My experience at the March 2010 D.C. tea party: Patriotism, Focus, and Astro-bama

Don’t Tread on Me. The banner was all over.  Speakers kept repeating the phrase, “We The People,” and everyone was focused.  This tea party was not far off a church rally; the vast majority of the attendees were obviously regular church goers.

There were many amazing moments Saturday and Sunday, so let me start right in.

Amazing fact #1…attendance

When I arrived — about 15 minutes after the scheduled start — there were around 20,000 people including, one speaker announced, 800 from San Diego.  A nod to them.  Capitol police closed the pathways (more like roads, actually) on both sides of the lawn’s central section, packing attendees pretty tight inside the inverted “V” these paths make as they go to the Capitol building.  Even condensed like this, the rally occupied roughly 1/2 of the inside of that central V section.  Anyone familiar with the Capitol layout knows…that’s a lot of people.  I turned around 20 minutes or so later, and found I was penned in to the crowd by about 20 yards of people behind me…as the “V” expands.  Rather than overflow across the main street into the mall’s fountain area, many people had started to gather on the other side of the path-roads.  Best estimate…the crowd roughly doubled during the rally itself…40,000 is my best guess.

NBC’s astounding estimate

At around 11:45 am, Tweets started coming in that NBC had reported there were only 2,000 people.  After all so many Americans have been through, all they sacrificed and put forth trying to get their voices heard, this news probably should have been just the latest shot to the gut.  Somehow though, it brought a smile to my face…so predictable, so boldly wrong, so Obama-era establishment.  Sure, I assumed they must have missed a decimal place somewhere from the estimator to the TV announcer, but NBC’s viewers had no way of knowing that.  And NBC put this number forth, so it must have been checked…right?

At about 11:50am, one of the speakers announced the NBC number…and 20,000-25,000 phantom people laughed.  Know this though.  No one dwelled or really cared.  They laughed…it off…for about a second, and kept right on going.  Somehow, it brought a brief smile to everyone’s face.

Begs the question though, where did that NBC number come from?  Air space above the Capitol was closed Saturday, as President Obama was scheduled to arrive later that afternoon.  There was one helicopter (blue and white) circling the government area all day.  NBC did not get the estimate from the air.  There was absolutely no network coverage in sight…I looked for it…and can say that, if there was network coverage, the reporters were amazingly secretive. (I saw one reporter on Saturday…he said he was from European TV)  So, it does not seem as if the number came from an on-the-ground reporter.  Where did NBC get the estimate?  Perhaps it will just remain an enduring Obama-era mystery…like who offered the bribe to Joe Sestak.

The Patriotism…only one word to describe…American

This crowd sang the National Anthem, God Bless America, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance (with “under God” emphasized).  Now…I consider myself patriotic, but this was enough to make me blush.  To this crew though, it came as natural as breathing.  They said and sang with such reverence…truly something to behold.  Too bad the president missed it.

What it was like Sunday morning

Sunday at 11:00am, around 3,000-4,000 people gathered on the West lawn.  Speakers went every once in a while, but it was mostly a time to gather and talk to each other.  I spoke to one person who owns a business in Maryland, employing 25 people.  He came to the rally primarily because his wife had to stay with the kids but demanded someone represent.  He and his wife had gone over it in detail…Obamacare will force their business under.  They will have to pay an 8% payroll tax, versus payroll simply being a deductible expense at present.  On top of that, each employee will likely have to pay more for their own insurance, pressuring him to cover that cost as well.  Just too much.  He and his wife already planned to move to a state that might nullify the legislation, or at least be more business friendly.  From what he said, there is absolutely no choice.

Around 11:15am, one of the speakers announced they received word SEIU might be arriving.  Apparently, SEIU had issued threats against anyone who may have taunted a Democrat Congressman the previous evening.  The speakers were very clear in telling the crowd to ignore any provocations.  Really though, that was probably unnecessary.  This was about the most gentle mass of people… They were not there to prove something to themselves or anyone else…just focused on getting the job done…stopping that piece of legislation they truly believe, in their hearts, was bad for America and American values.  The speakers immediately suggested moving inside the Capitol building; splitting into four groups, each having a different destination, typically a nest of wavering representatives’ offices.  Many people joined these groups, but it is likely few got inside, at least for quite some time.  Capitol police directed everyone to a waiting line, and I only saw it wait.

I tweeted a pic of people forming lines to move inside the House.  People tweeted back that it brought tears to their eyes.  I backed away, looked at the pics (many not tweeted), read the tweet responses, and realized I almost missed it…the awesomeness of it all.  Just regular, everyday Americans doing what seemed absolutely natural.  And it was phenomenal.  Glorious.

I went somewhere around eight blocks away to recharge my phone.  Upon returning, I witnessed what was personally one of the proudest moments of my life as an American.  Still three blocks from the south side of the Capitol, “kill the bill” chants.  Loud ones.  I had assumed the crowd had mostly dissipated, and that pro-Obamacare busses had taken control of the chanting by now.  Not a chance.  The “kill the bill’ chant was clear three blocks from the Capitol.  Amazing.  These were people who had stayed over from the previous day’s rally.  There was not even supposed to be a rally Sunday…not as far as I knew.  It was an amazing feeling, hearing those chants, and it only got better.  When I reached the south lawn, walking past an astro-bama group of about one busload, I saw it.  About a thousand or so, many with US flags and Don’t Tread On Me banners, occupying the South lawn, chanting to the House chamber.

On the balcony overlooking the lawn…Republican House members.  This was truly something I did not expect.  Tea party people, doing what Americans do – just amazing – OK, I got used to it.  But Republican lawmakers seamlessly fitting in with that…woah.  Made me even more proud to be an American, and gave me faith that the whole of Congress had not completely lost touch.

Like so many of the tea party protesters, the Republicans had put together impromptu signs.  Theirs mostly said “NO.”  My personal favorite — and one of the best moments of the weekend — was when around 15 Republicans came onto the balcony, 11 holding signs with one letter each, “K-I-L-L T-H-E B-I-L-L.”

Michele Bachmann came onto the balcony.  The door to the building seemed open, as it was most if not all of the day.  The crowd was chanting “kill the bill.”  Mrs. Bachmann waved her arms up and down…it was time to turn up the volume.  The crowd didn’t have to oblige.  It was already at top decibel.  Then, in one of the most amazing moments of the weekend, Mrs. Bachmann turned towards the open door, and symbolically waved the soundwaves in.  Whether Congress wanted to listen or not, they could hear us.  Another American just doing what Americans do…awesome.  I think it was Steve King who brought an American flag onto the balcony, and waved it over the wall.  Just one more flag, from Congressional Republicans, joining the crowd’s dozen or so.

Democrats’ Attempts to Incite

The pro-Obamacare group took position along a sidewalk that I later figured out was between the Rayburn building, where Congress people seem to gather before votes – if they want – and the House Chamber, across the street about 50 yards away.  There was roughly one busload of these people, and they were organized.  They had a group leader, and every sign was purple-ish blue with white letters.  At one point, a group leader came bounding out, in front, telling the astro-bamas he had received a call from a Congressman.  The Congressman said they were having a huge impact, that his colleagues could hear them…and to turn up the volume.  I can’t help but wonder, how did a Congressman have the group leader’s personal phone number?  Another enduring Obama-era mystery… But really, you sort of feel sorry for that crew.  At least I did, being there.  They had to be “organized,” told what to do, which signs to carry, etc.  Across the street were peopl


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