collected after the conclusion of the forum. As I set up my equipment there were members of the Hamilton County Democratic Forum that were passing out the rules of the evening which included:

- Everyone MUST be respectful of his or her fellow Americans
- No guns, knives or weapons of any kind are allowed in the theater.
- No shouting
- No noises, including, but not limited to: booing, whistling, hissing, etc.
- People who disobey the rules or are in any way discourteous to the speakers or their fellow Americans will be asked to leave, and if necessary, escorted from the building.

Also stated at the top of the handout was the declaration: "This is a private meeting and is not a Town Hall Meeting or a government sponsored event."

These rules, including the rule regarding people being escorted from the building, would come into play later in the evening.

As citizens took their seats in the theater, the atmosphere was relatively calm and the demeanor of the crowd was overall positive. I will refrain from describing much of the content once the forum began as I have posted complete video footage of the event below. The forum consisted of opening remarks from the Hamilton County Democratic Forum, followed by remarks from Rep. Driehaus and Jessica McNiece. Following the opening remarks, a panel of four was present on the stage and each member of the panel had a chance to ask two questions. Following the questions of the panel members, Rep. Driehaus and Ms. McNiece drew cards from a basket. These cards were handed out prior to the event to those who wished to ask a question. The cards were then collected, put in a basket, and chosen at random.

This process allowed for a wide variety of questions to be asked and for some interesting moments throughout the forum. Rep. Driehaus was asked about his own acceptance of campaign funds from the health care industry (which he did not deny and justified by implying that he has to take these contributions due to the way the campaign finance system is set up-Q&A Video 5 at 7:41-) as well as why he was discounting a single-payer health care system. This type of random questioning also allowed for those who oppose health care reform to get a chance to make some of their concerns known. Driehaus received questions regarding abortion, end of life care, and the deficit. Many of these questions elicited some animated exchanges between Driehaus and the crowd. One of these moments came at the 1:11 mark in the Q&A 6 video below.

The evening did not conclude without some fireworks. There was one instance where two gentlemen continually shouted out that Driehaus and other speakers were lying about various issues. I watched as security warned these men about shouting out during the meeting. As the shouts persisted, these two men were kicked out by security. There was another instance where a man jumped to his feet and began shouting as he walked toward the back of the theater, obviously expecting that he would be kicked out for his behavior. Even Jim, as you will recognize from this video which I shot at the first town hall meeting, was kicked out of the event after he shouted out a comment about tort reform (Q&A #8 Video at 1:50). In an interesting moment, Rep. Driehaus actually answered his question as he was being escorted out of the theater while shaking hands with supporters. Jim later appeared outside with a sign that read: "Government Communism are not the solution. They are the problem. Stop the lies, stop the tyranny." A gentleman in a Cincinnati Tea Party shirt congratulated Jim for getting kicked out of the event, labeling Jim his "hero". Shortly after, a woman from England was arguing with another woman who had lived overseas about the quality of government-run health care and Jim yelled the following at the woman who was advocating a single-payer system: "You brought us World War One and World War Two! We don't want your tyranny!"

After the meeting was over, there were several familiar faces that gathered outside the theater to hold up signs to support their cause. "Medicare for All" read one sign while another one read "Single-Payer is Best". Signs against reform were also present and ranged from the sign that Jim carried to "Obamacare = Rationing End of Life Counseling". One woman even stated that the only conversation that you should have at the end of life should be with God; apparently in reference to her opposition for the end of life counseling options that are present within the bills before Congress.

The mood outside the theater after the conclusion of the event was light-hearted with an opponent of reform (who almost got into a fight during the last gathering) yelling "Hi Mom and Dad" at my camera. Even Rep. Driehaus was able to exit through the front door of the theater without being shouted at as he made his way to his car. I encourage you to watch the videos below to see the responses to the questions that were asked especially as the debate over reform is heating up. Congress will be back in session very soon and as we begin to see the White House continue to use language that suggests that the public option may be struck from the bill, it is a good bet that the public will have much more to say about health care reform in the days to come.


Steve Driehaus 1

Steve Driehaus 2

Jessica McNiece

Q & A 1

Q & A 2

Q & A 3

Q & A 4

Q & A 5

Q & A 6

Q & A 7

Q & A 8

Q & A 9

This piece is crossposted here.

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