About two weeks ago, the other members of the San Antonio Tea Party committee said to me –“You’re the one with a with the broadcasting background, YOU go out in front and interface with the multi-headed and hungry media beast, while the rest of us work our a***s off trying to organize a nationally broadcast tea party rally for upwards of 9,000 people in the middle of downtown San Antonio… check in with us now and again, we’ll let you know if we have anything specific we want you to put out there.” I took it as one of my media relations duties to see what else was going on out there in the wilds of the internet, regarding a potential tea party in San Antonio. I discovered by the miracle of google, a discussion thread appended to a MySA blog, in which one commenter sneeringly remarked that any proposed Tea Party would be a pathetic bust, with maybe four or five looser racist RethugliKKKan freaks in attendance. I don’t know what that commenter does for a living, if anything, but accurate prophecy is not one of his or her gifts. One of the other organizers and I were told by a police officer, as the rally was winding down, that attendance was clocked on the ground as 16,000 people, give or take. (Subsequent analysis of the aerial photo of Alamo Plaza by the San Antonio PD at the peak of the rally showed approximately 20,000 people. Not bad at all, for a work day.)
Blondie and I headed down early, as I was scheduled to do a walk-through the venue with John, a professional photographer who was volunteering his services to document the event, and some other volunteers who were doing the same with video cameras, Matt who had been working out all the necessary permits… well, it turned into a gathering of about half the executive committee, standing in the little ornate Victorian bandstand that stands in front of the Menger Hotel. It was very cool, and pleasant, and the paving stones around the bandstand were wet, as if it had rained the night before, or if the whole area had been washed down. The trees are now all well out in leaf. At nine AM there were already early-bird tourists in the Plaza, and moving across the square of lawn, and through the walled gardens and pergolas that frame the old mission church of the Alamo. Even at that hour, there were people setting up folding chairs and holding up signs, along the barriers set up where the stage for Glenn Beck’s Fox broadcast would be.
I wasn’t needed for much of the walk-through, so I talked with John and some of the other committee members, before I walked over to the Emily Morgan Hotel with Robin – the guy who wound up being the Chairman of the Tea Party, very much to his surprise. One of my ‘oh, duh – we probably need to arrange for this’ moments in the last week before the party came when I realized we would have to arrange for a place to park the descending media – the large, the small, the bloggers and all. And several days after that revelation, that we ought to have some kind of press conference, too… and the Menger Hotel was already the site for Glenn Beck’s luncheon. We were already setting up a command post there; best to have the press room elsewhere; the Menger was already maxed-out. It seemed throughout all this, that helpful volunteers popped out of the woodwork, offering extraordinary skills, or contacts, or facilities just at the exact moment when those skills, contacts or facilities were most needed. The volunteer who took over as security coordinator appeared in just that very way, a retired career LAPD officer, with command experience, just when it appeared that we would have need someone with skills in juggling major event venues, large crowds and celebrities. So it was with this; a helpful lady called on the very morning that I realized we would need a space, scoped out the Emily Morgan, and procured for us the use of a conference room. She even put it on her credit card, until the committee could reimburse her; a nice-sized room, with a series of narrow tables, all arranged class-room style. We also used it for our data entry volunteers to work in, and at the end of the day we had a plan to assemble our non-celeb speakers. It was actually quite refreshing, as the afternoon wore on, to have a quiet place to sit, and as a fallback place to stash things for a while; video equipment, boxes of tee-shirts. I was only grateful that they found another place for the canoe. Wrestling that into the freight elevator would have been a bit much for the poor bell staffers. Look over the conference room, set up a table in front to do the press conference from; Barbara, the events manager checked in with us and had her staff bring in a podium, which was very much appreciated.
People were already gathering, with folding chairs and signs by ten or eleven of a morning. John the photographer – another one of those volunteers who had appeared out of the woodwork, with vast experience in covering sprawling events like this – had been circulating all morning. He told me there were a lot of people who had come from out of town; from California by plane and a carload by marathon overnight road trip from Missouri. Back to the Menger – the crowd already tripled by the time that I walked back. The lobby was jammed; attendees for the fund-raising luncheon, and a handful of Tea Party volunteers cutting apart the sheets of laminated badges, punching holes in them, and stringing them onto lengths of elastic; numbered badges in different colors for the executive committee members, for VIP guests, for media and our documentation team, to access back-stage areas, for those who were going to be provide roving security and medical services, for venders, for the sign-in tables… more or less serving the purpose of letting everyone know who had authority of one sort or another, and who would be allowed through security barriers. This is one of those things that come up, when what had originally been thought to be a 600-person gathering in a city park suddenly explodes into a national event. The teen-aged daughter of the committee member overseeing all this had stayed up half the night, cutting and knotting lengths of elastic for these badges, and been excused from school for the day for real-life experience of a peaceful civic protest.
(To be continued)