I went down to Westlake Center in Seattle this evening to photograph the Seattle Tea Party, and to gauge the mood of the crowd.
I arrived just before the event kicked off, and watched the crowd from across the street, taking a few pictures before I decided to get into the audience for some crowd shots:
The primary organizer and Master of Ceremonies was Keli Carendar, who spontaneously organized the first Tea Party in the country here in Seattle back in February.
Ms. Carendar, dressed as 'Alice in Wonderland', did a great job of firing the crowd up, introducing the different speakers, and even offering a well-sung rendition of "Obama, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz" based on the Janis Joplin tune. It was pretty funny, and the crowd loved it.
There were perhaps a thousand Tea Party-ers with a wide variety of signs, mostly related to taxes and spending, but there was also a lot of anger about the TARP program, the Stimulus Bill, and the massive increase in the federal budget:
There wasn't much of a counter-protest, maybe a couple dozen disorganized folks who mostly came down to have some fun." I talked to a few of them and really felt like the two sides are talking past each other; one teenager/twentysomething couldn't understand why the Tea Party folks were against "fairness" because "after all, that's what Obama is trying to do, ensure fairness. I tried to explain to him that maybe these folks believed that making them pay for other folks' mortgages, or for bailing out companies that took huge yet foreseeable risks was unfair, and that they thought putting a $200k bill on their children was especially unfair... but of course the young man isn't paying taxes because he doesn't make enough and believed that only the "rich" would end up paying for these programs. Another fellow evidently thought the Tea Party-ers were hypocritical in that they "supported socialism when it benefited them." His counter-protest sign illustrated his point, and since he was being very polite and well-mannered I didn't bother to explain the false premise he was making (that government services such as the military or law enforcement are a form of socialism). You can read his sign and make up your own mind. And then there was this last sign representing the motivations of most of the counter-protesters, who came down to shock the squares and get some laughs. I thought she was cute, so I sure hope that sign belongs to her boyfriend!
I especially liked this poignant sign from a capitalist wondering what the heck happened to his country. A witty way of capturing the change that has happened in America over the past quarter century; while the GOP was winning at the polls, the Democrats were winning the hearts and minds of Generations X and Y. The minority view of the 1980s is the conventional wisdom of today.
Maybe it takes a Jimmy Carter, or a Barack Obama, for people to relearn the lesson of how There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch every generation, and that someone has to pay for all of these programs. Maybe it's a good thing the Democrats won everything, so that America can realize just exactly how Democrats govern (unapologetic big spenders, as opposed to apologetic big spender Republicans). And maybe the GOP needs some time in the wilderness to think about the butt-kicking they've taken since 2006 and for the lesson of what happens when you don't govern the same way you campaign to sink in.
There was a considerable police presence, with a half-dozen mounted police (on horseback), perhaps another dozen bicycle police, and a couple of patrol cars with another half-dozen officers distributed through the square. The crowd was well-behaved, though, and the police mostly talked to each other and enjoyed the afternoon.
The event ended around 7:30, with the last speaker getting the crowd fired up about throwing all of the incumbents out to send a message. I think the only way to solve the problem with our government is to get rid of the concept of career politicians by enforcing term limits on all federal elected offices. If eight years is good enough for the president, then surely twelve years is good enough for a Congressman or Senator.
It is unconscionable that a person who has never worked in the private sector can become a multi-millionnaire through public office, and this seems to be especially prevalent among Democrats, the prime examples being Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Finally, Ms. Carendar announced that more Tea Parties were scheduled for upcoming holidays, and promising to run them until the 2010 elections.
In summary, a surprisingly strong crowd of folks who don't ordinarily come out and protest, reflecting considerable anger at their elected officials. I don't think the GOP understands how much of this anger is pointed their way, either. The true test of the Tea Party movement is its longevity; will these Parties be a flash in the pan, or will they grow over the next two years and culminate in a changing of the guard in Congress and the states? I think the answer lies in whether or not a leader emerges who can effectively speak to this anger and inspire a following, and so far I don't see that person.
Note: All photos taken with a Sigma SD14 dSlr, and either a Sigma 18-50/2.8 EX DC Macro lens, a Sigma 50-150/2.8 EX DG lens, or a Celestron 300/5.6 mirror lens.