The Book On Town-Hall Conservatives

As we continue to monitor what Democrats plan to do about the angry groups showing up to their town-hall meetings, here's a memo from Health Care for America Now!, the gigantic coalition of progressive interest groups backing President Obama's health care reform effort, on how to fight back against the angry conservatives that have been showing up to Democratic town-hall meetings.

We know what the White House/DNC strategy is for the town-hall mayhem: ridicule the angry conservatives. Accuse them of Astroturfing, being organized by DC-based groups like FreedomWorks, or of working on behalf of the health insurance industry. Point out the more outlandish things done and said by the angry conservatives (like hanging a member of Congress in effigy).

That's a national-level media strategy, but it's not a ground game. And that's where HCAN's memo comes in: it's essentially a four-page handbook on hand-to-hand activist combat in the new battlefield of heated town-halls that's emerged this August.

It means the liberal activist network has turned its attention to the town-hall problem. Until now, liberals have focused on turning out members for phone banking, visits to congressional offices, canvasses, leaflets at churches and worksites, and rallies--a different battleground entirely. (HCAN makes up roughly half of the liberal activist effort on health care, along with Organizing for America.) But now that town-hall confrontations have dominated discussion of health care this week--and, if unchecked, may continue to dominate discussion for the rest of August--HCAN is addressing it with a turnout effort of its own.

One critical suggestion from the memo: "Bring more people than the other side has." That is something that's been missing from these YouTube videos--liberal activists making their voices heard, as well.

HCAN suggests its activists interrupt the conservatives when they get disruptive--and organize people in the group ahead of time who feel comfortable doing so. Say things like, "I want to hear the Representative speak. He's the one voting on the bill. Representative, how will this
bill help people who already have insurance at work?"

The memo warns not to get into shouting matches with conservatives, but rather to keep raising the suggested questions. It does recommend liberals "demonstrate that we are the majority by chanting."

It also recommends coordinating the event with the member of Congress ahead of time to agree on a format for the town-hall and address concerns, selecting a strong moderator to keep the discussion disciplined, establish ground rules for conduct, and "assign marshals to take care of moving the crowd, keeping people organized and orderly, and acting as security should any need arise to ask noisy or disruptive protesters to leave."

Other guidelines: inoculate yourself and your volunteers by knowing what to expect from the conservatives, get there earlier, coordinate with the member of Congress's office, talk to reporters, follow up with the lawmaker one-on-one.

Read the full memo here.

UPDATE: Here's the full memo, embedded via Scribd:

HCAN memo
Presented by

Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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