No Ocean Necessary: A Tea Party in the Heartland
Approximately 2,500 citizens marched from Julia Davis to Capitol Park in Boise, Idaho, as part of the national grassroots tea party movement.
Many signs focused on big spending, big taxes, the dangers of socialism, out-of-control government growth, term limits, and concerns with runaway government. Some signs focused on preserving gun rights, border security, honoring the Tenth Amendment, and protecting state sovereignty. An even smaller number of signs spoke out against the Federal Reserve, abortion, and global warming.
It was all good according to Nate Shellman, a 670 KBOI drive-time radio host who emceed the first leg of the tea party at Ann Morrison Park in Boise. He noted, "You all have signs expressing what's on your mind." Shellman hailed the cornucopia of messages as a cherished American moment.
Boise's tea party was actually three rallies held in succession at Ann Morrison Park, Julia Davis Park, and Capitol Park, the latter being located across the street from Idaho's capitol, which is under renovation. Each location drew an even larger crowd than the last rally.
Chilly weather and even light rain did not deter the marchers. At Julia Davis, Reverend Bryan Fischer of the Idaho Values Alliance joked that it was raining because, "God knows we need water for our tea."
A spokesman for Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) forwarded along the senator's best wishes for the event at Julia Davis via an official representative. Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID), who recently wrote an op-ed in the Idaho Statesman praising the numerous earmarks he brought home to Idaho, sent along a letter expressing his support for the tea party.
At the Capitol Park rally, former elk rancher and 2008 Independent U.S. Senate candidate Rex Rammel threw his hat into the ring to challenge Simpson in the 2010 Republican primary. He opened with a strong plea for state sovereignty. "Today, the battle to challenge the federal government's usurpation of states' rights begins."
Four state legislators also spoke at Capitol Park. Nine-term Idaho Representative Lenore Barrett (R-Challis) was once described as a potential slam poetry champion by Idaho Senator Nicole LeFavour (D-Boise), herself a former slam poetry slam contestant. The crowd at Capitol Park got to judge for themselves, as Barrett laid out a rapid, clear, and concise conservative program in less than five minutes.
Rep. Barrett said, "The Congress wouldn't know the Constitution if it fell in its lap and called it daddy." She also criticized President Obama's controversial "bow" to the king of Saudi Arabia. "Don't bow to anyone, especially someone who's holding you hostage with oil."
Rep. Steve Thayn (R-Emmett) took a nuanced view on government. Thayn argued that reducing government was not necessarily the key to solving problems. "Government is a tool that must be used properly." He argued that strong families, not just states' rights, were key to correcting a strong central government and challenged participants to work to ensure the strength of their own family.
The controversial Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing extremism, while skewered by several protesters' signs, was also a frequent topic from the speakers.
Les Bayer, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lived through the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and saw his business taken over along with several larger businesses, warned he was experiencing "déjà vu all over again. ... I have heard this story before."
Bayer equated the Homeland Security Department's report with threats he received on his life while working abroad for U.S. corporations. In his speech, Bayer gave the same answer to Homeland Security that he gave to the terrorists threatening his life: "Come and get me."
Said Shellman at Ann Morrison, "I feel like a radical -- no, I don't. I feel like an American. I feel like a patriot."
Others mocked the DHS report in big and small ways. A man answered his cell phone while attendees marched from Ann Morrison to Julie Davis and advised the caller, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, "I'm at that extreme right-wing tea party."
The marchers came from a wide cross-section of society. There were old people, young people, mothers with children, families with dogs, bikers, guys with ponytails. A man wearing a volunteer jacket from this past Winter's Special Olympics made the trip to Capitol Park.
Shellman took an unscientific poll at Ann Morrison when the crowd was at several hundred, and the results suggest the group was no monolith. While some media accounts have labeled the event a Republican effort, when Shellman asked how many people were Republicans and how many were independents, Republicans held only a slight advantage. Conservatives made up the bulk of the crowd, but a strong libertarian contingent also showed up. Five people owned up to being members of the Democratic Party and one even declared himself a liberal.
The crowd was orderly and polite as it moved across Boise's downtown. Several people stopped to help a mother with a stroller navigate the steps near Julia Davis. The police were cheered for their help in keeping attendees safe at the Julia Davis rally. Motorcycle officers from city of Nampa, the Ada County Sheriff's office, and the police ensured safe movement down Capitol Boulevard. Several marchers shouted words of appreciation as they marched down the street.
The signs reflected a variety of styles and interests. While volunteers painted signs for the protesters, many brought their own signs reflecting their own creativity and passions. One woman carried a sign sending a message from Earth to Washington with President Obama and other top Democrats portrayed as out of touch aliens from space. Rather than advocate a single idea on a sign, some chose to bullet point an entire political platform.
Of course, with that many signs, some will seem too angry or negative. Such signs, including one that called the president "a schmuck," however, made up a tiny minority.
Some of the more thought-provoking signs were carried by children. Signs carried by younger children express the concern and frustration of their parents, while those of older children are more likely to express their own fears. One young girl carried a sign that said, "I'm not your ATM."
One young woman carried a sign that said, "I'm eighteen and have no future." Former Congressman Bill Sali (R-Idaho) mentioned the sign in his speech at Julia Davis and challenged participants to become engaged in the political process in order to provide a future for that young woman and the next generation.
For their part, Boise tea party organizers are planning to move forward with bigger and better projects for the future. Organizer Jeff Escobar promised a Forth of July event that was "one hundred times better" than Wednesday's event, along with other projects.
Of course, organizers seeking to challenge and change the federal government face many disadvantages, as they were reminded when organizer Al Trees made an appeal for donations, explaining the group needed money to put on events like the day's tea party.
"Print some!" a woman from the crowd shouted back.
While tea party organizers don't have access to government printing presses, they did raise some funds by offering hungry marchers a common product of Washington, D.C.