The Accidental TEA Partier

Yesterday, Peter called me from his office to tell me about the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party/Protest which had formed on the street below his office. This TEA Party was people protesting out-of-control goverment spending, such as the TARP bank bail-out (which as far as I know no-one, right or left, liked); the blasted-through-without-being-read trillions-of-dollars stimulus; and ever-increasing local, state, and federal taxes. I had all intention of avoiding this protest, as I do all protests. In my opinion, at best, they’re a form of futile theatre since politicians (or companies) will continue to do what they think is best for themselves and only votes (or stockholders) can sway them. At worst (like Berkeley in the early 1990s), they’re a stage for agents provocateurs whose real intent to wreak chaos and havoc. However, Peter’s office building happens to be next to the local IRS headquarters, and between that and Plaza de Cesar Chavez, a centrally-located park which  is the venue for every local event, from Christmas in the Park to summer concerts. So this protest was one that would be hard to avoid.

Around noon, a small group of clean-cut suburban types had lined up on the street across from the IRS office with signs like “Print Your Own Tax Dollars” and “Honk if You Love Capitalism.” According to Peter, about the same time about 4 people dressed in black parkas (with the hoods pulled up to hide their faces, despite the mild, dry weather) showed up with a bullhorn and drum and started screaming “RACIST!” Apparently, there was no other message, and I don’t know what racism had to do with a tax protest, and so it sounded like an odd bit of vaguely-sinister repetitive performance art. It was hard for Peter to concentrate in the office between the bullhorn-enhanced screams, the drum, and all the honking (because apparently a lot of drive-by people like capitalism.)

I had a doctor’s appointment at 4:30, and I’d left the children at the office for Peter to watch. As chance would have it, when I returned to pick up my children, Joe told me the demonstration had moved over to the park, and Peter had just left with the children to check out the hullabaloo. And so, crossing my fingers against trouble, I headed over there to find my family.

It turned out to be far better than I’d feared. The San Jose Police who  are always very enthusiastic about public safety, had blocked off the Tech Museum side of Market Street, and a traffic problem was forming at the intersection of Market and San Fernando. I could see a big crowd of people holding signs on the stage, and a fairly dense crowd gathered along the sides. As I walked towards the Tech Museum, I saw about 4 people with official ANSWER signs calling for illegal alien amnesty, and one more amateur sign saying something like “Illegal Aliens Pay Taxes, Too!” tying it into the bigger protest. Well, I would think illegal aliens object to a tax-strangled economy and impending stagflation just as much as legal immigrants and American citizens, so I looked on them as a sort of co-demonstration. Peter thought they were agents provacateurs, but really, who’re you provokin’, especially in a sanctuary city like San Jose?

I moved to the back of the crowd, hoping to find Peter and the children there, but I couldn’t see them. A woman on stage was saying something about a gas tax change, she or we, or someone had convinced the state to do back in the day, but I wasn’t really paying attention. I was distracted by all the people, a very many of which were carrying intriguing, original homemade signs. I wish I’d had my camera with me, but I hadn’t planned on being there. And there were so many signs, ranging from the amusing like “Obama: Chains You Can Believe In” to the oblique like one calling out “Nancy.” Is that Nancy Pelosi, our speaker of the house, or Nancy Pyle, our local ditzy-but-lovable councilwoman, or some other Nancy altogether? There were lots of American flags, and at least one New Hampshire “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. In the front (when I later saw it) there were young women in colonial costume with a sign saying “Party like it’s 1773” (a reference to the Boston Tea Party.) There were a few small professional signs, some for the local talk-radio station and a few saying TEA (Taxed Enough Already.) The crowd skewed decidedly older, with an average age, I’d guess of 48, though these were the opposite of the menopause-crazed Code Pink types.

My attention returned to the stage when the woman on it switched to denouncing the people who were trying to disrupt the rally. What? I didn’t notice any disruptions, though Peter (who had been closer) told me later that the strange hooded types with the bullhorn and drum had moved behind the stage to chant their non-sequitor mantra. Suddenly, the crowd around me started chanting “U!S!A! U!S!A!” and then “Get a Job! Get a Job!” (I didn’t participate, because I still didn’t know what was going on.) Then the woman on stage called for the protestors to march around the park, and I took it as an opportunity to try to find my family again. I was on the verge of asking if anyone had seen a little girl in a Superman costume (because that was Kelly’s dress for the day) when I saw her perched on Peter’s shoulders. Neil had been handed a small American flag and a flyer listing some of the issues the protest (or at least the issues of one protestor) was concerned about, from limiting the scope of federal power, to socializing health care. If there was an organization putting this out, I’d be linking to the points online, but this flyer closed with “All opinions expressed are mine. Paid for by me.” Reunited, we went back to Peter’s office where I could see some of what was still going on more comfortably.

The traffic situation at Market and San Fernando turned into full-on gridlock, which the police eventually solved by putting some of their officers on traffic control duty. Along the side of Market Street that was still open, the “honk if you like capitalism” sign must have been up, because car horns were honking madly, and continued to honk until we left the office around 6:30 p.m. Peter said he’d noticed the San Jose police had a set of riot police on hand, but I don’t think they were called into action.

So there you have it: my lame, unplanned take on the event. Our local newspaper reported on it in the context of similar protests that happened across the nation, and their report is similar to what I saw, except when I was there (5:30-ish) I would have estimated the crowd at about 500 people, and the sorta- kinda- counterprotest at about 10 or 15 people, including the ANSWER protest on the side, but people were still arriving as we left, so it may well have grown bigger before it ended.

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