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Plenty of frustration at Lee-Pelosi town hall

I’ll be filing a more complete story tomorrow on the “Speak Out for Good Jobs Now!” town hall meeting Rep. Barbara Lee hosted tonight in Oakland, but for now, here’s a taste…

This was by no means a straight up Democratic pep rally. Other than the one conservative standing outside (an older white man with signs saying “Democrats kill jobs” and “Democrats love abortion, sodomy, socialism”), the critics were Democrats themselves, and the target of their ire was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

“Sellout!” somebody shouted just after Pelosi began addressing the crowd of about 900 in Acts Full Gospel Church of God in Christ on 66th Avenue. Her speech about the need for job creation was often punctuated by shouts of “Tax the rich!” and while her castigation of House Republicans – for trying to gut the National Labor Relations Board, for delaying the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization and so on – drew some cheers, the critics remained focused.

When she brought up the issue of the recent deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling while cutting the budget, someone angrily shouted out, “Why did you vote for it?”

“Because default is worse,” Pelosi replied, and the deal at least protected Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

In segueing to the audience’s statements – which were recorded to be considered for entry into the Congressional Record, Green for All CEO Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins insisted the evening’s story “will not be about the two people in the back who are angry at Leader Pelosi; tonight the story will be about jobs.”

But the handful of Lyndon Larouche followers at the rear (holding signs calling for the restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act) were the least of Pelosi’s worries. The frustration was palpable throughout; when the audience comments were paused to watch a video of similar statements made at other town halls across the nation, one young woman paused from stalking toward the door to shout, “We could’ve been speaking now, but they made us watch an ad!”

Tomorrow’s story will feature the tales of unemployment and, in many cases, desperation shared by audience members. Toward the end, however, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., summed up much of what had been said: “Democrats need to act like Democrats in Congress … Boldness has to be part of the agenda.”

After the meeting concluded, as dozens of people who had lined up in a vain attempt to get to a microphone turned instead to video cameras to record their statements, Lee said she wasn’t surprised by the frustration in the room.

“No one thought this was going to be a love-in,” she said. “We wanted to hear the truth, and that’s what we heard.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.