I took the light rail out to Tempe yesterday afternoon in search of the faces of venom and hate I’d seen recently on TV. I wanted to understand, I mean really understand, why the foes of healthcare reform have taken the low road. Spitting on politicians, calling them names, berating a man in a wheelchair with Parkinson’s.
My target was a small rally of Congressman Harry Mitchell supporters. They wanted to thank him for his yes-vote two days before. Mitchell, a centrist Democrat representing Arizona’s 5th District, was one of 219 U.S. House members who voted for and passed the healthcare-reform legislation that will do much to change some of the inequalities that have existed in America far too long.
The legislation predictably generated a despicable display of anger from those who favored the status quo. Mostly from Republicans and Tea Partiers, the ones who live on the far side of the twilight zone. I thought perhaps these wild-eyed foes of equality would show up at the rally too and create another nasty scene.
So I arrived at 6th Street Park about 3 o’clock only hours after President Obama had signed the healthcare bill into law. A young woman with a bullhorn was directing a very small assembly of about 30 men and women. Many held the distributed blue signs, “Thank You Harry.” The plan was to walk over a block to the downtown district and march up and down Mill Avenue.
The Harry marchers, whose numbers would eventually rise to about 80, practiced some chants and were asked to make calls to Mitchell’s office in Scottsdale and thank him for his vote. Then at 3:15 they set off toward Mill behind a banner that read, “Thank You, Harry/AZ Wants Health Reform.” Police hovered in the background.
I turned to a sedate, nicely coiffed woman on a bench near me and asked, “What do you think?”
“I didn’t even know there were Democrats in Arizona,” she said with a thin, smug smile. Another reminder how heavily starched this state is with Republicans.
I tailed the parade as it turned onto the main drag. But suddenly the chanting stopped. I heard a voice, “Someone fell.”
I edged up to a place on the sidewalk in front of the Big Fat Greek Restaurant. A marcher, a woman of maybe 50 years old, lay on her back. A male bystander tried to resuscitate her. He pushed hard on her chest numerous times, then felt her neck for a pulse. He shook his head. Then tried CPR again.
I looked at her face and eyes. I had seen death before. I thought she was gone. Someone said her name was “Clair.” She apparently came to the rally alone. (The Arizona Republic website, azcentral.com, reported later today the unidentified woman survived and the unknown bystander probably saved her life with his resuscitation efforts.)
The Thank You Harry marchers came to a standstill at the corner of 5th Street. They tried to focus and chant but a darkness had set in on their spirits. Perhaps they contemplated the one healthcare issue that will never be solved. Dying.
A few drivers on the busy street honked their car horns in support, and a female bus driver stuck her arm out the window and gave a thumbs-up. But that was about it.
At 3rd Street the group began to drift apart. It wasn’t even four o’clock. The rally was supposed to last until 5.
My mission was futile. There were no protestors, no taunters, no angry faces to study. There was only this.
One of the marchers stopped to engage a small group of young street people. She tried to explain the new healthcare. They did not grasp it at all, obviously children left behind. Later, one of them, an emboldened blond-haired man shouted to the wind from across the street. “What about the homeless? We ain’t got shit.”
And so it ended. I had set out to look into the faces of hatred and anger and perhaps witness violence. Instead I had only stared down into the face of death. Or near death as it fortunately turned out.
(I published a similar post yesterday, March 23, but it was unintentionally erased by the digital gods. I rewrote this post from memory and notes).