Up Close with the Tea Party on the National Mall

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.


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.

Posted via web from ericaamerica’s posterous

5 thoughts on “Up Close with the Tea Party on the National Mall

  1. Jack10025

    My issue is some ARE racist, homophobes, birthers, and other radical fringe types. Most seem reasonable and have every right to express their opinions.

  2. Evan Summers

    Ms. America,

    Do I consider myself a political activist? No.
    Am I a little too loose with donating to political causes? Probably.
    Do I understand DC? Never.

    Here is what I do know:
    My mom was getting her hair did at a Valpo salon one ~70 year old turns to another ~70 year old and says, “Have you joined the Tea Party yet?” To which the other responds, “Yeah, I did last week.”
    *A lot of this looks like fair-weather fans hoping on a band wagon.

    Civilized society has a price. Taxes have been charged since the days of Mesopotamia. The conservative movement, and therefore the TEA party ultimately aims to remove taxation. Can you name a few countries that don’t have income tax? I can: Andorra, Bahamas, Brunei, Kuwait, Maldives, Monaco, Nauru, Oman, Qatar, United Arab, Emirates, and Vanuatu. Those are the “civilized” societies; they can do this because they are either tax havens or have oil. Beyond those, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the Sudan and Somalia don’t have a true tax system. Maybe we should just be like them…
    *I enjoy paying my taxes because it means that I made money. People forget that you only pay tax on the money you make. If you are paying a lot in taxes then you made a lot of money.

    Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic blogged the following quote yesterday of the TEA Party’s embracement of Sarah Palin: “She knows we can keep social security and Medicare and global power for ever and balance the budget without any taxes.”
    *Note the sarcasm in Andrew’s writing.

    Taxed Enough Already. WTF. A real question for these baggers would be to ask them what their federal return looked like compared to past years. I’m going back out on that limb and I’m going to say this: If they paid anything at all, most of them paid less.
    *The problem isn’t taxes, the problem is debt. I would be ok with the “Debt Is Trouble” (DIT) Party.

    I could go on and on and on but what good would it create?

    A few other thoughts from a liberal:
    – I find it hilarious watching this “grassroots” movement. I am advocating for the democrats to lose the House or Senate in 2010. Why would I do that? Because I can’t wait to wake up the progressive’s grassroots and webroots traditions. We created online organizing and when we can finally voice our opinions in good nature, it will be a sight to see. Groups like MoveOn, Courage Campaign, OFA, DFA etc have been training members for the next push. Say what you will of community organizing but we have built an army of formally trained activist; across America there are people sitting on their couch chomping at the bit to use what they learned and make a difference. I’m really excited to see it.
    – In your article, “Jerry” made me laugh by his use of “collectivism”. BAHAHA
    – Can anyone explain the use of all the misspellings on the protest signs? I’ve heard that it is actually liberals trying to discredit the TEA Party but I don’t buy it. The signs have been misspelled since day one of the TEA Party movement. Also, not once have I been asked to attend a TEA Party rally as a liberal with the intent to engage/discredit.
    – The conservatives are ridiculing the idea of “Social Justice.” How can they advocate for the advancement of Christianity and the denouncement of social justice. The entire idea behind Christianity is social justice. “Jesus died for OUR sins.”

    Keep up the good work,


  3. Scott Henrichsen

    Here’s the thing I find with these folks, as I have talked to them in my travels through the capitol on their other protest days – they want less debt AND less taxes. Well, where were these people when George W. Bush and the Republicans went about gutting the tax code, providing enormous tax cuts to the richest Americans (who didn’t even WANT them), while simultaneously starting two very expensive wars?

    There were no tea party demands to tax us to pay for those wars with tax hikes (as we have done with EVERY single war we’ve waged since 1776), and there won’t be protests calling for that now. (Yes, I know we’ve also borrowed in the past, but every other war has come with a tax hike, NOT a tax cut).

    They rail about welfare when it involves poor people, but not a peep when it involves Archer Daniels Midland, or any other agribusiness giant or DOD contractor.

    They scream about free markets and government regulations being too onerous for business, yet complain about the bailout package, which had to happen because the regulations governing Wall Street had been cut back and gutted so far that the rapacious financial firms gorged themselves on ill-gotten profits until they collapsed. Since that left the entire US business community without viable credit streams, our very economy was suddenly quite vulnerable. Even George W. Bush got that, which is why he’s the one who started the bailouts. But suddenly Obama is a Socialist Fascist Terrorist Nazi Muslim because he also got that? The bailouts stopped a complete financial collapse. How does that make Obama the bad guy?

    They want the government’s budgets to all be cut to the bone, but don’t want anything to happen to their own medicare or social security.

    They want the government to stay out of their lives, yet they’re willing to cheer for ridiculously onerous restrictions on a woman’s LEGAL right to choose while not calling for equal rights for gays & lesbians.

    Many of them call for the elimination of all foreign aid. This is just plain asinine and ignorant. Given the tiny percentage of the budget that is foreign aid, and the strategic advantages we get for that aid in many places all over the globe, how could this possibly be in the best interests of the United States?

    They also get all misty (or horny) when talking about flags, veterans, founding fathers, and their own “my-great-granddaddy-was-a-poor-immigrant-who-came-to-this-country-with-nothing” stories, but think that all Mexicans should go back home. Why? Because they’re brown? What could be more American than a poor immigrant who comes here to seek a new life for his family? Why are the Mexicans so bad?

    They run around with “Obama is Hitler” signs, and question his birth / citizenship / legitimacy, when it has been proven over and over and far beyond even a shadow of a doubt that he is our legitimate American president. And they expect me to take their arguments seriously?

    They demand a return to a Constitutionally limited government. A Constitution which clearly includes freedom of religion, yet scores of signs are clearly anti-Muslim just because the twin towers and Pentagon terrorists were also. Funny how there are no Anti-Jesus signs, even though Timothy McVey was a Christian. Hmm…

    I think that some of the tea partiers have a point about government overreach, but they also have an unabiding faith in the wisdom of big business leaders, who have shown us time and again that they will poison the environment and even their own customers in their relentess pursuit of profit if not reined in by the people. I think that the vast majority of the tea partiers are being played as pawns by the very NOT grass-roots Americans for Prosperity, Dick Armey and Sarah Palin and their ilk. They’re being used by the conservatives to fire up the base, so that the Republican party can regain power.

    Paying taxes is patriotic, period. And our tax levels in this country are just plain low. The fact is, we’re not taxed to death. Our tax burden is very low in comparison to every other Western country. And, for the most part, our lives are really good. Our roads and streets are good, our police and fire response are very good, there are no insurgent warlords running sections of the mountain regions, our DOD is second to none, etc, etc, etc. Well, all of that takes money. Period. And the screaming about the inheritance tax is just plain baloney. There would be nothing to inherit if there were no fortune, and there would be no fortune were it not for the excellent market conditions in the US of A. Of course you owe money back to the government for that. The government has been more than instrumental in the creation of those market conditions. You didn’t amass that fortune in a vacuum. And since inheritance taxes don’t even kick in for the overwhelming majority of Americans until WAY beyond the level most of us have amassed, it’s an argument that sounds good, but really doesn’t even apply to most of the protestors (despite the really fun name, Death Tax).

    We’ve been borrowing Chinese money to make up the difference between what it costs to run this place and what our politicians are willing to stiff us with as far as the bill is concerned. If anything, they should be demonstrating for higher taxes AND less spending, in order to get us back into the black. Don’t bet that you’ll ever see it, though. Until we do that, we’re just turning ourselves into China’s tenant.

    IMHO, many of these folks are just ignorant of their own hypocrisy, not to mention US history. The tea partiers’ “Freedom Good – Taxes Bad” mantra isn’t helping our financial situation. In my opinion, their attitude is a huge part of the problem. And since our government is by, for and of the people, then to be so virulently anti-government is really to be anti-people, isn’t it? And while I don’t think that all tea partiers are racist or homophobic or violent, I do think that there are plenty who are, and there is absolutely no denunciation of that nutbaggery within the tea baggery. And that’s why I can’t find much respect for those people. As a matter of fact, while I vigorously defend their First Amendment rights to their free speech, and even their Second Amendment rights to have their Virginia-side-of-the-Potomac upcoming protests so they can carry their sidearms, I find most of their rhetoric, antics and arguments to be at about a 7th grade level. Quite frankly, as a group, they are embarrassing Americans.

  4. Light

    Last time i saw you doing a interview with Helen Thomas. I had heard Helen say something about zionism. Why dont you ask more about what she means by zionism.


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