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From a Political Junkie: Dispatches from the Tea Party Rally

By On

You can find more of The Political Junkie over at his website, specifically the pictures, which are having trouble lining up. Check it out!

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.

About Riley Sweeney

Citizen Journalist • Member since Aug 10, 2009

Riley Sweeney, raised in the Pacific Northwest, moved to Bellingham during the Bush years, worked on a cross-section of political campaigns during the Obama years, and then fled to the [...]

Comments by Readers

Rob Stratton

Apr 16, 2011

Thanks for your report. I personally thought the TEA party was a step in the right direction until a lot of it was hijacked by Republicans. Being fairly libertarian in my viewpoints, I believe in a limited government, something republicans tend to profess but their actions do not live up to their words. I am also socially “liberal” in my view points and clash on “moral” issues with so called “conservatives”.

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Todd Granger

Apr 17, 2011

“There lay great Cthulha and his hordes, hidden on green slimey vaults.” R’lyeh

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Reserve_Act

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Karl Uppiano

Apr 17, 2011

I question whether the Republicans have hijacked the Tea Party. I think it is quite the reverse. Many groups have attempted to co-opt the Tea Party movement. Most tea partiers I know are philosophically “classical liberals” (google it). They are none too enamored of either political party. Although most of the “Tea Party” candidates elected to congress in 2010 are Republicans, where else would they go? Do you think they could run as Democrats? Of course not. Does a third party or an independent even have a chance in today’s political landscape? Hardly. So they’re Republicans. But if Republicans think that the Tea Party movement will be junior members of the Republican party, they can think again. This is a hostile take-over.

As for the assertion that tea party goals are “not grounded in reality”: I think the primary focus of the Tea Party movement nationwide is to demand that our politicians follow The Constitution, which is still the official specification for the US government; the binding contract with We the People; that every politician still takes a sacred oath to uphold and defend. If adherence to the document that we all agreed defines our republic is “not grounded in reality”, then I think that’s a conversation that all Americans should have openly and immediately!

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John Servais

Apr 17, 2011

Karl - Well put.  I consider myself liberal - very liberal - and yet keep tripping over Tea Party concerns that I share with them.  The respect for our Constitution is one of them.  The incredible waste of our tax dollars is another.  On every level of government, over half the money is just wasted - spent to no benefit of anyone, be they poor, handicapped, students, the sick or the business people.  And our Republican friends are absolutely hollow in their “strict” interpretation of the Constitution.  They have distorted it, not the Liberals.

Yes, the Tea Party is a viable movement.  We liberals should actually listen to them and have dialog with them.  And, yes, I do believe very strongly in public safety nets and social care for those in need.  One Abrams battle tank costs more than hundreds or even thousands of needy - genuinely need - folks.  And then we can get to the truly obscene cost of a single fighter jet.  We need some but the government buys way more than we need. 

50% waste?  Actually, closer to 70%.  Every time I get close to a government project, the wasted costs are numbing.  Do you know how much it costs to build a sidewalk for a city block?  All the costs?  Hell, a $50,000 dock can cost a million before they are done.  The Tea Party folks are serving our American political process.

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Jack Petree

Apr 18, 2011

Riley,

I’m a little surprised.

My wife and I handed out flyers supporting Clayton Petree for mayor at the Tea Party rally and received lots of encouragement. 

We then went downtown and handed out flyers supporting Petree for mayor at the Progressive’s rally and received lots of interest and encouragement there as well.

I’m surprised you didn’t give those very nice young people downtown some coverage.  They were very polite and very interested in Clayton’s views. 

I’d say they particularly agreed it is time for a new generation to begin to lead and, I admit to being a little taken aback, they felt Clayton’s saying fiscal responsibility in the city’s approach to budgeting is long overdue was right on.

I guess that approach resonates with everyone.

Enjoyed your article.  Glad you did it.

Jack O. Petree

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Rob Stratton

Apr 19, 2011

Both parties have distorted the constitution and to think the “D’s” have not done so is not being fully aware or informed of history.

Main destroyers of the constitution in presidents, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bush.

Of course this wouldn’t have happened if we actually enforced the checks and balances and the supreme court hasn’t coddled the government in their unconstitutional power grabs and advances.

I think a third party is on the rise and Republicans and Democrats (two twigs of the same branch) need a wake up call. Remember how much support Ron Paul received in Whatcom county. He is basically a libertarian.

I think we need to start with local elections and spread up, look how much money is wasted locally. If we can’t even keep our own back yard clean how do we expect to clean up State or Federal issues.

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Riley Sweeney

Apr 19, 2011

I’m glad you liked my article Jack. I went in to be sneaky, but came out with an appreciation for the people involved. I hope to continue to provide some citizen journalism here and at my blog. There is definitely a void in this community and I intend to fill it.

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Jack Petree

Apr 19, 2011

I’m glad you’re doing that…

I just wanted to tease you a bit.

I remember John’s Independent and miss that. Who knows, maybe a Phoenix will rise sometime.

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Garin Wallace, aka Wally

Apr 20, 2011

Riley,

I certainly agree that these parts are short on journalists, but I’d hesitate to call what you have done here journalism.  Had you traveled to the North end of the crowd and interviewed the “Mad Hater” people about their party affiliations or about what kinds of hatred, if any, they had experienced from the local Tea Partiers then this might bump up against journalism. 

But sadly since you admittedly went there to “have a little fun at the Tea Party?s expense,” provided one sided coverage and are listed as the Chair of the Whatcom Democrats Communications Committee I can only read this communication as partisan editorialism.

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Riley Sweeney

Apr 20, 2011

Hello Wally,

I interviewed the Mad Hatter folks, but there were only four or five of them and they didn’t have much to say aside from “Tea Party Sucks”. I was hoping to get them to discuss things politically but they were pretty lackluster compared to the excited and vibrant people at the Tea Party stretch of the street. Because of that, I decided not to include them in my piece.

I didn’t write this as a partisan screed, I wrote this just as telling my story as I went to this event, as respectfully as possible. You can read it however you like, but I intended it to be friendly to the people I was talking to.

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