Saturday, March 20, 2010

Man With Parkinson's Who Was Berated By Tea Partiers: 'I Embody The Controversy' (VIDEO)


The man with Parkinson's who sat down in front of a group of anti-health reform rally in Ohio this week, only to have dollar bills thrown at him by an angry protester screaming about "handouts," tells TPM in a phone interview that he was aiming to present his own body as a powerful symbol of the debate.

"I feel I embody the controversy that was being fought out," Bob Letcher, 60, tells us. "No one was engaging, everyone was screaming. I thought, I don't have to scream, I just have to be there. I walked over and sat down ... I sort of presented myself as an argument by myself."

The episode took place Tuesday outside the Columbus office of Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH), where hundreds supporters and opponents gathered for dueling health care demonstrations.

Letcher made his way over to the anti-health care crowd bearing a homemade sign asking, "Got Parkinson's?" I Do and You Might. Thanks for helping! That's community!"

"I scribbled it -- it's not so neat because I can't write very neatly," says Letcher, whose voice has been slowed by the disorder. A former college teacher, he tells TPM he was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2000, but he believes he had symptoms of the disorder since 1996.

Letcher says he has been on disability since 2005. His last job was teaching science and technology policy at Ohio State. He had brain surgery in 2006, paid for by Medicare and by a charitable contribution from the Cleveland Clinic, he says.

"I feel really responsible -- the most important thing to me is thanking everyone who made that surgery possible."

He says he was not upset when an unidentified protester screamed at him, "If you're looking for a handout, you're in the wrong end of town. Nothing for free over here, you have to work for everything you get."

In a scene captured by the Columbus Dispatch that went viral online, a second protester then came up to Letcher. "No, no, I'll pay for this guy. Here you go, start a pot. I'll pay for you," he says, as he places a dollar bill in Letcher's lap.

"I'll decide when to give you money," the man screams, throwing another bill at Letcher.

Here's that scene:

Letcher tells us the man in the white shirt seemed "practiced at being cold."

"It was cultivatedly angry," he says.

But Letcher's spirits were lifted by one moment that wasn't captured on camera.

A "teabag kind of guy" holding a "don't tread on me" flag at one point came over to Letcher in the street and whispered "hey buddy, you better move, that car almost hit you."

"That was the only hopeful thing that came out of that day. Otherwise it was terribly discouraging," says Letcher.

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