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!
The Tea Party rally
It was a very upbeat affair all around. None of the hate or racism or ignorance that the Tea Party’s detractors endlessly fantasize about. Instead, people broke into spontaneous chorus lines…
…and frantically started waving American flags at the first notes of any patriotic song.
The purpose of the event was to watch a procession of performers and speakers on stage, but I have no patience for that, so I took a stroll around while I waited for the counter-protest Green hurricane to strike.
Many people embraced the Wall Street Journal‘s (and John McCain’s) off-kilter condemnation of Tea Partiers as “Hobbits” — with this woman declaring 2012 to be the “Year of the Hobbits.”
A Nevada Tea Party group even went so far as to name itself “TEAm Hobbit Express.”
And yes, they brought Sharron Angle along with them — the only politician to address the rally. SFGate’s Carla Marinucci recorded Angle’s off-key rendition of “God Bless America,” which you can view here, if you dare.
I have a suggestion: Musicians can stop getting involved in politics, and politicians can stop singing. Deal?
This little gal seemed to sum up the national mood perfectly.
Wow, those are some huge . . . stripes.
According to the CNN article linked above: “Kevin Trout watched the speeches with a Sarah Palin sign leaning on his wheelchair. ‘I want Palin to run. She’s for constitutionally limited government,’ Trout said. ‘And she did not kill her youngest child.’ Trout was referring to Trig Palin, who was born with Down syndrome. Palin has said that, after tests during her pregnancy, she knew her fifth child would be born with special needs.”
This being the Napa Valley, there was of course wine tasting.
I began to lose my patience, waiting for the Greens to crash the event. What’s the freakin’ holdup?
In frustration, I quit the fairgrounds, saw that the union protesters were already gone, and once again headed over to the Green base camp at Veterans’ Park.
As I approached, I saw the crowd had reached its maximum extent — I counted 65 people!
But when I got there, I was sorely disappointed — turns out that most of the “new” extra people were nothing more than the same union protesters I had seen earlier, but who had apparently gotten wind of the Green gathering, so had retreated back here after their own small union-only protest.
Things were just as lethargic as they had been earlier. An SEIU member filled his cup with complimentary green tea, as everybody waited around for something to happen. Thrills.
It was easy to identify the people who had originally been part of the union contingent — they were the ones praising Obama. There was a bit of tension in the air as the true Greens were ranting against the “two-party corporate oligarchy,” slamming Democrats and Republicans alike.
(Interestingly, there was also a harder-to-detect rift in the Tea Party side, as revealed in the first comment on this article: “The real tea party does not support the Tea Party Express which is FreedomWorks, not legit. Let them call for a real tea party and you will have thousands of independent people, not some PAC who hijacked the movement in 2009….”)
Socialism: ass-punchingly good!
Digital Martyrs are a trio of angry Islamic hiphoppers. The lead rapper’s shirt had a picture of a guy holding an automatic rifle.
Their first song contained the phrases “shoot a politician” and “Sarah Palin,” but I couldn’t make out the rest (Video to come soon!)
Someone showed up with a sign saying “God hates nags.” I thought at first that he must be a double-reverse Tea Party counter-counter-protester making fun of the nanny-statism advocated by the Greens, but I soon discovered he was Green Party activist Hank Chapot, and his sign was intended to reference the “God Hates Fags” signs held up by the Fred Phelps clan, and he was trying to associate the Tea Party with the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church. I realized then there was no hope. Doesn’t he realize that conservatives and patriots hate the Phelps clan even more than the Greens do? If the first lesson in political strategy is “Know thy enemy,” this guy fails.
Over at the Tea Party rally, people were mocking socialism. And, true to form, there were indeed socialist groups at the Green rally. But the Greens here were mocking purported homophobia and racism at the Tea Party event — except there was no homophobia or racism to be found there. Result: The Tea Party volleys hit their target; the Green Party volleys missed completely. A one-sided battle.
In the desolate de-populated expanse of the Green Party rally, one of the activists wandered around in a Scooby-Doo t-shirt and wild pants.
As he drew closer I became interested in his notepad — what had he written on it?
It wasn’t until much later after I uploaded the photos that I was able to decipher his message by inverting the image in a photo editor, and reading the words which had leaked through from the other side of the page:
THEY WANT TO STAMP BARCODES ON OUR HANDS BECAUSE THEY WANT [TOTAL] CONTROL.
Before you start laughing at the Green kook, note that some equivalent kookery was present at one table at the Tea Party rally.
One of the chapters of the California branch of the Eagle Forum seems to have been taken over by conspiracy theorists. Lined up behind their table were several signs not only warning against one-world government, but also against…
…Smart Meters, and chemtrails! Oy gevalt. Up until this moment, I had only ever seen chemtrail lunacy at left-wing rallies, and was saddened to see the same nuttiness appear at a Tea Party event too. I guess conspiracy theorists know no political boundaries! Interestingly, one of the Green Party speakers back in Veterans’ Park cited this as a point of possible convergence: opposition to Smart Meters can be found on both sides of the political (kook) spectrum, he said. Let’s join forces! Sigh.
Hey, dudes, it’s your signs that are giving me brain damage.
Word of advice to future Tea Party organizers: Exercise a little “message control” and keep the chemtrail conspiracy theorists away from the sign-up sheet!
Finally: The Green Party Counter-Protest
Anyway, the Digital Martyrs rapped on and on, and then more Green speakers were announced, and I simply gave up on these people: the 1pm departure of the Tea Party Express buses was fast approaching, and the Greens were still dithering. So for a second time I bailed out and headed back to the fairgrounds.
But back in Tea Town, things were already starting to wind down. People posed in front of the buses for last-minute souvenir shots…
…and shopped for Tea Party schwag.
I was about to declare the counter-protest a no-show, when, in the distance, I heard some faint voices. Could it be…?
Huzzah! The Green invasion had begun! Except for one tiny problem — they showed up at the back fence of the fairgrounds, where nobody could see them!
To give you an idea of how far removed the Green counter-protest was from the main Tea Party action: Those are the Greens on the other side of that fence in the distance, and I’m standing in the middle of the fairgrounds, with a few Tea Party stragglers visible on the right at the far back end of the rally.
Here’s the reverse angle: looking at the Tea Party from the viewpoint of the Green counter-protesters. Helllloooo! Yoo-hoooo! We’re staging a “momentous and historic massive anti-tea party rally” over here! Hey, c’mon, look over here! Historic, I tell you!
Finally, a few Tea Partiers at the very back end of the rally heard the distant shouts and turned to look.
Eventually about eight Tea Partiers thought it would be funny to go over and “feed the trolls.”
I couldn’t hear what the two opposing camps were yelling at each other, but I think it was probably variations on “You suck!”
Brilliant decision, Greens, to position yourselves in the one spot where you were practically invisible, and only a handful of Tea Partiers even knew you were there!
The union members had come along for the ride as well, and even brought their giant inflatable rat, a prop they use during strikes to portray management as “rats.” Didn’t make much sense in this setting, but hey, a giant inflatable anything always adds panache to a revolution! (Photo courtesy of Bay Area Patriots.)
One of the Greens held a signs saying “‘Tea Party’ sounds better than ‘Racist homophobic mob.'”(Photo courtesy of Bay Area Patriots.)
Racist? Homophobic? Not a trace of either at the event. Now, sure, most of the Tea Partiers were white folks. But most of the Green Partiers were white too. In fact, numerically speaking, I saw more minorities at the Tea Party than I did at the Green Party. (All of this is unsurprising: Napa overall is less than 1% African-American.) It’s like the pot calling the kettle white.
Luckily, one of the counter-protesters took and posted a video documenting the scene from the other side of the fence:
(Note, also, how you can clearly count the number of people in the entire group as they pass by the camera between 0:32 and 1:05 in the video; I counted exactly 43.)
I decided to go join the Greens, so I once again exited back out the front gate of the Tea Party rally and went all the way around the fairgrounds to the counter-protest at the back fence. But by the time I got there…the Napa Police had shunted the Greens way down to the very far end of the block, to ensure they didn’t try to attack the Tea Party Express buses as they exited. (That’s the “massive anti-tea party rally” in the distance, at the end of the block.)
Fashionably late, the Tea Party Express buses pulled out of the fairgrounds’ back gate…
…and headed off to their next stop in Reno, Nevada. Goodbye!
With the buses safely on their way and the Tea Party event breaking up, the police released the Green counter-protesters from their holding zone. They headed back up the block.
But even at this late stage there was still confusion and disunity as protesters pointed every which way and started to head off in various directions. Momentous! Historic!
The last remaining loyalists retreated back across the bridge over the Napa River to base camp.
The signs were packed away to re-use at the next revolution. Remember to recycle!
But where had everybody been? Why was the Green event a total washout, and the Tea Party event a middling affair?
I got my answer as I walked over to the center of downtown Napa. By sheer coincidence, today had been…
…the Blues, Brews and BBQ festival in Napa, and it seemed like every living person from a 50-mile radius was crammed into Napa’s historic district! Solid drunken humanity as far as the eye could see!
The moral of today’s story? Beer trumps politics.
This exact same sign has already made an appearance at several Bay Area Tea Party events, and since I’ve already included it in previous reports, I decided to move it here to the “extras” section for those readers who may not have yet seen it. An oldie but goodie!
Similarly, Mr. Dunce Hat is by now a regular at northern California anti-Obama rallies.
There comes a times in the course of blogging when one finds it necessary to present a picture upside-down. I mentioned earlier about the Tea Partiers’ on-target mockery of socialism and political linking of “green” and “red”; here’s a good example.