UPDATE: I have just been reminded by many diligent readers that “Tea Baggers” is widely accepted as a negative term. At the risk of sounding oblivious or insensitive – and just plain naive, I was using it as a term of affection. But I digress – and at the chance that someone will not read my piece based on the construct of the word in a title, I have changed it. It has been a teaching moment for me and with it, I’ll leave a lesson for you here: don’t judge the book of Erica America by the cover – it’s impossible to pin my ideology because every day it is in some way shaped by the stories I hear and the people I meet. I’m just your eyes and your ears. My opinions are rarely inside the fold… and when they are you will know.
READ THE POST BELOW. KEEP AN OPEN MIND.
I saw something unusual today at the Tax Day Tea Party Rally – and it wasn’t bright yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags or the woman dressed in a revolutionary gown. It was a woman wearing a Politico employee t-shirt with a name tag that had the logo for Cision – a PR service that collects information and data. What was she doing? Handing out a “Census Form” to a group of willing, middle-aged people at the footsteps of the Washington Monument. Trying to uncover who, demographically, these so-called Tea Partiers were.
The Tea Party – a rapidly growing movement that started supported in part by initiatives of Freedom Works, a conservative advocacy group in Washington, DC, has spread like wildfire to the states with messages about high taxes and an expanding government – that resonated real time. If your’re web savvy, all you have to do is check out the Tea Party Patriots web site, and scroll through, state-by-state, to see the hundreds of membership organizations and data of a growing group of well, pissed off Americans. But before today, I always thought Tea Partiers were racist, homophobic jerks?
Is the Tea Party misunderstood or is the misunderstanding about the Tea Party? I decided to find out.
As I walked around the National Mall, cutting through a current of signs, I stopped to talk to normal looking people. Did I profile “normal?” You bet. I’m an Indiana Hoosier so nothing about Midwesterners, manufactures or miners seems unusual to me. And as I walked, that’s when I met Jerry from New Jersey.
Jerry was a clean-cut, Country Club looking guy.
“I’ve been involved in the Tea Party for a little over a year now. We’re here looking to make a statement that we’re not ok with what the government is doing. Congress and the Administration. We’re in a rapid slide that is – well taking us to a place that is not the way I think of America.”
“The government can not spend money like they do,” a gay man with his partner, told me.
“It’s going to back up this country. Why am I here? I think its collectivism, the fact that we’re getting together with people who have like minds. We’re peacefully assembling and petitioning our government.”
I do love a good demonstration of the First Amendment.
On my way out, I stopped by the concession stand (I was famished) and before I could find a hot dog, I found something better. A bubbly woman from Pennsylvania with a sign that read “Taxed Enough Already.” When she sat down at the picnic table, I squatted in front of her, held up my camera, and we talked.
“Everything you touch or buy, you’re taxed on,” she told me.
“I have 14 grandkids. Some are in college, and they don’t know what it’s like yet to pay for their own rent, their car, and insurance. Sooner or later they will find out – and when they do, they won’t be happy. We are taxed to death.”
Like everyone else – I asked her: “How was it doing your returns?”
“I am retired and my taxes – well, you’d be surprised how much you pay – retirement income, it’s pretty amazing. I also just lost my Uncle, like a week ago. And now I’m finding out what the death tax is all about. It’s absolutely horrible. I can’t not believe the money he earned, he paid taxes on, the money he saved, he paid taxes on, and now that he died, we’re paying taxes on. It’s been taxes three times over. That’s insane.
So with that, I packed up my gear and made my way through the crowd one more time to my walk home. What just happened? I wondered to myself. Are these people made to be completely fictitious characters on TV – mainstream news – to serve some kind of pre-existing media narrative? Or are they, as I tweeted this: “Americans are worried, broke and tired of career politicians. Can we blame them? #TeaParty.”
Turns out I have no idea if Politico and Cision will be making their survey results public – or if it’s something for their internal marketing and targeting purposes. Either way, I commend the idea. So basic yet so important.
There will be more to come from me on the story of the Tea Party. The Express is moving and I’d hate to miss a good ride.