Today, I was responsible for two high school students at a local charter school. I struggled with the idea of bringing them to a tea party but I was worried that I would indoctrinate into them a political ideology that they didn't ask for. As such, I did something devious and also I approached it in an academic way. First, I gave them a choice. We could prepare and attend the tea party or I had several booklets on things like Credit Default Swaps, Reverse Mortgages, and Options to read. In other words, either they attend the tea parties or they get bored to death. Yes, that was devious but they decided to attend the tea party.
Next, I made sure that they approached it academically. I gave them my high priced camera and instructed them to take as many photos as possible. In preparation, I had them read the top four stories on the tea partieson Real Clear Politics. Two of them are pro and two of them are anti tea parties. I explained that much of the movement started with the rant by Rick Santelli. I also showed them how the movement uses twitter, facebook and other new media to get its message out.
Then, I told them to approach the protest as a reporter and be objective. I told them they needed to answer who, what, where, when, how and why. So, this reporting comes from my day with them.
There was a crowd at the Dirksen Federal Building of several thousand. There was somewhere between three and five thousand in my estimation. One of the most fascinating things about the protest was that the protest became a bazaar of protest groups and activist organizations. At the protest, I met a group of Quakers that are against war. They believe that the federal government spends too much on the military. I had two problems with their platform. First, they couldn't tell me just how much of the budget should be spent on the military. If it can't be quantified, I have a problem with it. Second, they believe that we should enter into some sort of a negotiation with Al Qaeda. Such looniness is extreme and marginal.
There were several other groups. One pushed H.R. 1207, a bill pushed by Ron Paul. This bill would require more scrutiny and transparency of the Federal Reserve. Ron Paul believes we should eliminate the fed entirely and he is a libertarian pol. There was also a group that wants to make the Church of Scientology pay taxes. I didn't know they were even tax exempt. There was even a group protesting Obama's plan to escalate the operation in Iraq. The activists came in all shapes and sizes and they took advantage of the plethora of activists in attendance to get their message out.
The first speaker was Eric "Mancow" Muller of Q101, a shock jock (who once famously got into a vicious on air war with the ultimate shock jock Howard Stern). Next up was Jonathon Hoenig, a frequent guest on Saturday's Fox News business block. Hoenig began by railing at all the big government policies of George Bush. He then moved onto a much longer diatrobe of how those policies have been doubled down under the Obama administration. This is in many ways brilliant because it creates a bi partisan disgust with government.
One other speaker asked for a symbolic gesture. After railing at all the new taxes instituted by the state government, he asked to call (312) 814-2121, the governor's office and say "no more" to new taxes and spending. Not suprisingly, I got a busy signal everytime I tried.
The presence of Ron Paul supporters can't be overlooked. The movement will likely try and be painted as a shill of the Republicans and Fox News. In reality, it is much more a libertarian movement. One of its leaders, Eric Odom, voted for the Libertarian Bob Barr in the last election.
What's even more amazing is that after a near blackout, the tea parties enjoyed near wall to wall coverage today. Every media outlet from Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, righ blogs, left blogs, all had near non stop coverage of the tea parties. Each had their own perspective, and as I said, the next step is a race to define them. Opponents will try and paint it as racist and extremist. The racist label will have some traction. It was hard not to notice that the crowd was nearly entirely white. If the citizens that organized these tea parties, get out on the media, they will likely be effective in defining the movement as ordinary citizens on a grass roots crusade.
Watch the next few days, the media will have near endless coverage of the movement and the next few days will be critical for its definition.
The organizers of the movement call it organic. In other words, it will grow and evolve spontaneously. So far, the only goal should be to continue to grow. The first set had about ten thousand. This one had almost a million people. The next one needs to be at ten million. At that point, it will be a force that will be hard to stop.