A little over two hundred Floridians gathered in Punta Gorda’s Laishley Park on April 15th for the now annual Tax Day Tea Party. As I walked down Nesbitt Street towards the throng, I thought of how refreshing it was to finally see Americans put down the remote control, get up off the couch and get involved with their government. It was an amazing sight to behold; Americans were opening their mouth and raising their fist to take back the country that was given to them. Maybe we don’t see eye-to-eye on the direction in which they point their anger or even some of the corporate friendly arguments that they make, but I was proud at that moment to call them fellow citizens.
Then, I got within earshot.
On my way to the stage area, I met a nine-year-old girl with a sign that read, “Keep your hands out of my Piggy Bank”. My wife and I exchanged worried glances. She said it before I did. “That’s just sick”, she said and shook her head in agreement as I told her that it is the norm for some tea partiers to have their children hold these types of signs to gain sympathy and try to illustrate complex economic issues that the kids don’t really understand yet. They just feed off of their parents’ misinformation in an effort to please. Industrial Revolution style exploitation all over again.
“Florida is small, but the Tea Party is not!” Heated rants about Socialism and Marxist policy shifts came booming from the stage as Ken Lovejoy with WCCF 1580 AM got the crowd riled up for the first speaker. Something about the ‘5,000-year leap’ and a plea not to be disrespectful echoed as he introduced the procession of candidates that would take turns with the microphone.
Lesther Trujillo is a limo driver on the ballot in Florida’s gubernatorial race. He also believes that the government owns our corporations and is subverting our freedoms. He bellowed the fear-based rhetoric first with some comparisons to Castro and the secret police. He then smoothly transitioned into the hate part of the speech. With barely a new breath drawn after the statement “do not hold hate in your heart”, Trujillo screamed at the crowd, referring to progressivism he told them to “destroy the enemy” because “they will kill you”. All while taking a hammer and chisel to a Constitution in mockery of opposition policy.
Berfram Samuel was next up but my appetite for nonsense was satiated for the moment and I took to perusing the crowd. I won’t lie, I went camera in hand looking for the misspelled sign. I am happy to report that my Tea Partier friends in Punta Gorda are literate and at times clever. Several of the signs, ranging from the elaborate and artistic to the homemade and passionate, made me chuckle, but my new favorite was the one that read, “The facts have a liberal bias”. It’s a far cry from my previous favorite, “Thanks FOX News for keeping us infromed [sic]” but I laughed just as hard.
While wandering in the group of mad hatters and brushing the many “Don’t tread on me” flags from my face, I overheard things that ignited my voter spider sense. Mr. Samuel was timidly begging support from the stage by promising no property taxes for homes under 7500 square feet.
“If you can lose your home to unpaid property taxes…you don’t own your home!”
To pay for it, Befram says we have a bunch of money gathering dust from lottery and gaming proceeds that have “no other use”. Tell that to the Florida state school system who used 1.28 billion dollars from the lottery to help fund the 2008-2009 school year. If Samuel intends to eliminate the 2.4 trillion dollars of Florida’s revenue gained from property taxes, he will need to raid the educational treasury in each of the other 49 states as well to balance the spreadsheet.
The crowd of elder, white, retirees, used peppered comments about Socialism, Communism, and Marxism as lumps of sugar in their teacups. Some of the more questionable comments about “retaking the country” again reiterated the reasons I was hesitant to go in the first place. While there were undertones of it, I didn’t feel the vibe of imminent violence that I expected but when an onlooker muttered “I am a right-wing extremist and proud of it”, I looked over my shoulder to check the parking lot for moving vans filled with fertilizer ready for a road trip to D.C.
From the stage William Crawford repeatedly tried to convince the crowd that “I am one of you” and that he was “not a lobbyist”. He may not understand that voters aren’t worried about electing a lobbyist; it’s the lobbyists that target our leaders with golden reticules AFTER we elect them. I didn’t stay for all of the speakers, but I can only assume that it was more of the same ‘pleading the case’ arguments heard from pulpits all over the country
A handful of Charlotte County Democrats occupied the right front corner of the stage area along with five or six African-American college students. The crowd despite nation wide warnings of ‘infiltrators’ didn’t disturb them. Nor did anyone in the crowd throw out any epithets or racial comments. Obama with a Hitler mustache was good enough. I often wonder if Adolf would be offended at that. The Charlotte County Democrats left around the same time I did.
I crashed the Tea Party in an effort to change my mind about them. I left more disgusted than when I came. This was the first protest I had ever been to where I have seen lawn chairs, even at a sit in. It is the first protest I have been to where no one seems to have a grasp on the issue being protested. The only argument present was which moniker was more appropriate, Socialist or Communist. I got the same impression that I gained last year when this party started; the Tea Party is about protecting the status quo and using the Constitution as a free T-shirt to plead a case against Socialism’s ghost. Americans are angry at the same things, our money and our livelihoods abused by those we trusted, yet these Tea Baggers are blaming it on the Black guy in the White House while defending the ‘free’-market vultures that are still picking at our country’s economic carcass.