Thursday, April 16, 2009

Austin's Tea Parties

The Austin Gun Rights Examiner has a review of yesterday's Austin Tea Party events, and it isn't overwhelmingly positive. Sadly, I'll have to agree with the bulk of Mr. Nemerov's sentiments.

Unfortunately, I didn't make it out to the event at city hall where the Governor spoke, but did make it to the Capitol for the demonstration at 4:00. This may have been a good thing - if the first protest was anything like the last one, I may not have bothered with the Capitol event. It wasn't all bad, so I'll start with the good.

A lot of people showed up. I heard the number to be estimated between 5,000 and 7,000, which seemed to be right from what I saw. I was surprised at the number of folks who made it. I got there a little before 4:00, and was able to get a parking spot at 14th & Guadalupe about 5 blocks away. I had intended to bring the Nikon along to get some photos for this post, but forgot it on the way out and didn't realize I had left it until I was halfway there.

There were a lot of flags flying, with the Gadsden Flag being the most prominent. There were a few Gonzales Flags as well, a US Marines Flag, and a few US Flags of different versions. A couple of other oddball flags few as well, including the Bonnie Blue Flag, perhaps meant to approximate The Burnet Flag.

Overall, the event was relatively disorganized. There was a semblance of a schedule, but none of the speakers or performers were visible to anyone beyond the first couple of rows in the crowd. There was a speaker system set up at the Capitol for the event, and that worked pretty well.

There was a disappointing partisan vibe that permeated throughout the Capitol grounds part of the event. This was reflected in the speeches as well, and it was evident that these folks were treating the Tea Party as a Republican rally, rather than the grassroots single-issue event that it was supposed to be. I'm sure I'm far from the only one to have noticed this, as I observed that when the talking points became increasingly partisan, crowd participation and cheers died off significantly. Given the Republican Party's recent departure from its core beliefs on spending with the Bush administration, it was a big mistake to turn focus towards the GOP during a protest against runaway government spending.

U.S. Representative Michael McCaul was probably the biggest speaker at the event, and reinforced this partisan rhetoric. In his introduction, he threw bone of a welcome to the Libertarians, a hearty welcome to the Republicans, and then went on to jokingly welcome Democrats, if there just happened to be any in the crowd. While his speech was good, it seemed to be more of a set of talking points to save his own hide - pointing out that he didn't vote for any of the pork "stimulus" bills. He went on to make some more partisan rallying points about taking back the congress "for the party". This is not what I came expecting to hear.

There was another speaker whose name I never caught after McCaul. The speech was well-delivered, though it strayed into the standard Conservative (and mainly Republican) talking points on a wide range of issues not related to government spending. It was mainly a "God and Guns" speech, with minor points on government spending. I'm in general support for the points made, but that's not what a Tea Party was supposed to be about.

In general observation of the crowd, the posters and banners and whatnot were generally on-topic. From what I could tell, there were a lot of folks geniunely interested in making a stand against runaway government spending. This made it all the more disappointing that the event played out like a Republican political rally. I could tell by the reactions (or lack of reactions) of several of the more independant/centrist-looking folks in the crowd that they shared my disappointment in the tone of the event.

In attendance were some of the more extreme right-wingers. I noted a spattering of "Vote From The Rooftops" shirts and other similar slogans. Apparently some of the black helicoptor conspiracy theorists thought it would be a good venue to try and have their voices heard, as we were treated to shouts of "9/11 was an inside job!" during the march procession.

The crowd was in significant enough size to warrant blocking off Congress avenue, and APD did an admirable job of facilitating the march. It was quite impressive to see the size of the procession. We walked a mile down Congress Avenue to 1st Street (aka Cesar Chavez), headed west, and went south on the South First Street bridge across the lake and ended up on Auditorium Shores. This is where things pretty much fell apart. No one seemed to know what to do once we got there. There had been mention of a dumping of symbolic tea crates from boats into the Town Lake (aka Lady Bird Lake), but no one knew when or how this was going to happen. People stood around, with the Veteran flagbearers occcasionally leading in a song, like the US Marine Corp hymn or the Army hymn. We all stood around for a good 30 minutes until the last of the procession made its way into the park. The veterans with the flags wandered over to the numerous news vans and made some news-worthy chants and cheers for the cameras.

The crowd was wandering and dwindling at this point, for lack of guidance or closure. After a while, people started leaving the park on the pedestrian portion of the South First Street bridge. I figured it was over, so joined them. It was on the bridge that we saw the tea crate demonstration going on in the water (no one seemed to ever announce that it was happening). Essentially, the demonstration consisted of the throwing floating boxes in the water from covered tourist boats, with some other folks manning canoes picking them up 30 feet away.

In the end, the event was anti-climactic and I left somewhat disappointed. Most disappointing, though, was the fact that a rather universal event was turned into a partisan Republican preaching pulpit. It could have been so much more.

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