When I first visited America nineteen years ago, I spent a few months moving around the Bay Area near San Francisco, caught up in the company of the aging Woodstock types — mostly because I didn’t know better. The locals on whom I had counted to help me understand this country, appeared to have been suffering, as I now understand it, from various stages of “progressivism.” Instead of revealing America’s positive essence that is central to its culture, they obscured it by emphasizing the negative, the non-essential, and the peripheral.
I couldn’t understand why these people, while themselves reaping the benefits of American freedom and prosperity, were trying to dampen my instinctive enthusiasm for it. But this was how they really felt: despite having focused their lives on satisfying every fleeting physical and psychological whim, they remained thoroughly unhappy people.
I left California just as confused as I had been when I arrived. Before going back to the USSR, I took a Greyhound bus to Fort Worth, Texas, where I had a pen pal of several years. As my stars would have it, my arrival coincided with the Fourth of July celebration. I don’t quite remember how I got into the middle of a Texas patriotic parade, but I ended up sitting in the passenger seat of a big classic convertible that slowly moving along the parade route, lined on both sides by happy, festive people who unabashedly celebrated their independence, freedom, prosperity, and a positive attitude towards life. That was when pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place and I was finally able to see the essence of this country that makes it so unique. Not only were these people free; they knew the cost of their freedom, appreciated its benefits, were willing to defend it, and rightfully made it into the most important celebration of the year. The Bay Area crowd turned out to be merely an anomaly.
The only parades I had previously attended were the semi-mandatory Soviet demonstrations. Forget convertibles. Even if they had existed and were privately owned, driving one in a parade would have required a special authorization by a panel of party, state, and union officials. In Soviet parades, faceless masses obediently and unthinkingly shuffled along with bland party-approved posters handed to them by official organizers, robotically repeating chants on cue from the official loudspeaker, in a half-hearted celebration of collectivism and its ultimate manifestation: the absolute power of the state over the individual.
Such parades were meant to demonstrate our supposedly boundless loyalty and gratitude to the government and the party for taking care of all our basic needs in exchange for our freedom to take care of ourselves. Of course, the supposedly “free” government services turned out to be rationed and meager, but we were told that in America, most people didn’t have even that. Such assurances did little to cure the pandemic of depression and alcoholism.
On that Fourth of July in Texas, the sight of genuinely free people willingly and cheerfully celebrating their freedom restored my faith in humanity and its future. It did more good to my confused soul than any psychotherapy could ever accomplish. This was roughly what I told the local reporter who interviewed me after the parade. I’m not sure he understood my accented English at the time, but he did catch the reference to therapy. The next day the local paper reported that the neighborhood parade was attended by a Soviet visitor who called the experience “therapeutic.”
Four years later I immigrated to the United States. Since then I have gone through a few more transformative experiences, including witnessing the attacks on the World Trade Center from only a block away. And there I was at the tea party in Washington, myself protesting the infringements on American freedoms and reliving my earlier “therapeutic experience,” only this time on a much higher level.
Many of the tea partiers had reportedly taken up protesting for the first time. Never before had they felt the need to raise their voices in the face of political adversity. Times do change, don’t they? My guess is that their experiences of standing shoulder to shoulder with over a million like-minded Americans in defense of liberty were in some ways similar to what I had felt at my first Fourth of July celebration — and that it was just as “therapeutic.”
Throughout the rally I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with the leftist demonstrations I had witnessed in San Francisco, New York, Washington, and Denver. While the formal methods were similar, they were two completely different species. The differences in slogans, attitudes, behaviors, and appearances were obvious. But these were all superficial symptoms stemming from a major philosophical divide, which I was trying to formulate.
While the leftists like to emphasize “diversity,” they invariably end up with conformity. Underneath the publicized melodrama of skin colors and accents, there always lies an ideological sameness of phony speech codes and received opinions that change with the “party line.” The leftist demagogues have learned to exploit the superficial theatrics to expand their power in the name of “minorities.” But in the words of Ayn Rand, the smallest minority is the individual; one cannot claim to be a defender of minorities if one restricts the individual rights that are essential to genuine diversity.
From what I have seen, this tea party consisted of people of many races, accents, and origins, who varied in their religious beliefs, immigration status, and political affiliations. I spoke with people who were Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Native Americans, and African Americans. I spoke with those who were atheists and those who were gay. I met a group of Spanish-speaking Cuban women, who carried a large anti-Obama poster. It was a poster that I had designed based on El Marco’s idea during last year’s election. The women didn’t know who I was or that it came from the People’s Cube website; they just happened to like the poster. I later shared my water bottle with a Serbian woman dressed in colonial costume with an American flag over her skirt. She carried several Ron Paul signs, including one that said, “Gun control means using both hands.” She spoke English with a strong accent but knew enough Russian to have a meaningful conversation. I didn’t care much for Ron Paul but I sure was glad she was with us.
What brought all these different folks together was their love of freedom. They recognized the danger posed by encroaching big government tyranny and acknowledged a need for action. But that’s where the similarities ended. These people weren’t used to speaking in unison. There were no predictable pious clichés or standardized hypocritical speech codes typical of leftist protests. Underneath all the masquerade, the accents, and other superficial attributes, the essential qualities of the million-plus tea partiers were what the term “diversity” used to mean originally, before the collectivist left pulled a racist bait-and-switch scheme and repackaged the term to denote a purely biological and tribal belonging with no regard to our individual minds, liberties, and ambitions.