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On April 15th, I attended the Bellingham Tea Party rally on the Guide-Meridian. I went for two reasons, one was to honestly report on what I saw. As you will remember, the Bellingham Herald completely ignored the several thousand person rally for worker’s rights in Blaine a couple weeks ago, and to fill the gap, I showed up and did some reporting. With the continuing decline of our traditional media, it is up to citizen journalists to fill the gap, hence this blog.
The second reason I went, to be honest, is to have a little fun at the Tea Party’s expense. Let me be perfectly clear: I think it is wonderful that so many people are getting involved in the political process. However, I feel what they are advocating is neither reasonable nor grounded in reality. It is my opinion that the Tea Party is 50% conservative Republicans, 30% Republicans who are ashamed of the Bush years and want to distance themselves from their mistakes, and 20% honest Libertarians who finally have a place in American discourse. To the Libertarians, I would like to truly apologize. It sucks being squeezed out of the process and I can feel your pain. That said, on to the report!
First I made a sign, pictured below.
For those of you who are confused by the first photo, Michelle Bachmann is the Tea Party darling who is running for president. She has an almost Biden-esque track record of saying things that are, well, kind of crazy. Here is a real quick round up. Cthulhu (pronounced Ka-thoo-loo,) is an ancient evil from the mind of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. His appearance caused death, madness, and destruction. He is pictured below.
So you can see the joke. I showed up at 4:15 p.m., and there was already a bit of a crowd. Full props; the Bellingham Tea Party did an incredible job organizing this event. From the moment I showed up, there were signs directing me where to park. There were clearly identified booths where I could sign in, get Tea Party material, make a sign (with materials ready to use and people to help with ideas) and buy a sweatshirt. I made my way down to the sidewalk and stood and waved with a whole group of people. All were friendly, cheerful, and generally happy to be there making a polite point.
Again, I have to stress how well organized this was. I had not been standing more than ten minutes when a volunteer (clearly identified by their "Tea Party Volunteer" button) showed up to take down everyone's email address if we had not signed in at the booth. I imagine they must have gathered over a hundred email addresses that day.
I made my way up and down the street. As it got closer to 5 p.m., the rally really swelled to its full numbers. They lined the streets on both sides for about two and a half blocks. I counted around 150 people, very impressive. Most of the people who attended were senior citizens from the county (I talked to a good chunk of the people there.) Among the senior citizens, there was a good gender balance, but for the handful of people under 60, they were almost exclusively male. There were some kids there, standing in the rain with their parents. Here are some pictures.
The signs varied from straightforward to quite creative. Aside from the required American flag, which appeared at a 2 to 1 ratio to each participant, there were some very clever signs. My favorite, which I didn't get a picture of, was, "Our Country is Broken? Time to Play the Trump Card," a reference to Donald Trump's recent jump into the presidential race. Another one featured a hand with some pennies in it and the caption, "Obama was right, all we will have left is Change." The most confusing to me was a large cloth flag that said "Come and Get Them!" with a picture of a cannon underneath. That one left me a bit perplexed. What are the laws concerning the possession of a cannon in this country? Is Obama coming for your medium range artillery?
There were some more extreme signs that played into the stereotypes people hold about Tea Party members. For instance, one man held a large sign proclaiming, "Global Warming is a Hoax!!!!" And then there were these folks.
I'm sorry that the second sign is so blurry. It reads "I'm Not Done with U Yet America: Marshall Law, Concentration Camps . . ." and something along the bottom I couldn't make out. It has Obama with the Hitler mustache and the swastika. I would like to emphasize that these people were a minority there, and most of the signs were more like these two:
Confrontational, yes. Blatantly offensive? No. There were a few other notable people there. Rep. Vincent Buys was there, on break from his work as a legislator. I talked to him briefly, he said he was happy Kelli Linville is running for Mayor of Bellingham and thinks she will do a great job. We can file that under unwelcome endorsements but interesting all the same. County Council member Tony Larson was there with his family, along with most of the leadership of the Whatcom Republicans. I spotted Luanne Van Werven, Chet Dow, Larry Helm, and Charlie Crabtree. I'm sure there were a few others but I don't know all of them by face yet.
There was also my favorite Senatorial candidate Bob Burr in attendance. He was there with large sign proclaiming, "I paid more Tax than GE and Bank of America combined!" The other side of his sign read, "Stupid Wars Drive Up the Debt." Definitely a little different message than most, but making a good point about where our tax dollars come from and where they go. Richard May showed up while I was leaving with a large sign advertising $5 dinners at his nearby business Caffe Cafe. As he said to me, "Go Capitalism, it is just my capitalism. Me making money, right?"
While I was there, I had many people ask me about my sign. To keep suspicion down, I told many of them that Cthulhu was John Cthulhu from the 2nd Congressional district of New Jersey. I feel a little bad about the deception, but I didn't want my cover blown. People tend to clam up when they think they are being interviewed. Most people I talked to there were excited about Michelle Bachmann's run, and were curious who Cthulhu was. One gentleman told me, "Oh yes! I've heard of him, he'd be great." Another fellow was very concerned about his race. "Cthulhu, hmmm. Sounds Hispanic. He isn't Hispanic is he?" Most people already had a good idea who they were voting for: Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee all came up as various picks.
Out of the hundreds of people there, a couple people recognized the name Cthulhu. One was a group of teenagers who drove past in a limo. They all leaned out their windows and shouted "Cthulhu! Yeah!!!!" One guy identified it right away, "Cthulhu? Really? You're going for a Science Fiction reference? That's pretty fuckin' obscure, man." One other fellow took a picture, then came right back saying, "Hey, I read about that guy in college. What are you doing here?!" I apologized for causing any sort of disturbance and left that block for a while.
Finally, about 5:45 p.m., I was spotted and ID-ed by Luanne Van Werven, chair of the Whatcom Republicans. She came up with a handmade sign saying "Tea Party Crasher" with an arrow pointing toward me, and posed for a picture.
She then followed me for a couple blocks to make sure no one confused me for one of the rally participants. I was about done (it was pushing 6 p.m. and still raining,) so I told her I was calling it a day and made my way back to my car. I would like to stress, throughout this event, everyone was unfailingly polite.
One last note, as of Saturday the Bellingham Herald has not covered this rally, which I think is fair, but a shame. They did not cover the International Labor Rally a couple weeks ago, and they were consistent in not covering this rally. We need an active media in our community, and when large numbers of people gather to express their outrage or concern over something, it is news. The Bellingham Division of KOMO 4 news was there, taking pictures and writing a story. KOMO has really made an effort to expand their online news services, and Kera Wanielista, the local reporter, has done a great job. Check it out.
I hope to continue to do local reporting as part of this blog. Thank you for reading. If there is something happening you would like me to cover, feel free to email me here or comment. I welcome all feedback, positive or negative.