Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D- MO 05) holds a "Coffee With Cleaver" meet-and-greet somewhere in his district almost every month, and today was the day for one near me. I went early, but not nearly early enough. About three hundred folks had already arrived, jamming the coffee shop and spilling out in both directions on the sidewalk and into a neighboring patio area, with more coming all the time.
They were about an even mix of rightwingnuts (including a couple of Truthers) and pro-health care reform folks. I recognized a number of the KC area peace-and-justice regulars there, and they seemed to have gotten the word out to make a good showing here this morning. That was a very good move, as three local media outlets had satellite trucks up (one video report here) and the print media was there as well.
Last month, Cleaver had about 30 people show up. His usual practice is basically to sit down and chat with whoever shows up. These are generally face-to-face, one-on-one constituent services conversations, with his aide sitting there taking notes (things like "check with the VA about getting so-and-so his new leg" and "find out why the SBA is dragging their feet on so-and-so’s loan app").
Today, though, with the crowds that showed up, it certainly didn’t appear that he or his staff were ready to deal with it. They simply tried to go on with their usual plan, tacking on only a few welcoming remarks at the outset — but only audible to the people inside the coffee shop. I stuck around outside for about a half an hour, but if you hadn’t found Cleaver’s staffer to sign up for 3 minutes of the congressman’s time, all you could do was stand around, talk with the people standing next to you, and chant slogans when the local media did their live shots. Even as I left, more people were arriving.
I knew I wasn’t going to be able to stick around for the whole thing anyway, as Mrs Peterr had to do some stuff this morning without The Kid around, so I came back home to take my turn on the child care front. Overall, it seemed relatively calm and peaceful, which I attribute in part to it being 8AM on a Saturday morning. People with different viewpoints were all mixed together, but even the most heated arguments were pretty calm.
Oh, and one other thing. . .
There were four police officers roaming the crowd, mostly providing a "let’s keep this civil" kind of message just by smiling and mingling. Around 8:00 (the starting time for the event), though, as I was standing on the edge of the crowd, one of the cops squeezed out the front door of the coffee shop and started coming straight for me and these two other cops who were walking along the edge of the crowd next to me. When the first cop joined them, they started comparing notes on what they were seeing and sensing.
I’ll omit the details, but it is safe to say they were taking various appropriate security precautions and watching things very carefully indeed to make sure nothing got out of hand. They apparently had gotten the word about Russ Carnahan’s meeting on Thursday night in St. Louis and some of the dangerous rightwingers who say things like "if you can carry . . . carry" on Twitter to those planning on attending such meetings as this. The police may have been doing the "smiling and mingling" to show they were around, but they had also been watching things very, very carefully, and shared an awful lot of stuff with each other very quickly before splitting up to smile and mingle some more.
I know there are lots of meetings around the country today — and would love to hear more from others in the comments about what they are seeing in their neighborhoods.
For more from Cleaver himself on health care, here’s an interview he gave to Mike Stark last month. Very, very nice stuff to hear.