Sunday, September 13, 2009

My First Tea Party: Why I joined in

I've never been to a demonstration/protest/rally before. It's not my..."thing". While my involvement in politics has increased dramatically since I became old enough to have something to lose, I've never really felt passionate enough about something to go demonstrate.

Perhaps that is because in my lifetime protesting has largely been the tool of choice of the Left. The right, as a general rule, are not protesters. And the moderates...well, we think both sides are nuts and tend not to get too close to either lest something undesirable rub off.

Besides which, I've never felt that protests work. In my rather short political history there's been little evidence that it does. How many anti-war and anti-Bush protests were there? What did they accomplish? They couldn't even sway enough democrats to their side.

Plus, I felt that their rabid, frothing anti-Bush hatred undermined their entire argument. I mean if these people were reasonable, thinking human beings they would surely realize that there is another side to the issue and be willing to acknowledge it, right? They would be more convincing if they acted reasonable. At least in my book.

Well, times they are a-changing. Over the last year or so I've grown increasingly dissatisfied with both parties. The Left are too busy trying to spend all our money, sock it to the rich, and get as many special interests hooked on government funding as they can. The Right are too busy trying to spend all our money, sock it to everyone but the rich, and annoy as many special interest groups as they can.

And then Obama took office. Though I didn't vote for him (my vote for McCain was not an enthusiastic one), I at least had hope that he would be who he campaigned as. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. For awhile, at least on national security, it appeared he might be okay.

But as a team, Obama, Pelosi, and Reid have been atrocious. Obama has largely sat it out on domestic matters. He has offered no leadership on any of his "pet projects". He's simply told Congress "Send me a bill, and I'll sign it". So the democratic congress has served up the biggest slabs of partisan legislation they could find, laden with pork, and stuffed with little "gotchas". And they've tried to run them through before anyone had enough time to read them, a sure sign that they've had something to hide.

But the Republicans haven't had anything better to offer. Granted, the Democrats have largely cut them out of the process. But they've been unable to get any message out at all, let alone one that resonated with the public enough to sway them to their side. The GOP has become the party of zombies. They've done precious little to earn any trust. The only good thing they have done is keep saying no. But my own democrat congressman does that, too.

Then there's the corruption. The Republicans can't keep their pants on and the Democrats can't seem to file an honest tax return to save their lives. Nancy "I'm going to drain this swamp" Pelosi has done nothing to try to restore ethics wot Congress--unless a Republican does something wrong.

So I'm sick of all of them. No one represents me in Washington anymore, except perhaps for the Blue Dog Democrats, and then only on fiscal matters. The left has done their absolute best to shut down any dissent, including trying to frame any criticism of the sitting president as motivated by racism. That's a bunch of hooey, and they know it. But they also know that if they keep hurling the same epithets at reasonable people long enough they get scared off and go away.

Well here's a news flash for you. I do not trust Obama. I do not like his policies. I think his plans are dangerous. And I am not racist. I defy you to prove that I am. If Bill Cosby were to run for office I'd vote for him in a heartbeat. If Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice were to run for office I'd seriously consider them after a good look at their policies. I judge people by the content of their character, their words, and their actions. Skin color matters about as much to me as the color of their car. If you've got any evidence to the contrary I urge you to bring it forward.

But to get back on topic, I'm extremely dissatisfied with our government--all of it. However, except for elections, which happen far too infrequently to avoid the pending disaster that is a Obama supported by Pelosi and Reid inadequately opposed by the GOP-light, there is nothing we can do except protest. And I've felt protest to be an ineffective tool of the politically demented.

The Tea Party protests have given me some hope. And the Town Halls of August helped, though the level of anger coming out has made me wary of associating myself with any of it. The 9-12 group has some good ideas, but I've associated it too much with Glenn Beck. Mind you, I don't mind Glenn Beck. I read his "Common Sense" and found it to be very good. He's got some good ideas. But he is an entertainer, and he takes his discourse to levels I do not wish to go.

So when I heard about our local September 12th Rally sponsored by the 9-12 group I wasn't interested. But the night before I talked with a friend who is more politically impassioned than I am. He asked me if I was going, and I said I wasn't. We discussed my reasons, and I posed the question of what good it would do.

He explained, first of all, that beyond saying it's a good idea, Glenn Beck is not involved in the 9-12 group. He encourages people to look into it, but that's it. And to answer my question of what good it would do, he simply reminded me that the more people who show up the more likely the politicians will take notice, and those who show up help determine what it is the politicians hear.

I replied that it was all well and good, but the only chance we really have to make a difference is for Americans to stay angry until the 2010 elections, and I doubt Americans will do that. He countered that the movement doesn't need angry people, it needs concerned people who are willing to stand up.

We ended up moving on to other topics, but the discussion stuck with me. Saturday morning in the shower I replayed the conversation in my head and realized that my excuses were just that--excuses. What chance does the Tea Party movement have of sustaining its efforts into 2010 if it sputters and dies now? If people aren't willing to stand up now while it's still fresh, who is going to stand up in a year from now when the powers that be are pulling every trick in their playbook to help us forget all about this year?

There is another reason to protest, and I had been the one to think of it during our conversation. There are people out there considering running for office. The way our election cycle works they have to be making their decisions soon if they are to get things started soon enough. By protesting now, these people may get a chance to see what issues are really important. It may help them shape their platform, and it may get good people who feel similarly to run, taking the protests of a sign that the support may be there for them next year.

But it basically boiled down to the fact that for me to feel as strongly about the situation as I do and then to not try every avenue to get my voice heard would be a useless waste of energy at best, and downright hypocrisy at worst. I really started to think hard about going.

I looked up the information online and saw that it was not just the 9-12 group sponsoring the rally, but also the Tea Party organization. That further nudged me toward going--while the Tea Parties are painted and dismissed by the left as just right-wing extremism, they are really about as centrist an organization as you're likely to find in America right now. I would not be presenting myself as one of "Glenn Beck's Evil Minions."

But there was the matter of my kids. My wife does volunteer work on Saturday mornings, and I watch the kids. They're 8, 6, and 4 years old, so taking them would not be the easiest thing to do. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this would be a good opportunity to teach them about citizenship and government. I want my kids to grow up with a different example than I had.

My dad was passionate about politics, but I don't recall him ever doing much more than yelling at the television during the party conventions and arguing with friends. I'm beginning to see now that I was wrong, but at the time it just turned me off. I don't like extreme emotion, or extreme devotion to a cause (Dad was a Ditto-head), and from my dad's example, I learned to dislike politics intensely.

I want to be different for my kids. I want to show a calmer, more rational view of politics. I want them to know that I keep informed and form opinions, but that I can discuss it rationally with anyone who is willing. I also want to show them that there are times when talking is not enough and that people of conscience must act--act rationally and within the law, but act nonetheless.

From what I've heard of the Tea Party protests so far, I figured this would be about as safe a rally as I'm ever likely to find. Taking my kids would pose no problems beyond their ability to keep up with the march. There was little chance of seeing something that I would have to explain before they're ready to understand it. In hindsight that was not entirely an accurate assessment, but we got lucky.

So I ended up loading the kids in the car, driving downtown, parking near the rally zone, and walking with my kids up the hill to meet the rally as they marched downhill from their starting point. I was able to spot my friend and some of his kids, and we joined in. He was surprised to see us, and flattered when I explained it was largely his doing.

The paper today indicates there were about 1500 people involved. That's pretty good for Idaho, especially for a moderate-to-conservative cause. It was calm, rational, and pleasant. My kids had fun being in the "parade", as they called it. They would have liked it more if I'd thought ahead better and given them some signs to wave, but all things considered, it went well. We left early, as they were getting hungry and started getting bored once the speakers started, but we were there long enough to count, I think.

Later in the day I checked the news and found out about the 2 million protesters at the Tea Party in Washington D.C. That's a staggering number. If the politicians fail to take notice of that then they're too stupid to serve.

Frankly, I wouldn't have thought a turnout like that was possible. That alone is enough to make me glad I went. I think I would have been embarrassed had I not gone and then found out that so many others did--enough to possibly make a difference. Instead I can take some satisfaction that, in a small way, I was a part of something much, much bigger than just me.

Obviously my story is not unique. There are a lot of people going through much a similar thought process right now. A lot of people who thought their individual participation probably wouldn't matter, but took a chance anyway. One by one, person by person, we individually added up to a very big something.

And that sent a message louder than anything we might have shouted, or anything we might have written on a sign. I was there, and so were my children. There is hope that we can change the world after all--or at least our country.

1 comment:

Ronaldo said...

Three words: You rock, bro. Maybe the next Tea party I'll talk myself into going. The only real problem is that so far they always happen on days when I can actually earn some money (ie the farmer's market). But in retrospect, I could have taken last weekend off without any real financial impairment. Reeeally slow day.