Are Health Care ‘Town Halls’ Really That Bad?

OK. Enough is enough. Have these town hall meetings on health care reform really run amok or have we?

I must say that I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I turn on the television and see people fussing and fighting, pushing and shoving, yelling and threatening, bullying and harassing others in a “town hall” forum, which is supposed to be just that — a forum.

The Democrats steadily blame the Republicans for planting “hostile” people at these events, while the Republicans steadily blame the Democrats for doing the same. I don’t really care whose doing it, but I do care that in these news reports, very little of what people are talking about at these forums gets any press. Instead, it is presented as one major brawl, focused on irate folks who are destroying what should be a pretty simple process. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the media is lapping up these verbal and physical altercations instead of shedding light on a complex issue.

Clearly, there must be some town hall forums on health care reform that have gone as planned, with little to no drama, other than the challenging task of discussing a sensitive issue.

Why are these forums not being talked about or reported on in the mainstream media? Why is the media focused on the extremists as opposed to the rational folk who want to hear all sides before making a decision? I hear people all of the time, in grocery store lines, on the subway, at the airport, discussing the health care reform issue, and they are not shouting at each other, even though many disagree with each other. Why can’t we find these “regular” folks on the evening news?

Perhaps the insertion of a video camera inspires sheer lunacy because that is what appears to be rewarded in TV land. Are people performing for the cameras or are they truly so simple that they don’t know the difference between making an important point, and making fools out of themselves?

The line between what’s real and imagined has become way too blurry. Folks allow themselves to be mistreated and abused in order to be on TV. Big Brother, Hell’s Kitchen, Real Housewives, Fear Factor, Hitched or Ditched and a slew of relationship programming on VH1 like Real Chance of Love fit the bill. A reality show is only “real” if there is a brawl, fistfight or someone is being embarrassed or humiliated. Now it seems as if the news is applying this perverted standard to whether or not a town hall meeting on health care should be covered.

I suppose adults actually having a mature conversation about an extremely complex issue would make for boring television. I for one would like to hear what people have to say on both sides of the issue. People who are for universal health care are not on the same page about how to get there. People who are against health care reform don’t feel that way for the same reasons. That is the purpose of the “town hall” discussion, so that the information is out there, and people can make informed decisions.

When news broadcasts appear to be taking their cues from reality television, then Houston, we have a problem. (read more)

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic. She is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College and managing editor of


Will Somebody Please Protect the Nation’s First Black President?

Enough is enough. President Barack Hussein Obama must be protected against zealots who are using every opportunity to harass, bully and intimidate supporters and the President by traipsing around with guns. At a protest in Phoenix, 12 people were carrying guns — one with a military style rifle, where the President of the United States of America was speaking. Let me state that again — The President of the United States of America.

Supposedly these gun rights advocates were permitted to operate in this “unsafe” space, because it is their constitutional right.  Is it their constitutional right to harass and intimidate people with the presence of guns at a protest about health care reform? Do their 2nd Amendment rights supersede my 1st amendment right to assemble or protest without the threat of violence? I am repulsed at the sheer and utter depraved indifference that law enforcement took with the President’s life by allowing these bullies to march around with rifles.  Just what are they protecting and who are they defending? I know — fear, racism and vengeance.  Not much has changed in this so-called time of change.

Some white men still think that it is their right to control everything including a person’s movement. The policing of bodies, especially of Blacks and women is as American as apple pie, and some racist and sexist holdovers won’t let go. When change comes, they do everything in their power to stop it, including relying on traditional modes of invoking and instilling fear in their perceived opponent.

Allowing this type of repugnant, venomous and abusive behavior to occur and to fester can lead to only one thing — another massacre or presidential assassination.  Why people need assault weapons at a gathering about health care, I don’t know.  Why they are allowed to operate in that fashion is even more bewildering. Nothing good has ever come from extremists with guns.

To allow people to have assault weapons in the same space as the President of the United States is unconscionable.  Not only are attendees at risk, but so is the life of the President of the United States of America.  Do we not value his life as much as other presidents because of the color of his skin? If that is the case, then that is the same perverted ideology that drives these gun rights activists over the edge.

They are not hiding their racism behind gun rights — they are in fact tying their racism to gun rights, which is as scary as being greeted at a forum by a gun-toting bigot who thinks his life means more than yours. I ask will somebody, anybody please protect innocent people and the nation’s first Black president?

This article originally appeared on, where Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. serves as managing editor. She is a cultural critic for Creative Loafing, writes the pop cultural blog Tune N, and is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College.