Town Halls – A Lesson in Democracy

In recent weeks, the rise of town hall meetings as a loud and vigorous sounding board of American sentiment has become very apparent.

The issue is health care, and it’s clear there is differing opinion. However, what’s curious to me is the uproar over those who are outspoken and boisterous. Then, there is the grandstanding and near-Hollywood-like performances of some attending the meetings.

During the past four weeks, I’ve been conducting public meetings for the federal government, too. In stark contrast to the almost riotous nature of the health care hoedowns, my meetings were marked with very courteous, thoughtful and polite comment givers. No one was taking names or suggesting the speakers were a threat to our nation or out-of-line with the common man.

While I cannot take credit for managing my meetings to a more quiet and serene sit-down discourse, it’s clear the facilitators for the health care sessions are dealing with a ton of pent-up concern festering over a long period of time.

Anger and frustration directed toward government, the facilitators and other meeting attendees make for some lively on-air footage for media outlets. People shouting, pointing fingers and walking out of sessions is commonplace. However, what you don’t see readily is the hundreds — no, thousands — of people in the audience who are polite and listening, learning and participating in a democratic process in a more reserved fashion.

But that doesn’t make for good footage on the nightly news.

Interestingly, the White House has been caught in the middle of this, offering that dynamic discussion will ferret out the public’s will, while at the same time suggesting that some of those attending may not be playing by the same ground rules as others.

My point is this: thank goodness we’re in America. I was once told by a professor at my graduate school, who had been a clerk at the Supreme Court, that democracy is not an efficient or tidy process — and that is a good thing. Out of public pontification, rigorous discourse and sometimes direct and open confrontation of a civil nature comes a lot of truth and good public policy. And that makes a lot of sense to me.

So, while I was lucky to facilitate meetings of a mild nature, those leading health care sessions are simply doing the work that will lead to a saner and civilized health care policy. It’s the American way.

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