The Green Party faced off against the Tea Party on Saturday in Napa, California.
Democrats? Republicans? Snort. What do you think this is, the 20th century?
Neither of the dinosaur parties were much in evidence as the nation’s two new emergent parties did battle for the heart of America.
Green or Tea, which shall it be?
The catalyst that triggered this political firefight was the arrival in Napa of the Tea Party Express buses; Saturday, August 27 was the day the media-savvy group kicked off its coast-to-coast Reclaiming America Tour, culminating on September 12 in Tampa, Florida, at the CNN/Tea Party Express Debate between various presidential primary candidates.
Grassroots Tea Party groups from the region — the Wine Country, the North Bay, and nearby — converged on the Napa County Fairgrounds for a brief two-hour visit by the Tea Party Express buses and their accompanying CNN cameras.
But the Green Party simply could not let this stand. Word went out across the land that the Greens would be waiting with a “massive anti-tea party rally”:
Green “Tea Party” (massive anti-tea party rally)
The Napa County Green Party invites you to participate in a momentous and historic Green “tea party” on Saturday, August 27, 2011, at 10:30 AM in Veterans Memorial Park at the corner of Main and Third streets in downtown Napa. Come help us unwelcome the Tea Party Express to Napa and instead show the public a positive Green Party alternative.
This Green Party counter-rally is being held simultaneously with the Tea Party’s kick-off of its national tour. The Tea Party has steered our nation further toward the reactionary right, undermining workers’ collective bargaining rights, attacking human rights such as access to health care, damaging our environment through attacks on regulation, and fostering an anti-diversity agenda that scapegoats Muslims, immigrants, and the LGBT community.
As the dominant parties acquiesce to this reactionary current, the Green Party stands apart as the healthiest alternative to the corrupt two-party system; a “duopoly” that has given rise to this right-wing shift. …
This Green “tea party” will be a chance for Green Party members and our progressive allies from across the state to unite in opposition to the negative Tea Party agenda by affirming positive Green Party values such as grassroots democracy, social justice, respect for diversity, nonviolence, community-based economics, and sustainability. …
Our rally will culminate in a progressive solidarity march from Veterans Park to the Napa Valley Expo Fairgrounds just across the river to protest the Tea Party Express event being held there.
The gauntlet has been thrown!
Meanwhile, the various local Tea Party groups didn’t seem to publicize the event much; in fact, I only heard about it because I was on the Green mailing list! The much-ballyhooed decentralized nature of the Tea Party sometimes has its drawbacks; and there was also a certain undercurrent of grumbling about the overly slick prepackaged glitziness and old-school establishment connections of the Tea Party Express group. Would anyone show up at all?
Maybe the counter-rally would be bigger than the main rally itself.
Ding!! The “momentous and historic” match has begun!
I showed up shortly before 11am and decided my first stop should be the Green Party’s “massive anti-tea party rally” scheduled to begin at 10:30am in Napa’s Veterans’ Park. But when I showed up, this is what greeted me: about 20 people milling around an empty plaza. Hmmmm….
I drifted around looking for answers. Several of the people there were from various socialist groups, like the ISO (International Socialist Organization), whose signs were about the Middle East, not “green” policies.
The MDS (Movement for a Democratic Society), another ultra-far-left group, comprised another significant portion of the attendees. Boring. I want individual opinions! I went in search of the unaffiliated at the rally.
Now we’re talkin’. This guy compared the Tea Party to the “John Birh” Society.
His sign merits a close-up of its own:
“TEA PARTY SAME STUFF nEW nAME = John BIRH Society SocIEty They ARE are WACKO.”
After a while, the crowd swelled to around 35, as a Green Party speaker at the podium raised his arms in triumph.
It quickly became obvious that the planned march on the Tea Party event wasn’t going to happen any time soon. So I bailed out early and headed over to the fairgrounds by myself. Instead of accompanying the invading army as an embedded journalist (my original plan), maybe I could watch the invasion from the Tea Party side.
On the way there, I encountered a small group of counter-protesters already leaving the Tea Party site. I had gotten my first inkling that something was awry.
Note how these counter-protesters are all white, fairly old, and carrying a flag. Despite that, they carried a sign accusing the Tea Partiers of being…
“Tea Baggers: Old White people Who Wear Flags.” Someone needs to introduce these folks to a mirror.
As I drew close to the fairgrounds’ front gate, I encountered a small stream of union members arriving with anti-Tea Party signs. What’s going on?
Ten or twenty union members lined up outside the entrance, but the Tea Partiers who were filing past them mainly ignored the spectacle.
And here’s where the confusion began.
Thinking that this was just some small-potatoes wildcat counter-protest, I shrugged my shoulders and entered the Tea Party event as well. But apparently, either while I was inside the fairgrounds, or perhaps before I even showed up in Napa, there was a somewhat larger union-organized protest that I somehow managed to miss. Or that’s what the media reported:
Police and newspaper estimates placed the crowd at the Napa Valley Exposition at about 600, with another 200 Green Party, Democratic and union activists demonstrating in opposition outside the Expo fence.
However, Alex Shantz of the Napa County Green Party said the size of the counter-demonstration was closer to 300.
While the protesters outside chanted, marched, waved signs and even briefly displayed a giant inflatable rat, the tea party rally on the Expo grounds featured heavily-amplified singers and speakers, two gleaming “Tea Party Express” buses and a mammoth American flag.
In addition to the giant inflatable rat was this sign: “Kill All Humans.” (I didn’t take this photo, but I wish I had; the original is part of the “Napa Patch” article linked above; direct link to the photo here.
Could it be that the anti-Tea Party forces were completely discombobulated? It seemed that there were two separate counter-protests planned — one by the Greens, and another by the unions — but neither was aware of the other. So instead of coordinating forces for a more effective unified full-frontal assault, each group independently staged small ineffective confrontations. What else could explain why the Greens were still assembling over at Veterans’ Park, while the unions were already protesting at the front gate?
The Numbers Game
You may have noticed that the crowd estimates quoted above are wildly at odds with the photos shown in this report. I was pretty stunned by the media’s estimates as well, and tried to find verification; all I could come up with was this image showing the elusive combined union/Green counter-protest that I somehow managed to miss, showing 45 protesters grouped together and ready to march. But where are the other 255, to reach the claimed 300 total? Let’s be generous and double that 45 up to 90, then round it up again to 100. We’re still 200 short. (Anybody who can provide me with a photo showing more than 100 counter-protesters, please post the link in the comments!)
Meanwhile, the same article estimates the Tea Party crowd at only 600, only twice as large as the counter-protest. I walked into the Tea Party event, stood approximately in the middle, and took this picture. To my right, out of the frame, is the CNN camera platform, which was on the centerline of the event facing the stage. Further off to my right are several booths and tables with people browsing. In the distance straight ahead, out of sight, there is a wine-tasting area and dozens more booths; and also a central midway with throngs of people coming and going; out of the frame to my left are several additional rows of seated Tea Partiers; and then the stage area itself; and finally, behind me is the entire other half of the event, maybe not quite as crowded as what you see here, but equal in area at least. And despite all that, I counted (took me 15 minutes, but I counted) about 500 people (or parts of people) visible just in this image alone, even though it only covers maybe 30% at most of the whole event. (For those obsessed with crowd estimates, I have made the full-resolution version of the photo available; just click on the image to see it, and start counting yourself; get ready for eyestrain.)
Based on this image, and my general impressions of the day (including the fact that people were arriving and leaving throughout the event so that the overall crowd size stayed the same but included new arrivees), I would personally estimate the size of the Tea Party crowd at closer to 2,000, and 1,500 at a minimum.
CNN makes no estimate of the Tea Party crowd, but says there were only “several dozen” counter-protesters, which seems far more accurate than the “Patch” article linked above.
AP give a generous 100 estimate for the counter-protesters, but limits the Tea Partiers to “several hundred.”
The S.F. Chronicle guesstimated “dozens” of counter-protesters and “hundreds” of Tea Partiers, which is probably the closest to being accurate.
My estimate? About 90 counter-protesters (half of them Green Partiers, the other half union members), and about 2,000 Tea Partiers. (Any evidence either way is welcomed in the comments section.) And since I hate the whole crowd-estimation numbers game, and am only doing this because of the media misreporting, that’s the last time I’ll mention it!