Tea Party Sign: THE WORLD IS FULL OF STUPID PEOPLE AND UNFORTUNATE THEY NOW OUT NUMBER US
About seven or eight thousand people showed up to the downtown St. Louis Tax Day Tea Party rally. In the parking garage near the public plaza where the rally was held, I watched attendees pull cardboard signs out of their cars: rusting pickups plastered with pro-gun bumper stickers, or pristine Cadillacs and Range Rovers in shades of champagne.
Many of the attendees carried American flags, or wore t-shirts with flags on them. Some carried Gadsden flags — a coiled colonial American rattlesnake above the slogan "Don't Tread on Me." The Gadsden flags were all exactly the same shade of yellow, with the same style pole, indicating they'd come as a set. Some wore hats that were hung with teabags. Some had brought babies in strollers, or small children. Most of the children were carrying signs. I noticed a group of tween girls with matching signs that read "Just Say No to Socialism" below photos of President Obama with a line through his face.
The crowd was overwhelmingly white. Among thousands gathered with flags and signs, I counted four people of color. Perhaps there were more lost in the thick of the crowd, but I didn't see them.
Behind the gathering, at the edges of the plaza, several homeless men sat on park benches, ignored by the people carrying teabags and flags and signs. I asked one of them what he thought of the protest.
"What's it for?" he asked me.
"That's what I'm here to find out, actually," I said. "They say it's to do with taxes, and government spending. But I'm not clear on what they want to change. I'm here to take pictures of the crowd and the signs, and ask different people what they're here for."
"Oh," he said. "I just got out of the hospital. Barnes." He showed me his medical bracelet. "I'm hungry."
"I'm sorry," I said. "If I had any food on me, I'd give you some." Normally, I keep a granola bar in my purse, in case my son needs a snack while I'm out. But I didn't have one. I wished I'd had it, to offer. "Do you have a place to sleep tonight?"
"No," said the man, "just this bench." He resettled himself on the bench, turning away from the crowd.
Tea Party Sign: CALL THE Elitists WHAT They ARE DICTATORS!!!
I had been a little worried about coming down to cover the Tea Party, openly wearing my press pass that showed me as a writer for a liberal blog. After being told by some other local bloggers and journalists that a white supremacist presence was expected, I had done some quick research, and come across this message on the StormFront white nationalist message board (search for the text it if you want proof of origin; I'll not give them the link traffic):
I believe that this is the white revolution we've been waiting for.
It doesn't look what we expected but this is it.
I've seen probably 50 videos on TV showing previous marches and what strikes me is that the participants are all WHITE. It stands to reason . . . we're the ones being taxed to support Affirmative Action, Welfare and other worthless social programs. It's our tax dollars going to ACORN and supporting the 12 million illegals swarming into our neighborhoods.
For the first time, white people (a.k.a. the lemmings) are finally awake and taking to the streets.
Right now the movement is about taxes . . . but with leadership and guidance we can help turn this movement into a lot more.
So turn off the computer. Take off the red laces and fold your jeans over your Doc Martins. Hang the storm trooper uniform in the closet. Take off the robe. Reverently fold your Confederate flag and put it away for now.
Become one of them. Join the marches and help organize future events in your neighborhood. Go slow . . . don't hit people with WN philosophy all at once.
Become a leader and a teacher. Show them the relationship between what they want and what we want. You can help convince the people you meet that even though they themselves don't see it yet, a return to white values and a white nation is the answer to what troubles them.
So you might imagine, I was a little wary about running into militia types while wearing credentials declaring me to be a liberal blogger.
Tea Party Shirt: TEA PARTY MILITIA MEMBER
But I didn't find the StormFronters. And no one seemed to notice the MOMocrats press card dangling openly in front of my shirt, until I deliberately showed it to them. In fact, a couple of College Republican types wearing t-shirts that said things like "Terrorists support anyone but Bush" tried to flirt with me a little, until I flashed my press creds and my wedding ring.
When a few fellow local progressive bloggers and I tried to ask people why they had come to the protest, though, many of the attendees seemed reluctant to speak on the record. "Are you with CNN?" asked one man. "We don't talk to CNN." I heard other people in the crowd whispering about the "local liberal TV media."
The reasons I did get for attendance revealed a motley assembly. A contingent of Ron Paul supporters had come, with signs and a folding table, to plug the former presidential candidate's website, Campaign for Liberty; they were passing out fliers and gathering signatures to promote HR 1207, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, a bill sponsored by Ron Paul to audit the Federal Reserve.
Several followers of Pastor Michael Hoggard (click at your own risk), a Christian "Last Days Prophecy" promoter and government conspiracy theorist, were at the rally to promote Hoggard's Watchman internet video series. They handed me a flier that read, in part:
Free DVD's [sic] available of any of our Watchman Broadcasts, plus dozens of other subjects including the new world order, bible prophecy, secret societies, DNA, and much more!
The Constitutional Coalition, a local group that promotes, among other things, the teaching of "a Biblical Worldview" in public schools, was passing out copies of their newspaper, Front Line, which contains a "Missouri Voters' Guide" promoting conservative legislation.
Several pro-life protesters wandered the crowd with their requisite sonogram pictures; a group of burly white men held up signs blaming illegal immigrants for the poor economy. One protester appeared to be against government use of caffeine, but unable to spell it:
There seemed to be little agreement among the signs, or the crowd, on what exactly the Tea Party protest was about. Were the Tea Partiers (or, ahem, teabaggers) protesting immigration laws? Abortion laws? Firearm regulations? Government bailouts of corporations? Government bailouts of homeowners? ACORN? Science education? Secular public education? Ron Paul's presidential campaign loss?
Because it certainly didn't seem to me that they were actually protesting President Obama's plan to return tax rates to the top 2% of earners (those earning more than a quarter of a million dollars a year) to the level they were under President Clinton by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, and cut taxes for 95% of working American families.
After all, no conservative crowds gathered to threaten revolution when President Reagan reneged on his tax cuts of 1981 and raised income taxes in 1982. (Or when Reagan raised the gas tax by a nickel a gallon in 1983 to pay for — say it sexy like Rachel Maddow would — infrastructure, or when he closed business tax loopholes to the tune of $50 billion in 1984.)
No. Seeing several thousand protesters of nearly every conservative creed — from Ron Paul Revolutionaries, to white nationalists, to libertarians who want their government small enough to drown in a bathtub, to born-again apocalyptic Christians, to upper middle class WASP suburban Republican soccer moms concerned about the value of their 401k gathered in a plaza beneath the soaring silver arms of St. Louis Arch made me think that what the majority of the Tea Partygoers were really protesting was this:
The peaceful, progressive revolution that Tea Party organizers weren't a part of.
President Obama's election was a revolution. The crowds that gathered at Obama's rallies, and the people who voted on election day, were a huge portion of America standing up to defend our Constitution. Standing up to say: no more.
No more irresponsible wars. No more detention without trial. No more spying on American citizens without a warrant. No more torture. No more unchecked executive power. No more putting the success of big business before the needs of ordinary people. No more putting tax cuts for the wealthy ahead of the wellbeing of the middle class.
Ironically, many of us who supported, volunteered for and voted for Obama do not approve of every aspect of his handling of the current economic crisis. Some of President Obama's supporters also worry that he has not gone far enough to correct the Bush administration's abuses of executive power. In a nutshell, many of the progressives who marched the farthest and fought the longest in this peaceful revolution worry, not that the President is leading us down some scary "socialist" path, but that the leader we elected may, in fact, in the Bushian sense of the word, be too conservative.
But, if, after a time, the America's new moderate-progressive majority decides that President Obama isn't quite progressive enough, we know what to do.
We'll vote. In an election. You know, for representation. In our democratic government.
The one the real American revolutionaries won for us over 200 years ago.