April 18, 2010
An assemblage of the most ordinary people in America.
Being a lifetime student of public gatherings, but never having been to a Tea Party, I was curious to see what it was all about. It seems the sun hadn't been out for weeks and rain could be a spoiler, but somebody shut down the rain and the sun came out bright and clear for this event.
It was one of those mid-season afternoons – hot in the sun, cool in the shade. People started gathering on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse in the late afternoon. A certain energy began kicking up between sign holders and passing traffic. It was easy to see that many drivers were irritated. They would stare ahead with blank expressions while they drove by. Plenty others were blasting their horns and yelling out approval. The sign holders were a friendly bunch who came to stand in public presence under handlettered statements. The American flag was the predominant symbol of the day. Red, white and blue was everywhere but when it came to lettered messages, there truly was a wide variety.
There were literally hundreds of signs. Some were funny; some were angry; lots had the word "spending" in them and there were plenty about taxes. Many expressed a resentment that they had been let down or lied to; some pointed to revenge at November's election; an appreciable number criticized unions.
A couple of men looking like soldiers from past wars milled about the crowd with large American flags mounted upside down (symbol of distress). Some high school girls were selling cleverly written posters: "If you didn't have time to read the health bill – at least read the Constitution" and "Give Me Liberty - Don't Give Me Debt!" were two of my favorites. One large sign said "I Have A Dream and Obama's Not In It." The humor of this was doubled by the sign holder being of African descent.
As I looked around at the crowd of maybe 600 (not at all sure) I was taken at what a strikingly "normal" group this was. I guess what I mean by normal is that this was the old foundational American crowd. No freaks, no wierdos, just plain working-type folks. No question the better part of the crowd was over sixty. Just simple Americans - many veterans wearing their colors - wives, grandmothers, moms - people laughing and nodding in agreement over a funny sign or resoundingly singing "God Bless America" along with the singer on the stage. It was festive and happy.
April 15, 2010 approximetly 1000 people showed up in support
There were strikingly few youth. Grants Pass has a way of hosting massive gatherings of close-to-antisocial young people but apparently they didn't get the memo on this one. There was, however, a handful of highschoolers whose involvement was wholesome and enthusiastic. Even one politically acute lad chose to protest by holding a sign that said something like "Fox News is Nuts." He liked being the contrarian and standing alone in the midst of people who likely disagreed with him. More power to him, he's in the right country for that. What I realized, though, as I looked around at the general absence of youth at the tea party is that an event such as this would never be encouraged in public schools - and herein is an enormous danger to our country.
These few high schoolers who involved themselves in the Tea Party will seem unusual to their peers – a little bit out there. They will have done something that the other youth find strange. I asked one of the high school girls if she came to the Tea Party as a school assignment. She laughed at the thought. She had come to help her father and brought some friends with her. They were having a great time.
What I fear - and many are already aware of this problem - is that if the Tea Party is made up of totally normal wholesome God-fearing and country-loving people, then why are there not a passel of young-un's there as well? The high school is only three blocks away.
I don't want to rush to judgment because I did not actually try to promote the Tea Party in the school system, but I suspect the system would not want to encourage their students in such a direction. This would probably be looked upon as "fringe" politics – not the kind of thing you would want to see young Americans getting involved with. Then I look around: You would be hard pressed to find a more old-fashioned, loving, American, hard working wholesomeness at a gathering anywhere.
If I am right in my hunch that the Tea Party idea would be thumbs-down at the high school, then my conclusion is that public education could be steering their students in a selective political direction, not healthy for our country. Yet look at this opportunity to teach baseline politics and civic affairs. Why are they not sending the Civics and Political Science students to the Tea Party where free speech, the right to assemble and the right to voice grievances are actually happening right there on the sidewalk? These are pure American foundational footings – you can't get any more American than this. So where are our young? Picture me pounding my fist on the table.
Whenever people have a reason to assemble, they will inevitably attract ones who would give the gathering a bad name. By the time the Tea Party got rolling, nobody could miss the angry shouter on the sidewalk across from the courthouse. For those not from Grants Pass, the street is a one-way, three lane state highway that goes through the downtown. It's five o'clock and there's a ton of cars and another ton of people with signs. It is unquestionably a scene. The angry shouter across the street has two signs that are almost illegible. In a voice that reflects a deep need for anger management he is roaring "OBAMA'S A LIAR!!! OBAMA'S A LIAR!!" – loud and irritating. His line never changes. Barking like an angry dog, he doesn't miss a car. Comments and rumors spring up on the crowded sidewalk across. He will make us all look like lunatics. He has been put up to this by political opposition. His picture will end up on the front page of the Courier. Luckily his voice burned out early and he was done. If this man is truly in line for the reason for this gathering, he needs to find a mode of expression which cannot be so easily used against his own cause.
In another incident a thoroughly drunken man was being persistently obnoxious. People were tolerant of him and politely listened to his drivel. One man warned him not to use profanity. Then Sheriff Gilbertson, who was in uniform, just kind of casually followed this guy around until he left. It was extremely and correctly peaceful.
There was another persistent theme I found interesting. Some of the signs said "Vote Out the Democrats." This gave rise to controversy which respectfully countered that the problems facing our nation are no longer a battle between democrats and republicans, but between right and wrong on both sides of the aisles. I agree. It's no longer a political battle, it's a battle between right and wrong. We absolutely must return to a Constitutional basis for political decision making..
When people gather and assemble, they do it for a purpose. The purpose could be sports, maybe it's music, maybe it's employment, recreation, religion, school, etc. As I looked around the Tea Party I was overwhelmed at the central idea behind the gathering: It was because we were Americans – plain and simple. In the wake of that there were plenty of varying offshoots. Some political - some campaigning - some complaining - some just wanted to be out there under a clever and creative sign – but the overriding theme was that we are Americanns and that's the rock-bottom definition of what this crowd is all about. And may this writer add: What a great reason to be together.
My experience has been that we are seeing the disappearance of gatherings that identify us as red blooded Americans. In San Diego, our family volunteered our garage to be the official neighborhood polling place. What a reassuring joy it was to open our place up to the neighbors on this level. We were meeting face to face with our fellow citizens on the premise of being American voters. That's strong medicine.
Soon after, we moved to Oregon. The voting system was just changing to vote-by-mail. Convenient? Yes, but there goes the polling place - one of those rare assemblages of people that are identified simply by being ground level voting Americans. Folks, we are experiencing the slow erosion of American soul.
So I am delighted to see a spirited gathering where being American is the sole identity of the assemblage. If this is what a Tea Party looks like, we need to do this more often. We need to get bigger and add food and music. We need to bring out an awareness of who we are and what we stand for. We need to get excited to be Americans.
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Bill Sizemore, candidate for Oregon Governor, spoke briefly from the podium (actually he gets out in front of the podium – I like that). He said that we are in a battle for the very existence of the American soul. I resonated with agreement. The sign I had painted for the Tea Party was a huge American flag and the words "BRING BACK THE SOUL" I agree with Bill, it has to happen.
© 2010 Bernie Conrad - All Rights Reserved
Bernie Conrad was born in San Diego, CA, 1944. Attended College at University of California Santa Barbara and Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. Served in US Army Reserves 1965 -1971. Has worked primarily at building renovation and property improvement. Has worked extensively and tutored privately in art and woodcarving.
My purpose in writing is not political or religious. I feel the time has come to enlist in the war between right and wrong. I do not claim a background of specialization other than a love of my family, my fellow man and the American pursuit of happiness. There has been an unquestionable downturn in the character and quality of life within my country - within my lifetime. I see numerous causes for this phenomenon. These causes I identify as the enemy. To speak out against them is to fight for my country. I have gotten too old for the sword so I shall take up the pen. It is a privilege to live in a country where I may do this. It is a shame to see our own citizens unaware of this blessing.