Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Who needs the right of assembly?

I had not planned on attending (aka counter-demonstrating) a tea party. I didn't understand what the big deal was. To me, the Boston Tea Party represents one of the greatest examples of non-violent civil disobedience in the American Revolution. A few people, under threat of death, threw tea overboard in Boston Harbor to protest the tea tax because they were not represented in British Parliment. The American Revolution was about representation, not taxation, not the British, but about a people able to determine their own future. Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution states the Congress has the right to collect taxes for defense and general welfare. Where's the problem?

But as I read more about the "grassroots" Tea Parties, so grassroots Fox News has been talking about it for weeks and even saying Obamatrons would invade and cause violence , I decided to see what was happening locally. For a couple of months now, an ex-friend of mine was angry that a Tea Party was taking place in Wichita and the media wasn't covering it. Two months out. And as I looked their website, I became more upset. Silent majority? You mean the silent majority who didn't go out and vote in November?

Well, the media is covering it now. So who, exactly, is causing violence?

I made up five signs (since I had five poster boards): "Majority Spoke Obama Tax Cuts"; "I Pay Taxes For Education For All"; "I Pay Taxes and I'm A Patriot"; "Thank You For Paying Taxes"; and "I Pay Taxes for Solders[sic]". I mostly held the first two. I had blue posters so I figured I would stand out as being, well, a Democrat.

As I approached the airport where Wichita Liberty held their rally, traffic was quite backed up on the post office exit. I could see a large crowd gathered. I twittered "oh holy hell. This mmight turn into a riot ... Please tell me i'm not alone out here! #teaparty". Unfortunately, I was. I later learned the local DFA called off their counter-demonstration out of fear of violence.

When I walked over to the demonstration area, I saw there were no sidewalks or other obvious public areas. I asked a police officer where I could stand since I wasn't with the Tea Party. So I stood across the street from them as the officer said I could. As I stood across from their lot, some Tea Baggers heckled me. I heard most of what they said, but I ignored them. After a while, some of them came over to my side of the street saying they had the right to free speech and I "looked lonely". I moved to the corner, next to a group of police officers.

After about an hour, I was told the property was airport property and unless I had a permit, I could not be there. If I wanted to demonstrate, I had to join the Tea Party. I asked why I wasn't permitted on public property and was told it was airport property and I had to move someplace else. With no sidewalks in sight, I had to consider where to go.

I saw two news trucks and walked over there asking them if they knew where I could stand. Though I was trying to make a point more than honestly asking where to stand. It was recommended I try the post office. But when I got over there, I was told they could not allow me to stand there because they weren't allowing the others to stand there.

As I was determing where next to go, I got a call from the reporter asking where I would be. I moved clear to the other end of the demonstration, outside their caution tape, holding my sign. This was a rougher place to be. Here I was flipped off, someone inside the demonstration seemed to be filming me (at which time I posed and asked if he wanted my name), and one passerby said my Obama sign was "treasonist". Reminding people Americans voted a clear majority in favor of the current president is treasonist?

After half an hour, one of the police cars came over near me, lights on, citation book in hand. The only place I could go was inside the tape, with the Tea Party. I walked away. As I walked back, I saw Tea Baggers outside the line with their signs and two signs in the ground outside the line. And yet only I was in trouble. I went back and talked to the reporter. And then I left.

After two hours of counter-demonstrating, I wonder this: if I had good cause to not feel safe inside the line, where could I express free speech and my right to assemble? If Wichita Liberty was warned that "Obamatrons" would invade and cause violence, why would I join them? I did not know I was going to attend, I did not apply for a permit because, to the best of my knowledge, the airport is public property where I have a right to assemble.

Apparently, these Tea Parties are about spending, not taxes. Which begs the question: why the Tea Party? And why did this Tea Party have a "Paul Revere" riding around on a horse? Where is the confusion over American history? Where is the confusion over the Constitution? Why is it so evil that the Founding Fathers knew taxes were necessary?

Why am I a "moocher"? How am I a socialist? Do you know me? Why do you yell at a random person on the street "get a job!" when you know nothing about them? Especially when they're standing across from a field filled with people doing the exact same thing. Do I not have the rights Tea Baggers do?

I am quite upset about this afternoon. These Tea Parties offend me as an American first and foremost. Don't like how your democratically elected officials work? Then vote them out. That's democracy, and it's what you accept by living here. Don't like it? Then leave. I don't really mean that, but I've been told that for 8 years. Dear Republicans: Welcome to the club.

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