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Halting Town Hall Intimidation Is AlterNet's Top Take Action Campaign This Week

Effigies, Nazi rhetoric, guns and threatening phone calls. How are you going to help counter this despicable intimidation campaign?

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.

You can be a part of it here.

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.

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