Here's the deal. For whatever reason conservatives just don't protest. You don't see them marching down the street, chaining themselves to trees or buildings and screaming incoherently into megaphones at the top of their lungs.
This is one of the reasons why yesterday's Tea Party protests have garnered so much attention. These aren't the dime-a-dozen insta-rallies we've seen over the last eight years put on by professional protestors. Instead average people took time off from work, many of whom have never attended a political demonstration in their life, to exercise their right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Seattle Police estimated that about five hundred protestors packed into Westlake Park to protest higher tax and the intrusive nature of the federal government into the daily lives of average Americans. The event was peaceful and festive, marked by patriotic music and handmade signs harkening to the 1773 Boston Tea Party.A few things were different. There were no drums circles. No one wore a mask over their face to hide their identity. Instead of taunting police officers, as usually happens when protestors from Evergreen or Seattle Central Community College crash a rally, the Tea Party folks thanked them. The ever present stench of reefer wasn't hovering in the air. The event started with the Pledge of Allegiance and ended with a singing of "God Bless America".
Damn. These Tea Party folks are such amateurs. Don't they know you have to have property damage and a good tasing or two in order to get a point across?
You Mean THAT Hancock?: Kirkland resident Sam Hancock, a direct descendent of Declaration of Independence signer John Hancock, was in the crowd waving a picket reading "Government Commits Treason Against America". He criticized Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and a recent intelligence estimate warning that returning Iraq and Afghanistan vets were engaging in "right-wing extremism".
The crowd was filled with veterans, mostly old soldiers but a handful were back from the war, carrying signs and engaging in the right-wing extremism being warned about.
Like most of the protestors, Hancock deplored the trillions of dollars of additional debt being piled up by the Administration.
"We're screaming out not to do this but they're doing it anyway," Hancock said. "We don't write checks when nothing is in the bank. Neither should they."
No Cajones: For all the talk of "teabagging" by detractors, only a handful of counter-protestors had the balls to show up. The most visible were a couple carrying signs that read "I Shaved My Balls For This?" and "Bring Back Crystal Pepsi". The duo scuttered away after about a half hour of being ignored.
(The Pepsi placard does win the No Prize for best obscure retro reference of the week).
The only other sign of opposition came from a local reporter, embarrassing himself professionally, who went around asking everyone what the term "teabagging" meant.
You know. Like in the verb. You get it? You get it? Nah, you don't get it.
GOP Go Home: One of the myths promulgated by detractors and parroted by lazier members of the media is that the Tea Party movement is a Republican movement. It is true that the GOP has attempted, late in the game, to scramble up onto the bandwagon. In actuality, the movement is just as hostile towards Republicans who have blithely voted for bailouts and pork projects.
Steve Beren, a two-term challenger to Seattle congressman Jim McDermott called out individuals in both parties, lumping Republican Senator Arlen Specter with the likes of Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
"We will hold Congress accountable, both Democrats and Republicans," Beren exhorted. "What we're doing today will effect the 2010 and 2012 elections."
Mowing the Astroturf: Since we're on the subject of double entendres, one of the criticisms of the Tea Parties is that somehow they're an "astroturf" movement being ginned up by FOX News, the Republican Party or some nefarious corporate interest.
The term astroturf, by the way, is pundit-speak for a political campaign meant to convey the appearance of a grassroots movement when it is in fact orchestrated by a single entity. It's a word average Americans don't use. An example of it in action would be the top-down opposition to the "tea bag" movement, say by the websites DailyKos or Huffington Post, attempting to label it as astroturf.
Grassroots: What is the interesting story, and one that has been completely overlooked by every other local news outlets save this one, is that the Tea Party movement can trace its beginning directly to Seattle. It started on Feb. 16 in Westlake Park. Seattle teacher Keli Carender, who organized yesterday's rally, was fed up that the Obama Administration was funneling hundreds of billions of dollars to corporate interests and contributors to his political campaign all under the guise of the Stimulus Package.
Rather than sit around at home, venting her frustration on blogs, Carender decided to take her grievances to the streets. That rally inspired dozens of copy-cats from average citizens who thought it a good way to give voice to their frustrations; a voice that's been ignored not only by the federal government but by establishment in the Republican Party.
"Do not try to tell me that I got my marching orders from someone," Carender told the crowd yesterday, adding. "We don't believe in paying our protestors."
The Eyman Tea Party: Initiative icon Tim Eyman spoke at the Olympia rally before finishing up the day in Seattle. Always an attention getter, he tried to focus the crowd's energy in pushing his latest ballot measure I-1033 instead.
Although all the Tea Partiers were amenable to the initiative, Eyman might be pressing his luck a little too far, attempting to co-opt the movement.
"We're all here at today's Tea Party to tell politicians that we can't afford higher taxes. But an even more effective way to communicate that is with Initiative 1033." Eyman followed this remarks a short time later adding, "Let's make Initiative 1033's vote in November the ultimate tea party."
You Forgot Ron Paul: Also very visible in the politically diverse crowd were ex-Ron Paul supporters working under the Campaign for Liberty banner. Their presence puts the lie to the top-down theory that the GOP is secretly organizing these rallies. The party has been rather ruthlessly purging followers of the presidential hopeful from PCO lists. In turn, the Paulites have made life hell for party organizers in county and state conventions across the country.
Protesting Nickels' Gun Ban: Although most of the protestors were carrying teabags and signs, it seems that at least a couple were openly packing heat. This reporter observed one man with a Glock strapped in a hip holster hovering around the outskirts of the crowd, filming the proceedings. Technically Washington is an "Open Carry" state and it's perfectly legal to carry a handgun in public. It's not every day you see somebody exercising that right. Certainly not in downtown Seattle.
Street Sweepers: Before the Tea Party dispersed, yesterday night, organizers admonished the crowd to pick up after themselves, making sure not to leave any trash or flyers laying around. They didn't want the place to look like the National Mall when Democrats trashed the place after the Inauguration.
To that end, every scrap of paper in the plaza was scoured and thrown into trash bins. Perhaps local governments can sponsor roving Tea Parties for litter control along roads?