America Awakes: Reflections on 9/12 (Part II)
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.
Speaking of racism, it would never have occurred to me to count the number of non-whites in attendance. It's what leftists do to score points in a phony game of "open-mindedness" that is popular among white snobs. But next time, I may be forced to do just that, if only to debunk the absurd allegation that the tea party movement is built on white racism. I didn't look for black people in the rally; they were simply standing there with their signs when I was passing by with my camera. They didn't come there as a token "minority group," nor did they stand apart "representing" their race. Each one of them showed up as an individual, as did all the other responsible owners of this country who rose to protest the erosion of individual liberties regardless of their ethnicity.
This brings up an important facet of American life which took me a while to understand, and with which certain "progressive" Americans still have trouble coming to grips. America is not a race. We are not an ethnicity, nor do we require a formal kind of citizenship. It is the idea of individual liberty and the rule of law embodied in the American Constitution which unites people regardless of their origins. And if you embrace it with all your heart and are willing to defend it in the face of adversity and danger, you are an American. But if you wish to abandon or destroy it -- sorry, you don't deserve to be called an American even if you were born here.
The only racist rhetoric I heard that day came from a black Obama supporter. Standing on the curb on the outskirts of the rally, he screamed angrily at the predominantly white audience that the days of the white race were over and that with a black man in the White House, white people should be readying themselves to suffer the fate of an oppressed minority. Whether his anger was provoked by the media's misrepresentation of the tea partiers as racists, or he was deliberately trying to provoke a racially-fueled incident, the orator didn't appear in any way threatened. Nor did he need to be: a few random onlookers tried to argue with him rationally, but most shrugged him off as a nutcase and moved on.
Despite the accusations of being an "angry mob" thrown at them by Democratic politicians, the tea partiers -- many of whom wore shirts with the words "this is what an angry mob looks like" -- exhibited an exemplary peaceful behavior; not a single arrest was made. Unlike the leftist protesters who by and large claim to be for clean environment but always leave piles of trash after themselves, the protesting taxpayers left immaculately clean lawns and deposited their trash in designated areas. At the end of the rally I witnessed a scene where a splinter group of the departing "angry mob" actually waved at the passing police officers and thanked them for their service. And why not? If they "owned the dome," they also owned the police. It is they whom the officers serve. They pay for that service with their taxes.
This is the exact opposite of the attitude of leftist protesters whom I have seen throwing bottles at the police and calling the officers pigs and Nazis without provocation. This contrasting behavior is perhaps the best illustration of the philosophical differences between the two types of protester.
It is the difference between the responsible property owner and the quarrelsome delinquent tenant. And I don't mean tenants who have become temporarily broke due to unfortunate circumstances. I mean the "permanently offended" bully type, the fully capable but unproductive malcontent who resorts to righteous belligerence to obfuscate his own moral shortcomings that prevent him from paying rent. He litigates and finds a million excuses for his desire to live off someone else's dime.
Political rogues have learned to spot such delinquents and recruit them into subversive pressure groups they deceptively call "community organizations," which they use to infiltrate a building management. As it were, the new managers have recently declared the loud-mouth non-payers the "rightful owners" of the property and are now changing the rules and redistributing the apartments. And when the real owners have finally cried foul, they are dismissed as a hateful mob, with Obama condescendingly explaining their actions as trying "to get 15 minutes of fame" by being rude.
Blaming the government for failing to cater to their urges, leftist protesters demand to expand government powers to a level where the state becomes a charitable organization with the purpose of pursuing people's happiness for them, according to the misconstrued "promise" of the Constitution. This, of course, is an unachievable goal, but the "progress" towards its fulfillment is guaranteed to limit everyone's freedoms and saddle the producers with a crushing tax burden.
Protesters on the right are the actual producers whom the leftists intend to fleece. They refuse to finance doomed utopian schemes and subsidize their own destruction. In spite of the leftist misnomer, they are not "anti-government." They value legitimate government services -- the courts, law enforcement, and the military -- and are willing to pay for them. But they are skeptical of the government as a charitable organization, well aware that it comes with increased controls and the subjugation of the individual to the state. Jealous of their freedoms, they believe that charity should be a private choice and that happiness is best pursued far away from the government apparatus.
The primal urge behind the leftist protest is the irrational, all-or-nothing tantrum of an ignorant, spoiled brat who demands unearned respect and entitlements no matter the cost. In contrast, the right-wing protest is based on the rational, informed skepticism of a working, paying adult who can take care of himself, is charitable enough to help others, and wise enough to discipline the brat when charity is being abused.
But there is a third factor: the political elites who mistakenly believe they are the actual owners of this country. That is why the idea of redistributing America's wealth comes so easily to them. They view the real owners as an insignificant nuisance. Such an error in judgment may cost them dearly in the next election, despite their ties to the media and the fraudulent "community organizations." Should they prevail, however, their error may become fatal to the country as a whole, as it will ruin the engine that powers America. The choice is painfully clear, now more than ever before.
As the tea party was winding up, El Marco hurried back to the hotel, anxious to make an early report. I still lingered, long after my camera batteries petered out and there was no one left except the police and a few residual onlookers who, like me, couldn't get enough. I knew that the magnitude of a historic event is better judged from a distance. But I couldn't shake off the feeling that the importance of what I had just witnessed would not diminish with time.
Once again my friend worked late into the night editing photos and writing commentary, as I lay stretched in the hotel bed with a bottle of Sam Adams, watching Fox News on mute, and once in a while adding my two cents to his work. His blog post ended up being one of the first and the best original reports from the rally. It was almost immediately linked by major conservative websites including Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter, who couldn't resist quoting a line from one of the photos: "Kiss my Astroturf!"
Over the next few days, mailing enthusiasts across the country transformed El Marko's photo essay into a series of chain mails that, as of this writing, still continues to spread through America's inboxes in geometric progression. I received quite a few of them myself. Most such mailings contained no attribution or link but had traces of multiple forwarding, changed titles, and various alterations and additions to the original comments -- all signs of an instant classic.
National media's refusal to cover the event seems to have been entirely compensated by my friend, whose work rose to the level of proverbial history-in-the-making journalism. Attaching a face to the world's largest taxpayer protest, his photographs have already been seen by millions of people in the United States and around the world. Blog statistics have picked up a heightened interest from Europe: the Old World can still look to America for inspiration.
The "mainstream" media will never admit it in a smug tone reserved for leftist malcontents, but I know it and you know it.
That day we made history.