What: Town Hall Meeting
When: Thursday, August 25, 2005 at 7:00 PM
Where: A church in an uppity, historic neighborhood in Houston
Shelia Jackson Lee is a Democrat who represents Texas 18 in the United States House.
I have a few spare weeks in the Bayou City and decided to nix Happy Hour and my weekly session of playing poker at the home for the visually offensive for a Town Hall Meeting Hosted by Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee. This Town Hall Meeting was titled Iraq: Where Do We Go From Here?
I enjoy meeting politicians - I’ve met scores – and rarely pass an opportunity. And, of course, I enjoy primary sources. After all, these people make laws. So off I went.
Upon arriving a few minutes prior to 7PM, I was greeted by pink-veiled members of Code Pink reciting names of those KIA in Iraq.
Several tables were set up in the lobby by organizations such as the Harris County Democrat Party, Code Pink Houston, Democracy for Houston, and others. All had brochures and such and were asking for donations.
I settled in the front row - where signs reading Reserved for the disabled.
A man sat next to me. I can only conclude he was mentally disabled – more on that to come later. Between his non-stop incoherent babbling and disorganized armloads full of Lyndon LaRouche PAC materials flying everywhere, I wished I attended Happy Hour.
LaRouche Looney tried to knock me up for a donation within several minutes by saying “have you got five or ten dollars to spare.” I asked if he takes American Express Traveler’s Checks.
He asked what I do for a living. I told him I do things other people won’t do. He paused for a moment, gave me a confused look, and then continued his futile banter.
Between accosting every passer-by with his brochures, LaRouche Looney was babbling away about this country’s gave economic state, the consequences of NAFTA, South America, and how bad Dick Cheney wants to wage war with Iran.
I spent the next half hour making small talk with my other seatmate and those behind me. it was hard to do, with Looney interrupting “Cheney blah blah war blah blah Iran.” I would have been more than happy to have an intelligent discussion with Looney, but he seemed to have the attention span of mayonnaise.
Finally, a few people dressed in religious garb paraded up on stage. They proceeded to sing a knockoff of We Are The World. I first thought this was going to be a general welcome type religious hymn. But when I heard the line “We are gay and lesbian people” in the song – I thought WTF? Did I get the wrong address? And WTF does that have to do with Iraq?
A few demographics of the Town Hall Meeting:
200 (myself doing a very accurate estimate and 4 independent guesses)
10% Black, Hispanic, Asian and the venerable “other”
Dichotomy – either young (2000 or 2004 was probably the first Presidential Election they were eligible to vote) or AARP members.
• Crowd was well dressed
• Most I interacted with very well spoken
• Many GLBT crowd
• Presumably (I hate that word) high education level/high mobility
Shelia Jackson Lee took the stage and after a brief speech, introduced the panel of *experts.*
The Panel of *experts*
JEFF NORMAN – Independent Filmmaker, Exec Dir. Of US Tour of Duty. Bragged with no remorse about an incident in which he attempted to accost Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld outside the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills earlier this month. Secret Service agents intervened and Norman equated this to the Bush administration hiding from the truth and not wanting to answer questions.
TIM GOODRICH - USAF vet (Afghanistan), co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Norman and Goodrich showed a few film clips.
The first showed Goodrich and a Gold Star Dad protesting outside a Los Angeles Elementary school which General Tommy Franks was delivering a speech. After General Franks and aids entered a black SUV, a handful of protesters surrounded it, pounding on doors and windows. Two of the protesters (the Gold Star dad and another) stood in front of the SUV, preventing it from moving (eerily similar to that Unknown Rebel in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989).
Within a few minutes, the LAPD showed up and the party was over. Note: No weapons of any sort were brandished, the protesters backed off at the first sight of the LAPD.
At this scene, a woman said General Franks is “in there recruiting school children” pointing at the school. Goodrich stated parents were not notified of General Franks’ appearance at the school.
(I don’t know how the heck Goodrich and his band of protestors found out about it).
The second film clip was a series of alternating shots of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Most of these video clips were POTUS’ various pronunciations of nuclear and of the “we’re gonna smoke ‘em out” nature. Cheney’s clips consisted of him muted making gestures and ONE of him clearly saying Iraq has “weapons of mass destruction.”
NADIA McCAFFREY – Gold Star Mom, the mother of Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey, KIA in Iraq 22 JUN 04. She is a member of Gold Star Families for Peace and Military Families Speak Out.
MEL GOODMAN - Former CIA and State Dept. Official, vocal critic of the current administration, author of The Failure of Oversight, The Politicization of Intelligence, and The Danger of a Corporate Culture for Intelligence among other books. Has appeared on Nightline, Lehrer Newshour, and CNN. Currently a senior fellow for the Center for International Policy in Washington D.C.
AIMEE ALLISON - Conscientious Objector in the Persian Gulf War. Joined the Army for college money, but changed her mind. A self proclaimed military counselor who travels the country teaching other soldiers how to become conscientious objectors. Currently running for Oakland (CA) City Council.
CHAS DAVIS - Conscientious objector served 2 years in Korea. His two main grudges seem to be uranium’s half life of 4.8 billion years and his Commanding Officer’s tendency to frequent brothels (Yes, that’s what he spent his allotted time talking about).
Each spoke for 10 to 15 minutes, with SJL moderating and offering a few words between speakers.
During this time, there were two guest callers.
- Cindy Sheehan called and was put on the loudspeaker. She briefly described her plight in Crawford and thanked the crowd for attending.
- Joan Baez called and was also put on loudspeaker. She sang one of her hit songs then after a speech sang America The Beautiful.
SJL equated the anti-Iraq war movement to the Civil Rights Movement.
(Apples and auras, IMHO)
SJL and others circulated several petitions throughout the evening. Notable was SJL’s letter to President Bush urging media access to flag draped coffins and a petition pushing for a Department of Peace.
Into the evening, I noticed a young lady seated behind me holding a sign. The sign said Cheney Wants New 9/11.
Amiee Allison conducted herself is a very confident manner. She conveyed (in her mind) she is providing an invaluable service by traveling around the country helping soldiers obtain Conscious Objector status. By her tone and the way she handled herself, I would’ve thought she earned a chest full of metals. She received voracious applause and a standing ovation.
Nadia McCaffery (one of the Gold Star moms) - very even-keeled and accepting of the fact that her son was KIA. She is all for a timeline, looking forward.
Mel Goodman (CIA guy) - great speaker. Also for a timeline and very accepting of the fact we are in Iraq and looking forward.
These two did not spend time bitching nonstop about Bush/Cheney+Halliburton=Iraq.
Throughout speeches, Looney kept blurting out words and phrases, reacting to what SJL and other presenters said.
When the panel of *experts* finished presenting, SJL fielded questions. At this time, Lyndon Looney jumped from his seat, waving both of his arms, begging to get his question in first. Much to his disappointment, SJL chose someone else. She took several other questions before finally calling on Looney.
At this point, he broke into a two minute long monologue that was a summary of his rants. Although it dealt with issues such as South America, uranium, Iran, and Halliburton, I do not recall Iraq even being mentioned (the topic of this Town Hall). Of course, he answered his own question in this process.
SJL simply said “Mel, I’ll have you take that one.” (in reference to the former CIA analyst). Mel Goodman started to answer the opus quite eloquently. While speaking, Lonely interrupted with his same banter yet rephrased and was quickly met by loud jeers from the audience. Mel continued with a few more sentences, then diverted back to SJL, who took the next question.
A few other audience members asked brief questions such as “Why don’t we impeach President Bush?”
SJL answered that by saying the majority in Congress is not favorable of such.
The Q&A session then turned into other audience members saying “hi mom” and pitching their various (most would say delusional) causes.
The meeting then ventured outside for a candlelight vigil, not before an invitation to return to view more of Michael Moore wanna-be’s work after the pyrotechnics show.
I’d had enough and decided to call it a night. Cold beers were calling.
Upon leaving, Chas Davis was standing nearby. A man approached him, shook his hand, and said you are a hero.
I cannot find an appropriate phrase to describe the Town Hall Meeting other than absolutely mind-blowing.
Even more mind-blowing is a United States Member of Congress hosted these people – apparently she has no aspirations of higher office.
Out of the 200 in attendance – a show of hands at SJL’s request – SIX vets. Six out of 200.
In the lobby, organizers from various groups were voraciously soliciting donations. There was two 5-gallon bottles stuffed with various denomination bills – most of the $5, $10, and $20 variety.
Visible at the Town Hall Meeting were the following: one uniformed Houston Police Officer, one uniformed Harris County Sheriffs Deputy, and one very bulky guy in a suit. The HPD Officer stood professionally attentive near the stage, while the other two roved the church.
Speechless, I sucked back a few cold ones that evening.
[Edited 2005-08-30 00:03:09]