DC residents: You have no vote in the House of Representatives. You have no vote in the Senate. You have no official say on how the health care insurance system will be reformed. You are second class citizens, according to Congress, because you live in the home of the federal government. But fortunately your Congresswoman, Eleanor Holmes Norton, doesn’t let that lack of a vote stop her from reaching out to constituents or trying to influence her fellow members on these incredibly important decisions. Last night Norton held a “Fact Check” town hall meeting in the auditorium of the Department of Commerce on 14th and Constitution NW. With between 200-250 people in attendance, about half of the capacity of the venue, the event was focused on answering constituent questions with a panel of medical and insurance experts and did not include long speeches.
Before turning it over for constituent stories and questions, Norton opened up the evening with a 15 minute statement about how the event would be run, which included her saying that DC residents are “The most civil people in the United States.” I initially thought this was simply wishful thinking, but after the next two hours went by without a single person yelling, screaming or insulting anyone, I’ll have to agree with the Congresswoman on this one. At least from the perspective of a town hall meeting on the lightning rod issue that is health care reform; especially after covering the Rep. Moran (D-VA) town hall event a few weeks ago. Now the event was held in a federal building with very tight security and more armed police and federal agents than you could count surrounding the area, only those living in the District were able to attend, and signs were not permitted at all past the door, but it still was a very positive representation of political civility by attendees and should make all DC residents proud.
“It’s about stories, not speeches” said Norton as she stressed the event was a “Fact Check” discussion and not a time for her to make speeches about her opinions on the issue. She also pointed out several times that, because there are three major versions of the bill in the House right now, there really is no bill to point fingers at and questions should revolve around personal health care experiences and individual’s needs. Which is pretty much how the rest of the time played out, starting with three pre-selected residents sharing their personal stories of struggle dealing with health care and insurance and the affect it has had on their lives. The remaining 90 minutes were filled with questions from the audience, which had to be submitted prior to the start. Questions came from a cancer survivor about the pre-existing condition clause, a college student wondering how the reform would help young people, a DCPS teacher with cerebral palsy asking about coverage for items like personal home care and everything in between.
Applause was consistent throughout the discussion as the vast majority of the audience appeared to be in support of current reform efforts, which is no surprise given DC’s political makeup. The Congresswoman even made a statement that everyone in DC was progressive, regardless of race, and that made it one of the best districts to represent in the country. The largest applause, however, came when Norton jokingly proposed that perhaps DC residents should send emails back to all of the non-constituents that keep bombarding her office with emails and letters opposing health care reform. Out of the 2000 residents that wrote to her office, only 9 completely opposed the reform efforts and roughly 300 opposed some aspect of it.
While no opinion statements were really allowed at the town hall, not a single question came off as negative or against health care reform and the atmosphere was very much focused on the need to help all of the District residents that struggle with our current health care insurance system. While I was surprised that the room was not packed and that more residents did not take advantage of this opportunity, there was something reassuring about this event. It was community oriented, civil, peaceful and well executed. Now, if only DC citizens could get voting representation in Congress so their thoughts on health care reform could be respected as much as those of proponents and opponents in every other corner of the country. But that’s a whole different piece of legislation.