TOWN HALL PROTESTS ARE AMERICAN, TOO

I have no illusions about protesters at the recent town hall meetings on health care.

Some are fueled by angry conservative groups. Some are hopped up on radio hosts’ rants and ravings. Some are Barack Obama haters. Some use one piece of wrong information to smear an entire event.

And some just think the whole idea of government health care stinks.

But all of them – all of them – have the right to be there, and the right to their point of view. Liberal-minded thinkers who regularly speak up for the poor and underprivileged cannot suddenly yank the rug when it comes to free speech for others.

No matter what I think of national health care – no matter what you think, either – it is an issue that affects everyone, and everyone should have the same right to talk, argue or shout about it.

The fact that some are doing so in an impolite, abrasive way is unfortunate.

But then, there is precedent. The golden era of protests

Let’s be honest. Those of us who grew up in the 1960s took great pride in storming events and yelling slogans. We didn’t care who we interrupted. We were, in our minds, right and proud and arguing for our beliefs. And we look back on that era now with a certain pride. We were engaged. We were involved. We gave a damn.

Well, some of us are the same people now offended by critics shouting, “Socialism!” or, “Kill the bill!” at these town hall meetings. We chide the protesters for lacking all the facts or for looking out for only their small group’s interests.

But ask yourself, did we always have all the information when we did the shouting? Did we always read all the fine print? Probably not. We had our basic core beliefs (Stop the war! Save the environment! More rights for women!) and we fought for them whenever we perceived an enemy.

Well, like it or not, people perceive an enemy when they hear about a government health-care plan. Especially one so complex, confusing and undercooked that no one can really say what it will or won’t allow, or who will or won’t pay for it.

And so they yell. And if they are yelling incorrect facts, it is the burden of those hosting these events (usually Democratic lawmakers) to correct them.

And if they are yelling they hate it, they don’t want it – well, what’s wrong with that? The price of democracy

Now, I know some of these protesters are sent by dubiously named groups like Americans for Prosperity, which sounds harmless enough, until you check and see the group’s leader once organized for Enron and worked with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

I know these groups often hand out instructions on how to be disruptive.

And I know some people just want to see Obama – and any of his plans – fail.

But that’s what America is. That’s what town halls are for. And let’s be honest, politicians try to orchestrate these events as much as protesters do. The only problem I have is when people won’t let others speak or come only to disrupt. That’s not right. That’s not democracy.

But the rest is. If you feel other people are ill-informed, take the time to try to correct them. If you feel others are shouting to bring down a cause, shout to bring it up.

But I would rather live in a place where people questioned what their government proposed rather than swallowing it blindly – especially a government whose members guard our tax money while taking bribes, shout morality and then get caught with their pants down, or lecture businessmen about private planes and then order a bunch for themselves.

What did Democrats expect with a bill like this? Roses and hosannas? Many who supported Obama’s campaign promises of health care for everyone wouldn’t have done so if they read how he now plans to pay for and administer it.

It may not be pretty, but shouting and confrontations are part of this country. They have been from the start. More manners would be better. But silence would be worse.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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