I wrote this last April, during the First Great Teabagger Rebellion. I still think it's true: it's a terrifying movement that lacks cohesion, in that each member of the Teabag Party has an agenda which conflicts with the agenda of his fellow Teabagger. It's more influential than I thought it was, but not nearly as influential as the corporate interests bankrolling the whole thing thought it'd be.
Most of the 'Teabag parties' took place in the daylight, in mid-morning and afternoon. I guess in liberal, unReal America NYC, the organizers could only get a permit for the tail-end of the evening, just as the light was failing.
So Greg and I took the train downtown, and wandered over to where the rally was taking place. Some cops milling about. The square. Some serious-looking crowd-control fencing. It was windy-cold downtown, and the sun was dropping behind the buildings. We passed an elderly man with koala hair, a suit and a trench-coat, who was screaming at a worn-looking middle-aged guy in a puffy coat and brandishing a hand-written sign: "Socialism Is Not An American Value!!!" The old man with koala hair was yelling at the well-worn middle-aged guy, "We're not ON the gold standard, you idiot! What are you talking about?" The middle-aged guy shouted back, "That's not the point! We're headed to Socialism!"
Greg and I both decided this was gonna be an unpleasant experience.
The signage was everywhere. I mean, I've been to a few protests in my day, but I've never seen so many signs. Everyone had a slogan, and none of those slogans seemed to mesh very well with the other slogans, and I quickly realized what the teabag protests of '09 were about: anger. Healthy, democratic, American anger. People who'd been silent for 8 years (or more!) were suddenly feeling frisky, and were no longer afraid to trip up the lock-step of their Republican Party (because, let's face it, there weren't many Democrats in this crowd). With Bush gone and nothing left to lose, a lot of people were unbottling themselves like a flask, were feeling free to finally voice their own (healthy--I must keep reminding myself that this was 'healthy') doubts about the direction of the country. Where these people were when we began running up the national debt and deregulating banks left and right and starting two wars is beyond me, but here they were now, armed with signs. Just like those Liberals they've seen on the TV!
There were a few signs proclaiming Ron Paul the true leader of the American Dream. A few more insisting that Obama is a Socialist. A 9 year old kid was sandwiched between two signs almost as large as he, reading, on the front, "I'm Nine Years Old," and on the back, "And I Already Owe 36,000 Dollars to the Tax Man." A few signs attacked Chuck Schumer, a few signs demanded Obama produce his birth certificate, and one optimistic 80 year old woman in a bunting hat and red, white and blue clothing insisting, "We'll Never Be Iceland."
[If only. Iceland now has a lesbian prime minister--and she's hot, in a Helen Mirren kinda way.]
No one listened to the speakers on the stage. Instead, everyone tried to start their own chants. One very loud guy started chanting, "Down with Chuck" every five or ten minutes, drowning out whatever the person on stage was saying.
Another guy behind me, who didn't chant but lectured, said, at one point, that the government was already trying to paint the veterans returning home from Iraq (why do they never mention Afghanistan? Always Iraq) as "Right wing terrorists." Then he suggested that some hippies might appear at any moment to "beat us all with sticks."
[As if true hippies are known for their violent intent.]
When a speaker said that "The Empire State" was no longer as powerful as it once was, there was some sadness in his voice. The crowd, however, cheered. These were people standing in the Empire State. When that same speaker talked about how wonderful the city had been, how strong its citizens once were, he cited the construction of a vast water system, a train system, parks and recreation and... the audience booed. Someone shouted "Public works! Boo!" and it was as if they didn't understand what the speaker was saying. They weren't listening. They didn't want to hear. Works done for the public benefit: Bad.
Another speaker tore into the media. The speaker suggested everyone continue watching FOX News, btw. As if the weakness of the right is getting their news from more than one source.
The speaker who inspired Greg and me to leave, btw, was a black talk show host. He told a story about how he'd been filling in for [insert right wing talk show host here], and got a call from some guy in Georgia. The caller from Georgia called the black talk show host a "racist redneck Obama-hater." The black talk show host continued, "Now obviously that guy didn't know me. So I let him talk. And when he was done, I said, 'Sir, I'm an AMERICAN racist redneck!' And that's all of us! We're all American racist rednecks! Say it with me, New York!" And the crowd, kind of confused, chanted "I'm an American racist redneck!" a few times.
Behind me, I heard a guy say, "... But I'm not a racist...." and the chant died down.
Truthfully, I agree with some of what was said, with some of the signs. There was something for everyone at the rally, because it was so unfocused and so confused. The bailouts sucked. The bailouts were a Bush thing, tho. And, to be honest, some of it was necessary. And "The FED Needs To Be Audited." Okay, that sounds good. But people were also screaming about how their civil rights were being violated, and I just wanted to ask them where they stood on gay rights. It'd be nice to know, even though I already could guess.
After Greg and I snaked our way out of the crowd, long before star speaker Newt Gingrich made his appearance (and his speech was probably the only where attention was paid, because he is the Right's Willy Loman), we made our way to the train station. Greg, who takes things even more personally than I do (if that's possible), said, "I feel sad. That was a giant clusterfuck of ideas."
I'd already disengaged from the rally, so I was reluctant to discuss the whole thing. Still, I asked him what he meant.
"I've been worried about all this. Really. Worried. I've been afraid they're gonna work their way back into power or something. But they're just angry, and they don't have a cohesive anything. They're all over the place, and they don't know what they're talking about because they don't want to talk about the one thing they all have in common."
I waited. Finally: "And what do they have in common?"
"They all hate what's happened over the past eight years just as much as we do, but they can't bring themselves to admit it."
"Blame Bush?" I asked.
"No. Blame themselves. And they're being manipulated. They don't want to see it. It's not about taxes. It's about power and accountability, and they have neither."
Then Greg said this: "I'm not afraid anymore. It's all one big joke. Only it's on them, not because of them."
Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.
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