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Through the Looking Glass. . .

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"Don’t forget your pitchfork!" – a friends response when informed that I would be attending a Tea Party.


     Over the past year, I have heard a lot about the Tea Party movement, much of it negative, some positive. I do, from time to time, listen to conservative talk radio. 


The Tea Party bashers would have you believe that these events are akin to that very famous tea party in "Alice in Wonderland." I’m talking about the cartoon classic here, not the Tim Burton rehash.  A few irrationally fearful lunatics, totally out of touch with reality, brought together by nonsense: "Unbirthdays" in one, "America’s rapid deterioration into a Marxist state" in the other.  And the Tea Partyers’ solutions to the "problems"? Cutting government tenfold, ending federal income tax? Why, that’s like fixing a watch by taking the wheels out and replacing them with butter, jam, sugar and tea. But never mustard, don’t let’s be silly!


Of course the Tea Party supporters harken back to that other famous tea party, the one that took place in Boston some 230-odd years ago.  A bunch of educated patriots, including some of the greatest men of their time, lashing out against an unjust and tyrannical government.  Back then, it was Sam Adams and Paul Revere leading colonists (many dressed as Indians) in revolt against King George and the British Parliament after the passage of the Townsend Acts.  Today, it’s Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity leading Americans, many dressed as colonists, in revolt against King Obama and the Congress after the passage of the health care bill and stimulus package.


Which is it?  Are they moronic, racist, fear-mongering homophobes spewing disinformation and conservative rhetoric?  Or are they true patriots, the watchdogs of freedom, sounding the alarm before it is too late?  Or could it be that the truth lay somewhere in between?


I decided Thursday that it was time to see for myself. I headed down to the Capitol at noon, ready for anything and everything.  And that’s about what I found.


I arrived at the West Mall just as the rally was set to begin. The lawn in front of the stage was teeming with people.  The Tea Party organizers, who had predicted more than 10,000 spectators, were overly optimistic.  The evening news reported 2,000 in attendance, a gross underestimation.  If I had to put a number on it, I’d say there were close to 5,000 people. Keep in mind, I don’t count crowds for a living, but I had almost 2,000 people in my high school. I know what 2,000 people looks like, and this was at least double that.


 Jess and I began milling through the crowd, keeping a keen eye out for the racist rhetoric, angry protesters and general redneck buffoonery we had been warned to expect.  I hate to disappoint the "Through the Looking Glass" crowd, but we found none of the first and very little of the latter two.  


A lot has been made of the tea partyers being a bunch of middle-age, racist white males.  Several well educated friends of mine warned me to expect to witness overt racism at the party.  I witnessed none, overt, covert or otherwise.  As far as the attendees being white, the majority may have been, but it was far from a homogeneous crowd.  Maybe it didn’t look like a Benetton ad, but other races were well represented, and without incident. On the other hand, Larry Elder, a libertarian radio host from Southern California, who is African-American, did begin his speech with a "Hello, fellow racists," so maybe there were some there, I’m not sure. Larry would know better than I.


Were there a lot of men in attendance? Absolutely, but there were also a lot of women.  And families.  This was not a boys club.

What of the furious, combative protesters? A man on stilts dressed as a cross between Uncle Sam and "Where’s Waldo,"  preaching loudly about what an "Obamanation" America has become, made Jess a bit uncomfortable.  But I think that had more to do with the stilts than the angry rhetoric.  And it certainly didn’t help that his "feet" (stilt shoes?) were skeletal and creepy as hell.  The Uncle Waldo experience was the closest we came to a frothing protester, and it wasn’t very close. 


I asked a group of mounted police if they had had any trouble from the protesters.  I got a "I think there may have been one arrest this morning."


How about the "morons" who make for such great soundbites and video clips with their inability to speak intelligently when pressed on why they feel certain ways?  I’m sure there were some there, but when you have a group that large, they’re not all gonna be Rhodes Scholars.  I did see a couple of signs with "your" instead of "you’re." Kinda kills you’re credibility. (you see what I did there?)


All told, I was there about two hours.  I would have stayed till the end but the guy onstage started talking about political action committees and I almost swallowed my tongue.  When I can’t sleep, I don’t count sheep, I count PAC’s and I’m out like a light.


I saw a lot of funny costumes, heard some cheesy protest songs ("Obama, Keep the Change" by Boo Reed, available now on iTunes) and witnessed a few less-than-tasteful signs. I’m not a big fan of pasting "choose life" and "former fetuses" stickers on the side of your toddler’s wagon.  


Mostly what I  saw was a lot of people from all walks of life getting together to voice their displeasure with the state of affairs in this country, as American a practice as ever there was.  Dismissing the Tea Party movement as a lunatic fringe is clearly a mistake.  Janeane Garafolo and Keith Olberman may disparage them as a bunch "of racist tea-bagging rednecks", but they’re either misinformed or deluded. (And they have had far too much fun with the "teabag" double entendre. It was funny for a minute, but we’re not in junior high. Grow up). These are basically "normal" Americans.  Maybe comparing them to the Boston Tea Partyers is a bit of a stretch.  But then again, maybe not.  I mean, the Boston Tea Party wasn’t always the "Boston Tea Party."  It once was just a bunch of yahoos who dressed funny and were pissed off about taxes. 








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