03. May 2009 · Comments Off on Riding the Wave – Tax Day Tea Party Wrap Up · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Politics, Tea Time

Those of us on the Tea Party planning committee knew it was going to be huge, even if attendance at it only met the minimum SWAG (semi-scientific wild-ass guess) – which early on, we set at four or five thousand, if it didn’t rain and with no celebrities. We had an RSVP meter on our website, which eventually topped out at nine thousand planning to attend. At the final executive meeting, Easter Saturday, we agreed to go ahead and secure an overflow site on Hemisfair Plaza. At some point, to be left to the SAPD on-scene, we would start directing partiers there. We had made arrangements for portapotties and a jumbotron or two, but pretty much forgot about it in the press of everything happening in Alamo Plaza. Our bad – when we compared notes afterwards, none of us had been able to make our way over there; I sure as heck didn’t have the time on Tea Party Day.

Monday and Tuesday, after Easter was just flat-out insane; I think I did a call-in to most of the radio morning shows, with updates about what was happening. I did venture over to the public radio station where I used to work, otherwise it was phone-in. And three print media interviews… and it’s all a bit of a blurr now, but on one day I had three stand-ups for local news – for which they were all so eager that they hied over to the house to do a stand-up in the garden. Well, too of them did, KENS-5 set up in the street; the neighbors were curious, I am sure, but too well-mannered to come over and ask what the heck. And one of the cats yacked up on KSAT-12’s extension cord. (At least, I hope it was cat vomit, and not from the other end…)

There were so many more things that we could have organized, so many more people we might have brought into it – but it happened so fast, especially over the last four days that we had barely enough time to make an immediate decision and move on to the next three or four items screaming for attention. I still have a list of things screaming for attention at a slightly lesser decibel level, such as a pair of very apt cartoons, done up as posters, which we used for the media center, and for which I still owe a thank-you email… it just never stops. Apparently I am a political activist now. Or as Robin and the others keep pointing out – community organizers.

I knew it was going to be a long day when we headed downtown, and heard an update on the Tea Party on the car radio… which brings me neatly back to where I started this epic, with a walk-through of Alamo Plaza, and helping to assemble the media badges, at desk in the Menger Hotel lobby. I walked back to the Emily Morgan with a thick handful of them, held by their elastic leashes, set up to hand them out at 2 PM to the anticipated descending media hordes. It was about noon by the time I finished with that, so I went with one of the photogs to grab a hot sandwich and fries at a funky little restaurant on the Plaza, just across from the Menger where all the important celebs, VIPs and members of the committee were probably eating something a lot more higher end, culinary-speaking. Back to the Emily after we were finished – the Plaza was even more crowded, and I could hear amplified music, an electric guitar and wild applause. It seemed that they were testing the sound system, with Ted Nugent’s assistance – he was out there, goofing around, even though it was still only mid-day, the streets weren’t even blocked off. It was getting crowded, too – one hour to go until the media people came to pick up their passes, two to the press conference, three until the start of Glenn Beck’s broadcast, five until our own event.

There was a crowded room for the presser – just Robin, and Eric G. and I on one side of the table, and a room full of press, cameras and laptops on the other. I think we may have run out of chairs, for the first five minutes or so, until the major TV media reps got the couple of seconds they needed, folded up their tripods, bagged up their gear and left. No surprises among the questions, pretty much what we had expected. Robin expounded on the almost-by-now-standard accusation that the Tea Parties are astro-turf; a false front for some shady corporate or political party. No, calmly and rationally, one more time – none of us were ever politically active before, all of us have day jobs, and we were brought to participate in the Tea Party for various reasons, but the insanity of a cripplingly large stimulus package passed by legislators who hardly bothered to read the darned thing proved to be the final straw.

One hurdle safely over – I thought I would go upstairs to a room at the Emily taken by a friend of ours and put up my feet for a while. Blondie and I had a key-card for it, so we could leave our purses there. The room had a view of the Alamo grounds and the Plaza, from eleven floors up, and even with the windows sealed I could hear the cheering from down below. Reconsider original impulse – I would circulate, and take some pictures for myself, with Blondie’s digital camera, and get a sense for myself of how it was all coming together. I meandered through the Alamo Gardens, across the famous front of it, and into a long pergola, behind an arcade that lines the Plaza; a fair number of people, not terribly crowded. I came out of the Alamo Gardens across the street from the Menger Hotel.

Not being an aficionado of protests and political action projects I have nothing much by way of comparison, but it felt rather like a rather jolly block party – but with signs and banners. Everyone seemed to be polite, and having a wonderful time, discovering how many other citizens felt just they same way they did. There was one strange man with a bible in one hand and a sign of the “Repent or you are DOOMED!” variety in the other, shouting a blood and thunder sermon at the top of his lungs. Everyone seemed to be ignoring him, and I overheard someone in the crowd say that he was a regular; anyway, his voice gave out after fifteen minutes. A number of people noticed my committee badge and thanked me and the other organizers for having thrown such a nice party

The crowd became thicker, the closer to Glenn Beck’s stage that I got. I gave it up, by the entrance into the Hyatt. There was just no going any farther; people were standing so close together that it was impossible, not unless I wanted to push and shove. One of the photogs later said he was stuck for half an hour in the dense crowd there. I went back the way that I came, towards Ripley’s and the bandstand in front of the Menger. About halfway there I found three guys, one with an Obama shirt having a shouting match with another Tea Partier. For all that we were worried about agent provocateurs picking fights with other Tea Partiers, filming the results and winding up on YouTube as brutal reactionary racist KKK thugs beating up on some innocent counterprotester; these three were the only ones. Sigh; well, here I was, one of the committee members – better look like I had some authority over all this, in my best Catholic high-school principal style. It hardly seemed necessary to remind the people standing around that well… the Obamanauts were trying to provoke a reaction. Just about everyone seemed to know that already. Politely pointed out to the shouting Obamanaut that he could perhaps win over more agreement with his views if he stopped shouting, actually read the Constitution, and engaged in calm and rational discourse… and could everyone please recall the manners that their mama’s taught them? They did appear to have a confederate in the crowd with a video camera; another committee member said that I did show up on a brief and thankfully boring YouTube video. Other reports have them giving up and going away shortly afterward. Ah well – just recall, dissent is patriotic.

Just before six, Blondie and I and some of the other speakers – the non-celeb ones and some committee members and their families- assembled in the lobby of the Emily Morgan, to be taken from there through the crowd to the backstage area. We did have a law-enforcement escort, an off-duty county sheriff who looked for all the world like a huge concrete car-bomb protection bollard dressed up in a black suit and cowboy hat. We threaded through a couple of barriers, across a raised planting made bumpy with tree-roots and into an area behind the stage, which was only a little less crowded than the area outside of it. No place to sit, except on some leftover staging. Someone brought us bottles of ice-cold water – and there we waited and talked, and looked nervously at the stage from the back. Someone pointed out Janine Turner, with her middle-school-aged daughter, sitting with Matt Perdue on the staging along with the rest of us. It turned out that she was a last-minute addition to the program – eh, what the heck. She had a draft speech, which Robin asked me to check out. Otherwise, it was something like the military; sit around and wait. She is a very pleasant and unpretentious person, by the way; also physically very tiny. I had never known she was from Texas – Matt and I talked about books, and the weird coincidence that I had written about his great-grandfather in Book 2 of Adelsverein.

The seriously celeb speakers – Glenn Beck and Ted Nugent – came in through another passage-way through the crowd, from the Menger, practically swamped with security… that is, large, tough-looking gentlemen with earphones, speaking quietly into their sleeves. They were delivered to the back-stage a few minutes before their appearances, and lingered a little bit afterward. I had the feeling that we were all just sort of a blur of faces, passing in front of Glenn Beck. He was hurried away by his bodyguards, but Ted Nugent hung around for a bit longer. It seems very odd to say that he has charisma, but he has, and also the gift – when he is with other people – of seeming to be very intensely focused on that individual. Blondie and I talked about this, and with some of the other committee members who also talked with them both, and they all agreed. When he talked with anyone, even briefly as he scribbled an autograph – he was just overwhelmingly interested in you. On-stage in front of an audience he was just magnetic; he seemed to draw in the energy of the crowd and feed it back to them, amplified up to the max – and that this was something that he lived to do. In a strange way, it was the class clown, grown up; Oh, there is a crowd! I must get in front of people, entertain them, excite them, make them cheer! It was actually kind of endearing – and he did get rather carried away, and uncorked some pretty uncensored language, permanently bollixing any of our claims to be a strictly family-friendly event. But even the most strait-laced members of the committee seemed prepared to be indulgent about this – I guess they felt the endearing-class-clown vibe as well. Curiously, one of our non-celebrity speakers, Katherine Moreno seemed to feed on the audience in the same dynamic way.

Ah well – it took me almost longer to write about it, than it did to happen, from start to finish. My feet hurt so much that night, from walking around in boots – next time, I swear, it’s running shoes for me.

And there will be a next time. We are finalizing our location – a destination ranch, in a loop of the Cibolo, with a grove of trees, some ready-built stage venues and a herd of longhorns. Think of it as Woodstock, Texas-style. The April 15th party was just the opening shot across the bows.