Woodstock and Disrupting the Town Hall Meetings

Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times brought back a memory I had long suppressed.

Thirty years or so ago I attended what was supposed to be a conference on volunteering held at Queens College in New York.  It was open to the public and attracted about 200 people, which was pretty good for a Saturday morning.

I say “supposed to be” about volunteerism because the substance never really was discussed.  Instead, the conference was disrupted as soon as it started by a group in the audience who clearly didn’t care about the subject.  They repeatedly interrupted every speaker – including the one welcoming everyone to Queens College – by shouting things that had nothing to do with the topic.  They were offered the chance to speak.  They refused.  Instead, they shouted down each speaker and denied the topic even deserved to be discussed.

Several weeks later I attended another conference at a different location on a completely separate topic…and the same people showed up and did the same thing.  I don’t mean the same group; I mean the exact same people.  Although they changed the subject to match the conference topic, they shouted the same slogans.

As was the case weeks earlier, this conference ended up being about just one thing: them.

The goal in both cases clearly was to disrupt rather than to engage.  Nothing mattered to this group other than to draw attention to itself.  Even when what was discussed would have helped the people they said they represented, they kept disrupting, and disrupting, and disrupting.

All of this came back to me when I read this quote from Krugman’s op-ed, which in part talks about the tactics the opposition to the Obama health care reform efforts is using:

This opposition cannot be appeased…But the truth is that the attacks on the president have no relationship to anything he is actually doing or proposing.

As was the case 30 years ago, the substance of the health care debate has nothing to do what the disruptions in the townhall meetings are all about.  The same thing would happen if they were about every other subject imaginable.

The fact that this is happening on the 40 anniversary of Woodstock is overwhelmingly ironic.  The political demographic that criticized the Woodstock generation for analogous tactics is now the one using it.

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About Stan Collender 126 Articles

Affiliation: Qorvis Communications

Stan Collender is a former New Yorker who, after getting a degree from the University of California, Berkeley, moved to Washington to get it out of his system. That was more than 30 years ago.

During most of his career, Collender has worked on the federal budget and congressional budget process, including stints on the staff of the House and Senate Budget Committees; founding the Federal Budget Report, a newsletter that was published for almost two decades; and for the past 11 years writing a weekly column for NationalJournal.com and now RollCall.com.

He is currently a managing director for Qorvis Communications, where he spends most of his time working with and for financial services clients.

Visit: Capital Gains and Games

2 Comments on Woodstock and Disrupting the Town Hall Meetings

  1. Interesting blog. Arguably, the biggest legacy of Woodstock is its huge impact on the real children of the sixties: Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X). This USA TODAY op-ed speaks to the relevance today of the sixties counterculture impact on GenJones: http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20090127/column27_st.art.htm

    Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press’ annual Trend Report forcast the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009.

    Here’s a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones:

  2. @Martin – I very much be of the same opinion with what you are saying here though one has to consider all aspects of the argument. We can all be a bit guilty of adopting a rather narrow-minded view to these issues and for the most part, stepping back and observing the ‘bigger picture’ can almost always deliver helpful results.

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