It was clear from the start that Kagen's staff underestimated the interest in his appearance tonight. To be fair, so did I. I arrived at 6:40 for an event scheduled to start at 7:00 only to be told that the auditorium was full and that they were closing the doors. At the time I was within 3 feet of the door, so I just stopped and waited.
The published auditorium capacity was listed as 300. So there were 300 seated in the auditorium and there had to be at least that many people behind me. Kagen staff began moving through the crowd indicating that the Congressman understood they were interested and he was willing to hold another town hall at some unspecified date in the future. They also reminded everyone about the session being held in Appleton, tomorrow. Though several people in the crowd complained that the Appleton venue is even smaller than the one at the Brown County Library.
When it was clear that the auditorium didn't have capacity for all those in attendance, many in the crowd started to chant that they wanted the action moved outside where the larger number could be accommodated.
At this point sentiment outside was incredibly negative. Many people were shouting randomly while others directed their ire at the nearest Kagen staffer. The comments at this point largely ran along the lines of, "if you can't organize a town hall, how can we let you run health care."
The crowd was mostly older, but varied age groups were represented. After 7:00, the Kagen staff closed the door to the auditorium citing a "fire hazard". I witnessed several tense moments at the door where a Kagen volunteer blocked people from opening the door. At this point the crowd frustration really in, and a chant of, "vote out Kagen," began.
At this point, we could hear both cheers and boos from inside the auditorium, but we couldn't tell at all what was being cheered and what was being booed. As early as 7:15 some people began straggling out of the auditorium, those of us near the door tried to press these people for information about what was going on inside.
One of the first to come out was a woman that said she was an opponent of the bill, but that what was going on inside was, in her words, "disgusting." She indicated that there was some type of shouting at almost every question or answer and that very little could be heard or understood inside the auditorium.
Additional people came out, and expressed the same thing. I spoke to a televsion camera man who had been inside the auditorium. He indicated the feeling inside was overwhelmingly against the health care reform bill.
At this point, I was still outside the auditorium, but as people left, additional people were allowed in to take their place. I had to wait until about 7:45 but eventually I was able to gain access to auditorium itself. It soon became clear that the feeling inside the auditorium was, if anything, more intense than what I had witnessed in the lobby.
Part 2 is here.