It's a blustery day in Santa Monica, but the unseasonably cold weather hasn't taken the wind out of the sails of the 200 or so "tea party" protestors perched on the Palisades bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Unopposed except for a handful of "Code Pink" ladies in high heels, these "patriots" are buoyant as Escalades, Hummers, and Ford 150's zoom by, honking approval. They're in their element, and take comfort in the mob.
Walking around with both a video and stills camera, I expect wariness and suspicion, but encounter just the opposite. Folks are almost giddy to get their side of the story out. A few mental "snapshots" of the day:
- Proud parents show off their sign-carrying preschoolers like circus animals and make them do tricks for my camera.
- Teenagers gleefully chant "Obama is the new Hitler!", in between rounds of "USA! USA! USA!"
- A self-proclaimed "military historian" - who's never served himself - tells me how Obama's healthcare plan will force the old and sick to be euthanized so healthcare can be doled out instead to his "base" of welfare cheats and "ghetto people".
- A man carrying a "You Are Not Entitled" sign proclaims they tea-baggers are "not like ACORN" or union organizers, that they aren't paid to take the day off to be there.
- I meet an indigenous Mexican couple - Margarito and Cleo, household servants for an elderly westside couple - who look decidedly out of place in the mostly upscale Anglo crowd. I learn they were brought by their employers expressly to hold and distribute extra signs for the couple and their friends. Since it was a work day, yes, they were paid to be there.
- A "fair and balanced" cameraman for Fox 11 news shooting b-roll commiserates with a protestor on how high his taxes are, that he wants a %10 cut in his income tax, a %25 cut in his property tax. Or else.
The crowd was a mix of the truly crazy, the truly frightened, and the profoundly angry. The emotions were raw, electric and real. What they didn't understand they demonized, what they thought they knew they gleaned from the collective wisdom of Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh. No talking point was left unsaid.
But here is what I didn't see. Despite all the care and feeding Fox News and other right-wing organizations had invested in making these tea parties happen, there would be no follow-up, no organizing this "community". No clipboards were distributed to collect names and contact information. Once these folks had had their fill of shouting and sign-waving, they and their anger and ignorance would disappear back into the woodwork, satisfied that for now at least, the job was done.
As someone who's had to do a lot of care and feeding of volunteers, I see this for the mistake it is. Despite the hype and the fear, nationwide only about 250,000 people showed up for these "tea parties"; ten times that many watched from the Capitol Mall as Obama was inaugurated.
This fire will die down, not grow. The crazies will always come, but the merely angry will stay home, satisfied their duty is done, the demons excised. Once the stimulus money and the tax cuts start making their way through the population, it will only get harder for the organizers. Barring another major downturn in the economy or a major screwup on the part of the Obama administration, the organizers have blown their wad. And hopefully, their chance.
Time will tell.
For your viewing pleasure, please enjoy this video I put together of the event. Click here to see the photo gallery.