National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation's

Local, Regional and National Events

bringing the growing dialogue & deliberation community together

Skip to main content.

Violence and Incivility at Town Hall Meetings on Health Care… What Can the D&D Community Do?    

We’ve been having a rich discussion today about this on the main NCDD listserv (subscribe by sending a blank message to ), and I wanted to post my initial message to the blog as well…

David Campt sent me a message yesterday with a link to a Huffington Post news story about how labor unions are organizing so their members can take on conservative Tea Party protesters and others planning to protest all of the town halls and other events on health insurance reform going on during the congressional recess.

A memo from AFL-CIO President John Sweeney states “The principal battleground in the campaign will be town hall meetings and other gatherings with members of Congress in their home districts,” reads the memo. “We want your help to organize major union participation to counter the right-wing ‘Tea-Party Patriots’ who will try to disrupt those meetings, as they’ve been trying to do to meetings for the last month.”

A follow-up memo from AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka accuses conservatives groups of being corporate-funded, and says “These mobs are not there to participate. As their own strategy memo states, they have been sent by their corporate and lobbyist bankrollers to disrupt, heckle and block meaningful debate….  Mob rule is not democracy. People have a democratic right to express themselves and our elected leaders have a right to hear from their constituents — not organized thugs whose sole purpose is to shut down the conversation and attempt to scare our leaders into inaction.”

The Huffington Post article noted that “A showdown between unions and grassroots conservative organizations could make for an August full of fireworks, with even more dysfunctional town hall meetings.

David asked me if it would “make sense for NCDD to try to position itself as a process expert to try to turn these events into something other than a chance for an explosive physical confrontation? I am not exactly sure how to do that, but this looks like a very ugly set of conditions being set in motion.”

NCDD Board member Leanne Nurse (EPA) then emailed me this morning with a link to this news piece on the Fox News website, which described how town hall meeting on health care reform held yesterday in a Tampa, Florida suburb erupted into shouting and violence as angry opponents clashed with event organizers.  She was wondering if any NCDD members had more information about what happened in Tampa.

There is a lot more to this story – including spin from both the Left and the Right and a lack of substantial information being presented to the public via the media (and now that town halls are becoming violent, the media will focus even more on the violence and not the substance of the issue).  It all adds up to democracy at its worst, which makes me wonder what our role is in all of this.

I’d like to know, first of all, if any of you are planning health care events involving people from all sides of the political spectrum?  Are you organizing forums that allow people to talk about the proposed bill in any depth?  Are any of you holding events that are open to the public and could potentially be well-attended?

If so, let’s share information about those events on the listserv. I’ll share what any events sent to the listserv on the NCDD site, on Facebook and Twitter, etc. to get the word out a little more that alternative, more democratically designed events are being planned.

If your efforts produce new stories we can use about how anger and dissension was diffused because all sides sat down together and were able to talk to each other civilly, I think we have the potential for getting some real PR for quality public engagement work.

Of course, if people are worked up into a frenzy before they get to an event, it may be near impossible to even get people to sit down and start talking to each other.  Have any of you experienced this in your work before?  How have you handled it?

What else do you folks think “we” should do, as a community of practice?  What’s possible and do-able in this short timeframe?  What can we do to better react to situations like this one in the future?  This is a scary situation for our democracy, but our community has so much to offer.

Here's What 2 People Had To Say...

RSS feed for comments on this post.TrackBack URI

  1. Comment added by Sandy Heierbacher on August 7, 2009:

    Here’s one comment someone sent me via email that didn’t go out to the listserv…

    The botched town halls bother me a lot — I wish we could get a talking head onto olbermann or chris matthews to say “Hey! we don’t have to give up or give in, there is a better way.”

  2. Comment added by Sandy Heierbacher on August 7, 2009:

    Nick Troiano posted this comment and link on facebook (the blog posts here are published to my Facebook Wall)…

    There should be a document of best practices from facilitating deliberative discussions at town halls distributed to Congressmen and their staffs. Politicians want to be heard, but they also need to listen.

    Here is something that just happened in my home town:’s-rep-hammered-in-pike/

Leave a comment...

© 2003-2010 National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation.
Learn more about us or explore this site.