This is the speech that I gave last night at the San Antonio Tea Party rally. I was sort of squeezed in between various celebrities, local and national. My job – to set the scene. I had one of those stupid hand-held mikes, which was very nice for Ted Nugent, doing one of his restless and kinetic rants, but it was a b**ch for me to handle it with one hand and keep my script laid flat with the other, against an intermittent breeze . Quite a lot of people didn’t hear me clearly, I’m afraid. Sorry, all. I thought there was a tech, minding the audio board. Anyway, this is what I said. I have no idea how it all looked – I didn’t dare look towards the jumbotron.
Hullo – and thank you all for coming to our modest little tea party in the heart of San Antonio! (pause for laughter) First of all – are we having a wonderful time? Fiesta San Antonio begins tomorrow, so we have been telling everyone to come for the Tea Party and stay for Fiesta. First though, I would like to thank everyone who took that extra effort, and worked very hard to make this particular place – this very special place – available to us, on very short notice. We would like to thank the ladies and gentlemen of the various departments of the City of San Antonio, and acknowledge the graciousness shown us by the members of the Fiesta Commission! Thank you, City of San Antonio!
Yes, this is a very special and significant place for our Tea Party – although most visitors, upon seeing it for the first time are surprised, because it looks so very small – nothing like the way appears in all the movies. San Antonio de Valero… so called ‘the Alamo’ for the cottonwood trees that grow wherever there is plenty of water in otherwise dry country. And there were cottonwoods nearby then, enough that the soldiers of Spain who set up a garrison in this old mission called it so, after those trees. Imagine – if you can – how this place would have looked, then! Just… imagine.
Close your eyes, and if you can, banish the sight of all these tall modern glass buildings, and those rambling beaux-arts storefronts, while I paint a word-picture for you. Go back… go back a hundred and seventy three years. The actual town of San Antonio is now some little distance away, a huddle of adobe and stucco walls around the tower of San Fernando.
The air smells of wood-smoke and cooking, of sweat and horses, and spent black-power. We are in a sprawling compound of long low buildings, a single room deep, with tiny windows, and thick walls. Some of these have flat rooftops, others with shallow peaked roofs. Many buildings have their inside walls razed – others have been filled with rubble and dirt to make cannon-mounts. The gaps between them are filled by palisades of earth, tight-packed and reinforced with lengths of wood, and tangles made of sharpened tree branches. All of this work has been done painfully, by hand and with axes, picks, shovels and buckets. The chapel – of all of these the tallest, and the strongest – is also roofless. Another earth ramp has been built up, inside; to serve as yet one more cannon-mount. This place has become a fortress, and last defense, surrounded by an overwhelming enemy force, a large army of over two thousand men, outnumbering bare two hundred or so defenders by over 10 to 1. This enemy army…, trained…, hardened and disciplined, is well-equipped with cannon and ammunition, with cavalry and foot-soldiers alike. By the order of the enemy commander, a blood-red flag signifying no quarter to the defenders of this place has been flown from the tower of the San Fernando church.
The story is, that on the day that the last courier left the Alamo – a local man who knew the country well, mounted on a fast horse bearing away final letters and dispatches – one of the Texian commanders called together all his other officers and men. He was a relatively young man – William Barrett Travis, ambitious and to be honest, a bit full of himself. I rather think he might have struck some of his contemporaries as a bit insufferable – but he could write. He could write, write words that leap off the page in letters of fire and blood, which glow in the darkness like a distant bonfire.
He was in charge because of one of those turns which bedevil the plans of men. His co-commander, James Bowie was deathly ill… ironic, because he was the one with a reputation as a fighter and a leader. Bowie was seen by his enemies – of which there were many – as a violent scoundrel, with a reputation for bare-knuckle brawling, for land speculation and shady dealing. And of the third leader – one David Crockett, celebrity frontiersman and former Congressman, he did not claim any rank at all, although he led a party of Tennessee friends and comrades. He had arrived here, almost by accident. Of all of the leadership triad, I think he was perhaps the most amiable, the best and easiest-tempered of company. Of all those others, who had a stark choice put before them on that very last day, that day when it was still possible to leave and live… most of them were ordinary men, citizens of various communities and colonies in Texas, wanderers from farther afield – afterwards, it would become clear that only a bare half-dozen were born in Texas.
It is a vivid picture in my mind, of what happened when a young lawyer turned soldier stepped out in front of his rag-tag crew. Legends have that Colonel Travis drew his sword – that weapon which marked an officer, and marked a line in the dust at his feet and said “Who will follow me, over that line?” It was a stark choice put before them all. Here is the line; swear by stepping over it, that you will hold fast to your comrades and to Texas, all you volunteer amateur soldiers. Make a considered and rational choice – not in the heat of the fray, but in the calm before the siege tightens around these crumbling walls. No crazy-brave impulse in the thick of it, with no time to do anything but react. Stay put, and choose to live, or step over it and choose to go down fighting in the outpost you have claimed for your own.
The legend continues – all but perhaps one crossed the line, James Bowie being so ill that he had to be carried over it by his friends. It was a choice of cold courage, and that is why it stays with us. These men all chose to step across Colonel Travis’ line. Some had decided on their own to come here, others had been tasked by their superiors… and others were present by mere chance. They could have chosen freely to leave. But they all stayed, being convinced that they ought to take a stand … that something ought to be done.
Imagine. Imagine the men who came here, who made that choice, who had the cold courage to step over a line drawn in the dust at their feet.
They were animated by the conviction that they were citizens, that it was their right – and their responsibility to have a say in their own governance. They were not subjects, expected to submit without a murmur to the demands of a remote and arbitrary government. They did not bow to kings, aristocrats, or bureaucrats in fine-tailored coats, looking to impose taxes on this or that, and demanding interference in every aspect of their lives. They were citizens, ordinary people – with muddled and sometimes contradictory motives and causes, fractious and contentious, just as we are. But in the end, they were united in their determination to take a stand – a gallant stand against forces that seemed quite overwhelming.
This evening, we also have come to this place, this very place – as is our right as citizens and taxpayers, to speak of our unhappiness to our government in a voice that cannot be ignored any longer. This is our right. Our duty… and our stand.
(Afterwards, I sat on some of the leftover stage platforms from the Glenn Beck program and talked to Blondie, one of the other executive committee members, and the husband of another. The husband had run a pizza place in New York, and he and Blondie swapped recipes and techniques for making calzones. For a bit, we were also chatting with Janine Turner, and her daughter, who had also come to the Tea Party luncheon with Glenn Beck, and was a last-minute addition to the program. Lest you think I have gone all celebrity ga-ga, I haven’t… it’s just that she was a a very charming and unpretentious person, and it was a crowd of us, waiting our turn to speak, or hanging around in the back-stage area with the spouses and friends, and a bunch of roadies knocking down the Glenn Beck set, and security types with earphones all murmuring into their sleeves, all fenced around with industrial yellow barricades. More to tell in the next installment… like, why I know now how Ted Nugent is so popular. And how a bunch of uninvolved, un-politically connected citizens managed to pull off a huge Tea Party rally in about ten days flat.)