EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the coming month, ThinkProgress will be traveling to town hall events across the country to report on what we’re seeing on the ground. This is the first of what we hope will be many eyewitness reports. If you’re attending town halls in your area or see any interesting coverage of them, please email us and let us know.
Despite the raucous crowds that many Democratic lawmakers have been facing in recent weeks, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) decided to go ahead with his town hall meeting at 7:00 p.m. at Towson University yesterday. The venue could hold only 500 people, and by 5:30, the event was completely filled (even though doors weren’t supposed to open until 6:00). Hundreds of other hopeful attendees were shut out.
ThinkProgress attended the protests at Towson, which were loud and crowded hours before the event. Picketers were holding signs reading “Health Care Not Death Care” and “Illegal Immigrants Love Obama Care.” “Public option is no option,” “Cardin come outside,” and “Obama does not care” were popular chants by the anti-reform protesters. Although picketers with signs were supposed to be restricted to the sidewalks along the main street, people soon moved their way up the hill toward the building venue, where shouting matches between pro- and anti-reform crowds broke out. Watch it:
The town hall protest was a hotbed for right-wing myths. We overheard at least one person yelling out, “Obama’s not even a citizen!” On health care, ThinkProgress spoke with several people who believed that Sarah Palin was right to warn about President Obama’s “death panels” and a government system would allow people to die while waiting for care. Watch it:
Many of the protesters had heard about the town hall meeting on local radio station WBAL. Another woman with whom ThinkProgress spoke said that she was an active member of tea party organizations, which were promoting the event, and another woman said that she gets “all of my news from Fox News” and had heard about the town hall on the local Fox station.
Only two groups had exhibition tables set up outside the event: Lyndon LaRouche supporters and the lobbyist-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP). When ThinkProgress asked an AFP worker whether the group helped organize the protests, he replied, “Yes.” He said that the protesters were “part of our crowd.” Another AFP staff member said that they had encouraged their members to come to the event, but didn’t formally bus people in. On its website, AFP Maryland had been telling its members to ask “tough questions” but “participate in [a] respectful manner.”
Some photos of the AFP booth and other protest signs (including some comparing Democrats to the Nazis):
During the actual town hall meeting, Cardin was reportedly “booed and jeered repeatedly throughout his 25-minute presentation and the question-and-answer period.” At one point, four police officers had to stand in front of the stage. Watch video of the event here.