New Hampshire Nature Notes
by Eric Orff
Obama Portsmouth town hall meeting crowd. Who are they?
08/11/09 11:00 am- I find a short cut through the woods behind the strip mall where I have parked behind the Bowl-O-Rama. A Portsmouth fixture for over a half century. The distant chanting draws me down this narrow wooded path to the big event of the day in NH President Obama's Health Care town hall meeting at Portsmouth high school. Even this five minute hike has drawn a bead of sweat on my brow in this one of only a few hot humid days this summer. A perfect place to seek global warming posters in the growing noise and crowd.
I arrive at the top of the driveway leading to the school. On my right, and politically juxtaposed it would seem looking down the 18 foot wide paved path, are the so called Teabaggers, Free Staters, or so by the sounds the "Live Free or Die"rs. And to my left are those holding "Health Care Now" signs. The chasm between the two groups could not be deeper.
I moved to my right at first to listen to the shouts and chants from the right side though directed at the audience across the abyss certainly is meant to be heard by the president and our elected officials. The 300 yard long line, two and three deep, were mostly over 40 years old with at least half over 50. It was a long white line with not a person of color to be seen. These folks remained pressed against the yellow line holding them at bay the whole time is was there.
I have been a wildlife biologist in NH for over three decades and have long ago learned to sense the mood of the animal I was about to handle or, or tag, whether it was a deer, moose, bear or even a skunk. They all let you know they were angry and wanted to bite you when pressed too close. I quickly gained the sense that this crowd was cornered, angry and full of hate with fangs bared and hackles up. In fact when the State Police helicopter swooped in overhead an older woman raised her clenched fist to the sky and shouted "Obama we hate you." Hate was in the air on this side of the chasm. Even all the signs bore words of anger and distrust of the government. All had negative slogans.
Also worthy of note was the fact yesterday that two of the three megaphones used to get the teabaggers shouting had Sununu stickers on them. These folks were whipping the crowd into "No government health care- no cap and trade" Another lady kept yelling at the Global Warming folks on the other side of the street that " Global Warming is only one percent caused by humans. 99 percent is naturally caused." It looked to me like the NH Republican Party had their finger prints all over them. This may foretell where Kelly Ayotte will be if she holds to the NH Party line.
My casual stroll to the other side of the driveway across two yellow tape lines holding the jostling crowds back lead me to a very noisy, but totally different world. Here more than half were below age 40 and at least a third were under 25. This side was multiracial. Shouting and chanting on this side was broadcast with smiles and the exuberance of youth. Nary a mean streak could be detected. Yes they were as fervent as the other side but in an entirely different mannerism. Folks were lounging on the ground in the shade of some trees.You could sense no hostility.
I drifted between the two sides until after the President's arrival at about 1:00pm. My estimate was about 800 to 1,000 on the right side when I first arrived with about 200 to 300 more on the left side. By noon the crowds were nearly evened out as more teabaggers kept arriving.
The health side clearly were better organized with pre-made signs, banners, t-shirts and organized groups by the color of the t's. There even were coolers of water to help through the blistering day. The Teabaggers were far less organized with lots of different handmade signs as well as signs being made ad lib. No water to be found. But my sense of their cause was far more deep rooted than the other side. They are clearly a force to be reckoned with. Having a group of thirty in red t-shirts and global warming posters directly opposite them mid line suddenly had them focusing on cap and trade as well as the health care issue being debated. That may not have been a good thing.
Summer at last. Enjoying the warm summer's eves.
Birds of a feather shed their feathers together.