How to Rant and Rave at a Town Hall Meeting - Five Tips for Success
Lately, TV's evening news (and probably the morning and noon news, as well) have been full of stories about extremely angry and agitated citizens ranting and raving about the federal government's proposal to reform health care. As a former political news reporter, over the years I've watched more than my share of ranters and ravers give the politicians what-for. Some of the angry citizens were more successful than others (when it comes to getting quoted, shown on camera or getting their points across). Others were dismal failures. As a result of my experience, I've compiled a list of five tips for those preparing their first rant/rave in public at a town hall meeting.
1. Dress for success. A successful ranter/raver goes to great pains to look like John or Jane Doe. Discard excess jewelry and any visible signs of great wealth. Likewise, if you are down on your luck, wear your Sunday best. Seeing, (in the minds of some politicians and all TV reporters), is believing. I once watched a ranter/raver dressed in military uniform, decorated with toy airplanes on his epaulets and military hat. Needless to say, he was not a credible ranter/raver.
2. Practice ranting/raving at home in front of a mirror or in front of your ranting friends/colleagues. It is very hard to work up a good steam unless you have practiced repeatedly and unless you are cheered on by people who believe as you do. Experienced ranters should go first, in any event, so they can set the tone for what and who is to follow. A good tone and a rant-friendly crowd makes ranting/raving a lot easier.
3. Clearly enunciate, so that all of your words can be understood. Even in places where there is a heavy accent, practice before you screech, so that the politicians and the reporters can hear what you're saying. If you are following a script, you can practice speaking clearly before you begin your rant/rave. If you feel strongly and have no script, but have listened to the radio and followed blogs, you can repeat what you've heard and seen. (Use an index card, if need be.) If you repeat popular phrases, like "death panel", everyone will know where your words came from. Remember to speak up, loudly. If you are a senior, this may be hard, so either move closer to the politician or panel or use a microphone.
4. Keep your hands to yourself, unless you are holding a placard or a sign (see #5). Never finger point or wag no matter how tempted you may be. Finger pointers and waggers are viewed by politicians negatively, although reporters seem to think they make good copy/broadcast. The more impassioned a ranter/raver, the more likely she/he is to make the news, provided #1, #2 and #3 also are followed. Do not smack, punch or brawl with anyone in the audience who has another viewpoint. Physical violence totally undermines a successful rant/rave.
5. Signs and placards are important if you are a non-ranting member of the audience. You can wave the sign or placard while the designated ranter/raver is addressing the panel or politician. Make sure all of the words are spelled right on your sign and that it looks like you took some care to make it. Signs scribbled hastily on the backs of paper plates or pizza boxes are unlikely to draw attention.
As a seasoned political reporter, I pretty much learned to blank out the Screaming-Mimis at the town hall meetings and public forums I covered. I never quoted a ranter, because anger diminished credibility. Ranters and ravers may feel better (or, on the contrary, slightly embarrassed) after they have yelled and accused and even cursed a politician, but it is the body language and the red faces the politicians remember--not the words spewed in the heat of passion. Politicians also dismiss fabrications picked up from radio talk shows or blogs that are far more fiction than fact, unless of course, they are friendly with the fabricators.
Back in the day, when I reported, proposed tax increases and dog issues brought out the ranters and ravers. When a bill came up, if it had anything to do with taxes or dogs, we reporters knew it was going to get crowded and loud. And sure enough, it always did. Some times, it got as heated as what I've seen in the succession of regional town hall meetings on healthcare today. Of course, ranters/ravers are more inclined to be demure when the President is present, (along with his Secret Service detail). But lesser politicos like U.S. Senators or Congressmen/women usually are fair game; likely to get dressed down every which way (it's a wonder they have any clothing on by the time the meetings are over).
As a citizen who has been cheated by my insurance company and nearly knocked-off by a doctor who prescribed heavily-advertised medicines that nearly killed me, I don't know why these particular ranters are so hot and bothered. Overpaid pharmaceuticals and disingenuous insurance companies certainly need reforming, at the very least. Once upon a time, health care insurance was reasonable and dependable. I think I remember it.
Look what you could buy for "Pennies a Day" back in the 1950s. Unlimited hospital stays, for accidents and sickness.