On February 28, a Tea Party demonstration in New York’s City Hall Park drew about 250 protesters who decried President Obama as a socialist, a communist, and the second coming of Hitler. This evening’s Tea Party on the edge of the same park was much, much bigger — stretching on the west sidewalk from near the Park entrance nearly to Steve Flanders Square and, with the contingent across Broadway, comprising at least two thousand protestors. (Update 4/18: The event’s organizer claims attendance of 12,500 in our comments; AP says 2,000. Both claim to be working with NYPD numbers. The New York Post says 5,000. Nate Silver splits the Post/AP difference for a total of 3,500.)
And the language, though dramatic, was slightly more temperate. Only people in the crowd talked among themselves about Obama’s socialism and fascism (“I’ve traveled a bit in Europe,” one lady within our earshot remarked, “and I know where this is all leading”); the speakers mainly portrayed the federal bailout and stimulus programs as ruinous, and the remedy as themselves, representing the real America, with the help of Fox News.
Kellen Giuda, organizer of both February’s and tonight’s New York events, opened by telling the crowd that “we’re not going to take any more, their spending is out of control, the pork is out of control, and we want the repealing of the taxes, these fees, they’re out of control.” He asked the crowd to clean up after themselves — “look around you when you leave and pick up anything off the ground and deposit it in the nearest trash.” He denied that “rightwing millionaires” had funded the event, and that the money had actually come from “our wonderful sponsors and an emergency fundrasing drive that raised $4,000 to get us these speakers.” The resulting oratory suggested that he overpaid.
He was followed by radio host David Webb, one of the few black people in attendance, who said to cheers that it was “nice to see some community organizing,” and later had great fun recounting a call he’d received from “George from Georgia” on a radio show portraying Tea Party organizers as “racist rednecks.” After letting the crowd savor this awhile (“Apparently George has never met me”), Webb said, “I’m not a billionaire, and if I’m a redneck racist, then I’m a proud American redneck racist,” which the protesters loved. Joining him was country artist Rebecca Henricks, who sang very nicely the National Anthem and, later, “Red, White and Bluegrass.”
The Anthem was followed by Brandon Brice of the Bronx GOP and Hip Hop Republicans, who spoke in short, loud bursts, as if coaching a football team: “We! The People! The hardworking citizens of New York City! and of New York State! Today! April 15! We tell the federal government! That it does not tell us! What to do! But we! The People!” etc. He ended by demanding that the crowd “Take Back America!”
There was a brief interruption due to power outage. (“I can’t wait till Glenn Beck talks about this!” said one of the crowd.)
Alex Zablocki, who proudly claimed to be “the youngest person ever to run for for Public Advocate,” said “like many of my peers” he was “sick of out-of-control spending,” particularly New York State’s “spending spree” which made it “the most taxed state in the nation.” He asked the crowd several times, “Can America count on you?” to which they replied affirmatively.
Next was Richard Brownell, former president of the New York Young Republicans, who lamented the depths to which the state had fallen. “Seems like just a nickname now, the Empire State,” he said wistfully, “but there was a time when New York was one of, if not the, most powerful states in the Union.” Now, “what was once a haven of commerce and industry is now a land of closed bait-and-tackle shops.” This he attributed to “years and years of taxation and overtaxation.” He referred to a proposed tax on haircuts — “What, are we supposed to become hippies now?” (“Grow your hair long!” cried a protester) — and criticized Mayor Bloomberg’s term-limits overthrow, which to our delight also incensed the crowd. “TARPs and TALFs and toxic assets and bad banks,” he said, “these are all just terms… to keep you distracted from what is really taking place.” “Power grab!” someone yelled, but Brownell was more circumspect: “Every year,” he continued, “the government gets more and more involved in your personal lives.” Despite this, he said New York was still the greatest city in the world, but “we have to act ” — by which he meant “each and every one of us standing up and saying ‘No More!'” which the crowd happily did.
When that didn’t end the nation’s problems, Webb brought up one “Donna” from Brooklyn, who runs with her husband an alarm company. “The backbone of America!” said Webb. “70 percent of the people in this country work for small businesses. Donna is an example of what this country became great for! Entrepreneurship! The ability, the drive, to go out, to work hard, a husband and wife building something!” He had Donna, with Kellen’s help, show off her protest sign, which the crowd read aloud. Donna said that we don’t inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children, and that she was here “because I feel our children’s future is at stake.” As she left the stage, Webb cried, “There goes America!” (This was the Elmer Gantry portion of the program.)
Conservative author and former ballerina S.E. Cupp informed the protesters that Paul Krugman (instant boos) had written that the tea parties were supported by right-wing billionaires. This redoubled their wrath. She also quoted Daily Kos, Alan Colmes and others who said the tea partiers were crazy, stupid, etc, drawing low, angry noises. Cupp replied to the Main Stream Media that “I think you’re stupid, you’re embarrassing, you’re bad for the country!” She also thanked Fox News for “covering these tea parties with alacrity and integrity,” which drew a mighty roar and a chant of “F-O-X! F-O-X!” (Onstage a Fox crewman tapped the logo on his cap, then waved in acceptance of the crowd’s plaudits.) “It’s good to know someone out there doesn’t think we’re stupid, embarrassing, or bad for the country,” said Cupp with obvious gratitude.
Fordham Professor and former Bush Administration official Tom Basile talked in a Billy Sunday voice about “A cold and snowy night in 1860 at a place called Cooper Union…” While he admitted that our current challenges “don’t rise to the level of civil war,” he said “the course we are set on, make no mistake, may be just as perilous for the very values upon which this nation was founded.” He then talked about “the power of the individual,” and announced to great applause that “capitalism works.” He yearned to return government to its true function, “fostering an environment where business can flourish and an individual’s passion can be celebrated… Make no mistake about it, my friends, America and our government is in crisis, but I can assure you today that our government in Washington and our government in Albany have absolutely no interest in solving the real crisis — the crisis of government gluttony!” As America was “nearing the point of no return,” he urged his listeners to “go from this place tonight — I challenge you!” and oppose present officeholders, presumably in elections rather than duels.
Political commentator Brett Joshpe said that while “imperfect governments are a necessary evil in a free society… our government is taking us down a path from which it will be difficult to return… we’re seeing a breakdown in the very principles that built America.” He hastened to say he didn’t mean only economics or party politics, but “the principles of individual responsibility, ingenuity, innovation, integrity, entrepreneurship, self-determination, and generosity because you want to lift your neighbor, not because you’re told you must.” He said “a man who ran on a platform of change was able to rise to the highest office in the land, because people do want change — but not this kind!” This kind, he explained, was about “being at the mercy of government generosity,” while the right kind meant a return to the principles of the 10th Amendment, which he read aloud. He invoked William F. Buckley (“Stand athwart history yelling ‘Stop!'”) which didn’t stir much recognition, but got a big hand when he said that America didn’t get to be “the greatest nation in the world” by “imitating our Western European allies overseas.” Swelling with their approval, he closed in full Brandon Brice mode: “And so tonight! We renew that commitment to ensure that We the People! We the People! And no one else! Remain the masters of our own destiny!”
Former Bush speechwriter Michael Johns came on pumped, yelling “Let’s get the party in the tea party! Are you ready to speak some truth to power!” but quickly became tearful and maudlin, recalling his speech at a tea party earlier that day in Boston (“Bridging the gap between the great events of 1773 and the great events occurring all over this nation today”), and also, regrettably, 9/11 — “A few blocks from here in lower Manhattan, as we all remember too well, the forces of terror and totalitarianism struck our nation on that sunny September morn…” His mood them swung to barely-coherent rage at the Obama Adminstration (“roar roar ‘contingency operation’ roar roar remain engaged in a war on terror roar roar victory!”), which led to a chant of “Never forget!” driving Johns to heights of bathos: “I truly believe,” he wailed, “that history will record that all of you today here in the crowds in City Hall in New York City, April Fifteenth Two Thousand Nine, resparked the flame of liberty across this great land… you answered our nation’s call and I know our nation’s grateful!” In an ever-hoarser voice, he outlined the “historic parallels” between the original tea party (“and then came that bold act that sparked American Independence”) and the present one, which he implied would have a similar result (“American liberties, my friends, will be defended”). The crowd’s attention wandered until he invoked the hated name of Charles Schumer, which drew bloodthirsty cries of “Chucky! Chucky! Chucky sucks!”
Then Johns talked about reaching out to liberals, because “we have to do it together.” (It should be noted that every once in a while a speaker would do this — allude to the bi-partisan and cross-ideological nature of their crusade — but briefly and without enthusiasm, the way a political candidate might refer to his opponent as a good family man.)
Webb announced that Whiskey Falls had given their permission for their forthcoming song, “We Are America,” to be used as “the official New York City Tea Party song.” We were excited at the prospect of the group’s appearance, but it turned out they were just playing it over the sound system. The song contains lyrics like “Hey Momma, now I know it’s hard, raising your kids while you’re workin’ two jobs,” something about an eagle flyin’ high, and an insistence that we are America.
There were still more speakers to go, including Newt Gingrich, but we realized that we weren’t going to hear anything new, and left as former Reagan official KT McFarland explained that Obama’s economic program mirrored the fall of Britain after the Second World War, and added a shout-out to Fox News, on whose programs she frequently appears.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 16, 2009