Is anyone really surprised that last weekend teabagger demonstrators outside the U.S. Capitol, protesting proposed changes to America’s healthcare system, yelled racist and homophobic epithets at passing congress members? U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who was beaten by a white mob during a civil rights march in the south in the early 60s, was called “nigger” by protesters who oppose healthcare for all Americans.
“They were shouting, sort of harassing,” Lewis said afterwards. “But, it's okay, I've faced this before. It reminded me of the 60s. It was a lot of downright hate and anger and people being downright mean.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) heard the n-word being hurled at Lewis. “It was a chorus,” he said. “In a way, I feel sorry for those people who are doing this nasty stuff - they're being whipped up. I decided I wouldn't be angry with any of them.”
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) also bore the brunt of that nasty stuff. He was called “faggot” and “homo” when he had the misfortune to come into contact with the demonstrators.
“I'm disappointed with the unwillingness to be civil,” Frank commented to the Boston Globe
. “I was, I guess, surprised by the rancor. What it means is obviously the health care bill is proxy for a lot of other sentiments, some of which are perfectly reasonable, but some of which are not.”
“People out there today, on the whole, were really hateful,” Frank said. “The leaders of this movement have a responsibility to speak out more.”
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, (D-SC), who was spit on by a demonstrator (he chose not to press charges after the guy was arrested), summed it up well: “I heard people saying things today I've not heard since March 15, 1960, when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus. This is incredible, shocking to me.”
“A lot of us have said for a long time that none of this is about healthcare at all,” Clyburn said. “It's about extending a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful.”
Racism is nothing new to the teabagger movement. Neither is homophobia. Last summer, anti-healthcare demonstrators held posters with Obama dressed as a witch doctor and the words “OBAMACARE coming to a clinic near you.” Gay marriage and ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), the federal gay rights bill, are certainly not welcomed news at a teabagger rally.
It all goes to show that the “good ol’ American values” that conservatives such as the teabaggers expouse are nothing more than bad old values.
It’d be nice if the healthcare debate remained focused on the issue, but conservatives have a difficult time keeping their racist and antigay sentiments to themselves, especially when they’re being whipped into a frenzy by insurance companies and Republican leaders hellbent on keeping profits high and healthcare only for those who can afford it.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca is co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italians Sailing Beyond Columbus, and editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation, which has been nominated for both an American Library Association and a Lambda Literary award. His website is www.avicollimecca.com.