A Report on the San Francisco TEA Party Rally

I’m sure you’re eager to hear how the “Tea Party” went. The short version is three pictures long:

The crowd assembled in front of City Hall…

…and marched to the Federal Building…

…where they cheered on various speakers.

I went to the rally but didn’t find any other local war tax resisters there. One of our crew did show up, but oddly we never ran in to each other even in the fairly small crowd.

So there I was, with my “War Tax Resisters Aren’t Buying It” / “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” sandwich board. The looks I got gave me the vibe of: “Is he from the bride’s family? the groom’s family? does anyone know this guy?”

A few people came up to talk with me. I didn’t get any hostility at all, mostly just curiosity. I told them what I was about, how I thought that war tax resisters might have something to teach that Tea Partiers might be eager to learn, and typically got a “hmmm” & a nod.

One fellow shared a good conversation with me about the prospects for tax resistance in the conservative set and whether as the country goes further to hell there’ll be any chance of the left-grassroots and the right-grassroots realizing that they have a common enemy in the politicians who are robbing them blind and telling them to blame it on each other.

The Party was dominated by the Fox News demographic, and the speakers tossed them the expected anti-Obama, anti-Pelosi red meat. To a large extent, many are eager to swallow what their manipulators are eager to dish out. But there were other folks there as well: some folks peddling Obama conspiracy theories of one variety or another, “show me the law”-style tax protesters, objectivists, some radical anti-capitalist critics of the economic crisis, and even a liberal Obama fan pissed off at the bailout who had the courage to grab the megaphone and address the crowd.

There was a sizable libertarian contingent — which you might expect, given the anti-tax, anti-government-spending focus. But other libertarians have been skeptical of the Tea Party phenomenon, and at least one went from being a Tea Party organizer to deciding to sit it out on the sidelines as the events became captured by opportunistic Republican politicians and media personalities.

A group of about a half-dozen very white punk rock kids, calling themselves “Anti-Racist Action” had somehow gotten it into their heads that the Tea Party was going to be a rally for the anti-immigrant “Minutemen” group. So they were there to counter-protest with a couple of signs reading “Smash the MinuteKlan” or some such. I may have been the only person who noticed. In any case, I saw a single sign in the Tea Party crowd complaining about the burden illegal immigrants place on taxpayers, but otherwise no indication of an organized “Minutemen” presence.

Amusingly, an Australian tourist came up to me at one point and asked if it was an anti-immigration demonstration. I was surprised and asked why he’d drawn that conclusion. He pointed to a sign reading “United States of France!” I had to explain that in the American conservative milieu, “France” is a shorthand description for everything bad, and that this had nothing to do with French immigrants.

How did the Tea Party compare with our local anti-war rallies, like that last ANSWER fiasco I went to?

Well… compare and contrast. On the contrast side, the Tea Partiers not only recited the pledge of allegiance, but they sang the national anthem and God Bless America… no Jackson Browne whatsoever. I also saw no giant puppets.

On the compare side:

  • There was at least one “hey ho” chant (“hey ho, BHO, keep your hands off our kids’ dough”).
  • The crowd was remarkably Caucasian. I could have probably counted the number of non-white faces on one hand.
  • There was widespread disappointment at the turn-out, combined with wishful inflation of the count estimate and the assumption that the media would under-count the rally. (If I had to guess, I’d say there were 500–750 people at the peak; a San Francisco Weekly reporter says “a few hundred”, Joan Walsh at Salon says “about 250”, the Golden Gate X-Press says “more than 400”, The Wall Street Journal says “a couple hundred”, the local ABC station says “about 300”.)
  • Authoritarian fringe parties were overrepresented among the speakers, who often deviated from the rally agenda to raise pet issues (at ANSWER rallies, these are usually various permutations of People’s Socialist Mumiaist Worker’s Party of the Socialist Worker People, at the Tea Party it was the Republicans.)
  • There were upside-down flags, protest signs written on cardboard with markers, and calls for impeachment.
No Blood From Turnips

The protest signs had a familiar ring to them.

Although the turn-out from our local war tax resistance crew was slim, at least one war tax resister elsewhere braved the Tea Party. Heather Snow got frustrated by handing out flyers at the post office and decided to take a look at the Tea Party in her neck of the woods. She was unimpressed. She tried to do some direct outreach (whereas I just sort of passively used my sandwich board), and found an unreceptive, if not hostile, audience.

Myself, I’m not sorry I went, though I’m hard-pressed to point out anything much that made a difference to my cause or theirs.

Here’s a brief report on the San Francisco Tea Party from Elizabeth Boardman, who was the other war tax resister present:

Oooh, my aching feet!

But otherwise I am pleased I went out to Civic Center at noon today to see what the Libertarians et al. were doing. A small cadre was just leaving the plaza to join the bigger group in front of the federal building. There were maybe 300… listening to speakers and responding with loud applause and cheers to many remarks.

Signs were anti-pork, anti-socialism, anti banks, anti-Pelosi and Obama, and anti-“illegal aliens.” One sign said “Socialism is an Obamanation.” One said Democrats and Republicans both tax and spend and indebt us too much. One sign said “Left and right, unite.”

I looked and looked but couldn’t see Dave anywhere. I suddenly realized that this crowd was ripe for Barry’s postcard. So, bless my old feet, I rushed to the Meetinghouse and the AFSC, took all the postcards I could find, and went back to hand out maybe 40–50 of them in about ten minutes. One guy shoved the card back at me, but I kept moving so fast that most hadn’t grasped the pie-chart side before I was gone. I hope no one threw them down.

On the way back to the rally (which was at the city hall by then), I helped a guy trying to carry too many Ron Paul signs, and we happily talked up a storm about left and right coming together at the far side of the circle.