Talking with the Tea Party
I seriously considered that on a gorgeous sunny St. Louis day, I should be outdoors transplanting hostas and ferns, and then having a cold drink with my husband on the deck. But I elected instead to trade my old gardening clothes for casual business attire, and head to Arnold City Park for the first Jefferson County Tea Party rally on April 10.
My goal was to be a true citizen journalist, take some pictures and primarily have casual conversation with TP people. I told people that I spoke with that I was simply there to listen and report. I was not there to argue, and so I did not ask questions that would have given away my lefty leanings. I told folks that I was seriously curious about their motivation to attend such an event...and that IS the truth.
I arrived at the park about 15 minutes before the event was to begin and drove through several lots of parked vehicles checking out the license plates to see from how far people had come. Mainly I saw Missouri plates, but there were Illinois and Kanses plates too. Sounds of country music filled the air, along with the voices of laughing children playing in the bouncy gym the TP had rented. Vendors hawked their various buttons and bumper stickers, flags and pamphlets. Some of those aspiring for elected office were handing out information on their candidates. "Vote for John Wayne Tucker" signs were especially delightful, and his people were proud of the fact that he was a member of the First Baptist Church in Arnold. Paid petitioners roamed the parking lot nearest the field where the event was staged; the same petitioners that roam the sidewalks outside of stores and public areas all over town.
Despite the organizers' breathless announcements that there were one to two thousand people in attendance, I estimated between five and six hundred. In fact, prior to the declaration of "thousands", the people I asked said they thought five hundred. Nevertheless, for such a nice day where people could have decided at the last minute, as I nearly did, to stay home and enjoy the day, it was a sizeable crowd.
In answer to the shouted question by TP organizers as to "how many of you are from Jefferson County?" only about one fourth raised their hands. There were a few more the second time the question was posed. Many of the people present were my age - sixty somethings.
As I panned the crowd during the afternoon with my video camera, several things impressed me. First, there were many people carrying American flags...Old Glory...The Red, White and Blue. But Old Glory was by far outnumbered with an older American flag, the yellow "Don't Tread On Me" Gadsden's flag. The flag is the one with a coiled rattlesnake ready to strike and is reminiscent of the American Revolution. They were selling like lemonaide on a 90 degree day. A giant float-sized blow up version of the Gadsden snake was being walked around the crowd. And so I wondered to myself just what would have been said of liberals had we chosen to carry the same Gadsden flag during protests against the war in Iraq. We would have been called traitors because of protests in wartime. I'm not calling the Tea Party crowd traitors, but I know that liberals would have been judged harshly for such acts.
Secondly, I roamed through and around the crowd all afternoon, and it was a virtual sea of caucasians. I saw one black guy, who was surrounded by enthusiastic Tea Partiers welcoming him. Now they can say black people attend their rallies! Oh, and there were several black folks in the parking lot working as paid petitioners. The last time I was in a sea of Tea Partiers was at the McCaskill town hall for health care in 2009, there were more black people in attendance. But they were being shouted at and told that "the Acorn bus has left without you", and were the butt of many racial epithets that I personally heard in the crowd.
So that brings me to my third impression. This Tea Party rally was very calm and actually somewhat boring. One person I spoke with said there were "too many politicians". One politician after another came to preach to the choir. Far more energenic and hostile are the TP demonstrations directed against Democratic politicians, or town halls, or those who show up to rally against liberal causes. There was no one for the Tea Partiers to yell at. There were no counter demonstrations. If there were television cameras, other than those posted by the TP organizers, I didn't see them. I did see a photographer from the Leader newspaper here in Jefferson County. I did not see an article in the Sunday post Dispatch. People were saying, "Where's the press?" I told some that the press want action; people waving flags and signs don't attract the media like a good fight.
I documented on film what Ed Martin and others preached to the crowd. But what interested me most was the answers given to me by people in the crowd. I asked four basic questions: "What brought you here today?", "Where do you get your news?", "Would you like to see the elimination of Social Security?", and "What can be done to bring jobs back to America?".
Virtually 100% of the TP people I spoke with answered that "I only watch Fox". I didn't ask why, but you can understand why they are so uninformed. When I asked one woman why she came, she said the President promised transparancy in the government, "but they didn't show anything". I asked her if she got CSPAN, and she replied, "what is that?" These are basically nice people I spoke with, but they are firm believers, and I mean firm, that only Fox News and talk radio are telling them the truth. Many signs echoed the response I got as to why they came, and that is," keep your hands off my money", "stop spending my money", and "you can't multiply wealth by division".
On the whole, most of the signs were respectful by comparison to the Obama as terrorist, fascist, joker, monkey, signs we have seen elsewhere. "Obama is a wussy" and "Democrats destroying America" and "Reincarnation" with Hitler to Obama photos, was the worst it got.
The jobs question I posed brought another unanimous response of "Cut taxes". The fun question about eliminating Social Security was usually met with quizacle looks. I had to explain that I thought they may be in favor of that since Dana Loesch was going to speak, and that during her appearance on the Larry King Show last week she said, "I absolutely would eliminate Social Security". No one saw the Larry King Show of course, because they were trained on Fox. But surprisingly, the answer was "Sure, if I could get my money back." My normal snarky self returned when a woman said, "We paid into it, so we get it, but those who come after us, it should be eliminated." I replied, "Like your grandchildren??", and walked away.
The rally organizers saved the speakers everyone came to hear, Ed Martin and Dana Loesch, for last. Having had enough wind, sun and political speaches, I had to leave during Dana's rant. I caught enough to quote her, Ed Martin and others for a second article I'm calling, "Now is our time". Monday.