Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Congress on Your Corner

Waterbury, CT, 9/1/09

Democratic Congressman Chris Murphy, from Connecticut's Fifth Congressional District, is holding open-access meetings with constituents for an hour each morning this week, while Congress is in recess. I thought this might make for interesting pictures of democracy in action, and I wasn't disappointed. Today he was at Library Park in Waterbury. A crowd of about seventy-five came out.

It was clear that health care and related budget/deficit issues were the primary, nearly the only, things constituents wanted to talk about. It was also clear that in this group sentiments were running about two to one against reform, or against Obama administration policies in general. Murphy is a second term Congressman who won the Fifth District seat in 2006 in an upset, unseating long-time Republican Congresswoman Nancy Johnson. Pro-reform and anti-reform groups had signs and slogans, but the anti signs were bigger and more plentiful.

Feelings were running high and there was some shouting, but there were no incidents of screaming or shouting down as have happened at more formal Town Hall meetings held across the country. The format was wide-open "ask your Congressman." Some people were more interested in stating their position, or reading it from computer printouts, than in asking a question so the Congressman sometimes prompted them to get to the point and make it a question. A couple times he had to intervene to keep questioning directed to himself instead of letting it drift into crosstalk and shouting between pro and anti proponents. At one point two gentlemen standing in front of me repeatedly told each other, "shut up, I came here to listen to him, not you."

The questions were varied. Some repeated familiar talking points but others were very personal. One man said that his private health insurance, with an insurer that has about half of such policies in the state, had informed him it would not cover his 18 year old son when he left to attend college in another state. What could the Congressman do about situations like that? A woman said she had just adopted a special needs child, how would health care reform affect her family?

Toward the end of the event, one woman went on at length and Murphy, to clarify, asked her if she meant she was against all government involvement in health care, to which she gave a resounding, "Yes!" So then he asked if she wanted to do away with Medicare, to which she said "Oh, no, I don't!" That brought a loud round of mixed guffaws and groans from pro-reform people in the group.

Scheduled to last from 8:00 to 9:00 AM, Murphy's aides finally pulled him away at 9:15 to head for his next appointment. The New Haven ABC news affiliate station had a reporter and videographer there and ran a short segment on their noontime broadcast. I didn't recognize any other press at the event.


lyle said...

it sounds like this was relatively civil. that is why there was no other press there. the press can't sell ad time unless people are jumping up and down and screaming at each other. democracy ain't no story.

Carl, did you get a sense that any opinions where changed? it has been studied, and it is unfortunate, that when presented with contrary FACTS, the die-hards just dig in deeper.

And one other thing about earlier posts, it was somewhat encouraging that there were demonstrations (although small), in Litchfield. I have only been there a couple of times but it seemed to be a very conservative, mind-your-business type of place.

lyle said...

...and thinking photographically for a moment, I really like this work and especially the one with the two guys in the foreground looking at one another. thinking about the earlier parade work (and reviewing it), you have a real gift for getting in close and making the view feel like part of the action, just not observing it.

Carl said...

Lyle, the Waterbury event actually was quite civil. This morning I went to another in Danbury, CT, and while most of the crowd was fine there were about six individuals who insisted on shouting over others and interrupting both constituents and the congressman.

Minds don't seem to be changed. One trick that I'm seeing more of goes like this. Instead of asking a question, someone reads a specific item from from the proposed bills, then "explains" what it "really means." This interpretation has nothing whatever to do with what they've just read in plain English. When the Congressman points out that no, it does not mean that, people start yelling "that's a lie." So--much less civil than yesterday's event, and minds aren't changed when people aren't even listening.

Carl said...

Well, the way to make it feel like the middle of the action is...to be in the middle of the action. I hate the look of pictures of people made "from across the street." So do the people having cameras pointed at them from across the street: I think you encounter much less resistance/resentment of the photographer if you share your subject's space instead of peering into it from twenty yards away.