Halting Town Hall Intimidation Is AlterNet's Top Take Action Campaign This Week
Corporate-backed "grassroots" action, better known as "astroturfing," has a toxic lineage in the American political canon.
For decades, the practice has been employed to squelch reforms and uphold a status quo punctuated by hoggish commercial greed. If anything, recent threats of violence at health care town halls are merely a reminder of how far the pharmaceutical industry will go to maintain its bulging interests.
Still, such threats are insidious. In early August, the office of Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., received a call from someone who said the politician "could lose his life" if he didn't rethink his stance on health reform.
"Our staffer took it so seriously, he confirmed what the guy was saying," LuAnn Canipe, Miller's communications director, told Talking Points Memo. "He said, 'Sir is that a threat?' "
Then on Friday, astroturfers launched a similar campaign against Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash. A faxed death threat and a series of ominous calls forced Baird to hold his "town meeting" over the phone. Baird, who has conducted more than 300 town meetings since being elected 11 years ago, said Republican policymakers have all but cheered on such hostility.
"Some of my colleagues on the other side are throwing gas on it," Baird told the Miami Herald. "They think it is funny. This is out of control, and things are getting worse."
As if those two instances (and an accompanying slew of disruptions, effigies and Nazi comparisons) weren't enough, the Service Employers International Union on Friday was slammed by angry calls and e-mails from people crying "socialism" and threatening violence.
"I suggest you tell your people to calm down, act like American citizens, and stop trying to repress people's First Amendment rights," one caller said. "That, or you all are going to come up against the Second Amendment."
Similar threats were delivered to the AFL/CIO.
In response, SEIU started a petition criticizing the violent disruptions that have fueled the right's atroturfing campaign.
Designed to "honor the long-standing American tradition of town hall meetings and public forums to allow citizens to participate in our democracy," it's an important check on the incendiary fundamentalisms that are choking meaningful health care debate.
Here are the rest of our Take Action Campaigns for this week.
II -- Support the Employee Non-Discrimination Act
There are all sorts of legitimate reasons for employers to fire their workers. Being gay is not one of them.
Did you know that 29 states still allow a boss to give someone the ax because he/she is gay? Or how about the fact that it is still legal in 38 states (over three-quarters of "the land of the free," in case you weren't doing the math) to fire someone because he/she is transgender?
This sort of discrimination is a clear-cut embodiment of institutionalized homophobia. Citizens should not have to keep their sexual orientation or identity a secret. Help remove this stain on our legal system. Tell your senator you support the Employee Non-Discrimination Act.
III -- Stand With Dr. Dean
In a disappointing move, the House recessed before making a decision on health reform, America's most important domestic issue. As those on both sides of the debate step up their media offensives and lobbying initiatives, it's essential to not lose sight of the campaign's most important goal: passing a public option.
According to Howard Dean, a former presidential candidate and physician, developing a robust public option is an absolute necessity.
"Legislation rises and falls on whether the American public is allowed to choose a universally available public option or not," he writes.
It's time to take a stand with the nearly 400,000 who have signed on in support of a public option. Stand with Dr. Dean today.
IV -- Stop McBrutality
McDonald's poultry providers employ some of the most brutal tactics possible when slaughtering chickens. The birds are hung upside down for days at a time. Their throats are slit. Some are even thrown alive into pots of boiling water.
McDonald's can stop these horrific practices (with no economic consequences) by pressuring its suppliers to use a method called controlled-atmosphere killing (CAK). But it's up to people like you to tell the fast-food giant that it must act more humanely.
V -- Save the Dolphins
Illuminated most recently by a thrilling documentary called The Cove, Japan's abuse of dolphins stands out as one of the most shocking examples of animal cruelty in the world. Each year, more than 20,000 dolphins are slaughtered for their meat, which is intentionally labeled as "whale." This meat contains dangerously high levels of mercury and poses a significant threat to human health.
It's time to let President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki know that such abuses will not stand. Write a letter that urges them to address the cruelty in Taiji. Stop the slaughter before it's too late.
VI -- Stop the Privatization of Foreign Aid Water
The Water for the World Act of 2009 sets a goal of providing safe drinking water to 100 million people. Unfortunately, it also includes a provision that encourages public-private partnerships. This measure could seriously jeopardize the overall effectiveness of the legislation by opening up the bidding field to exploitative, private firms.
You can help make a difference. Sign a petition that urges policymakers to rule out the privatization of foreign aid water.
VII -- Act Now For Healthy School Lunches
Obesity is a significant problem among America's youth, and the food available at school is not helping. Aside from neglecting to offer vegetarian/vegan options, many schools around the country continue to slop out high-calorie, high-fat meals to children, whose bodies need a wholesome diet.
You can help ensure that our nation's children grow up with all the nutrients they need. Join the many who have already asked Congress for a better school-lunch program.
VIII -- Stop Wal-Mart's Assault on Free Speech
Wal-Mart is at it again, this time putting legal pressure on a Web site critical of its Canadian business practices. The mega-megastore has filed an injunction against WalmartWorkersCanada.ca, forbidding it from using the word "Wal-Mart" altogether. In a turn of cruel irony, Wal-Mart is also trying to ban the use of any circular, ovular and oblong smiley faces on the site.
You can join thousands of others who have signed a petition urging Wal-Mart to respect the free-speech rights of its workers. Tell it to stop outlawing smiles. You can do it here.
IX -- Protect America's Medical Records
Obama's stimulus bill contained within it provisions that would do two things: demand that health care providers convert medical records from paper to computers; and implement a slew of privacy protections that would outlaw the sale of any such information to private insurance companies.
Now it's up to us to see that lawmakers prioritize our privacy. Tell the Department of Health and Human Services that computerized medical records with strong privacy protections are in the public's best interest. Do it here.
X -- Stop Violence in Schools
Every year, 350 million children around the world attend school, only to encounter sexual abuse, corporal punishment and bullying. That's more kids than the entire population of the United States. Ensuring that children can learn in a safe environment is a cause warranting international attention.
With your help, the United Nations can urge its member states to pass legislation that would make school safer for kids. You can help make that possible here.