A Tea Party was beginning to brew on the west lawn of the state capitol building in Albany while I was waiting for my bus to work this morning. The partiers were just beginning to arrive with the usual variety of signage. "Gov't is out of control," one read, while another's bearer insisted that "My Rights Come From God, Not From a Politician." A pair of matching placards read "Oh No You Cant Lie to Us" and "Oh Yes We Can Vote You Out." The most creative sign (as far as I knew) evoked what I took to be the original anti-partisan spirit of the Tea Parties in reminding the rest of one of their original complaints:
This was attached to an "Audit the Fed" motto that most likely marked the signbearer as a Ron Paul supporter. Along with the signs were the usual array of flags, including your standard U.S. flag, the "Gadsden" ("Don't Tread on Me") flag, and a design I hadn't seen before. Check it out for yourselves.
It turns out that this is a "Revolution2" flag invented and marketed by a reactionary entrepreneur who explains the symbolism here. It looks like the number 13 may end up being as mystically significant to the Tea Partiers as the number 19 is to the Nation of Islam. To the extent that this fellow's money-making scheme is adopted as the standard of the Tea Parties, it'll be another deal-breaker for people who may have problems with wasteful government and crony capitalism but don't want to be associated with anything that looks like the Christian Right.
Meanwhile, today's demonstration may also be a testing ground for Jason Levin's plan to discredit the Tea Parties by infiltrating them and exaggerating their least pleasant tendencies. Albany is the dateline for an Associated Press story detailing Levin's scheme, which he hopes to see play out across the country during scheduled "Tax Day" protests this Thursday. Levin elaborates on his plans on his own website. While he seems to be aiming at a "Yes Men" like parody through reductio ad absurdam of Tea Party beliefs, his reference to instigating the TPs' "pre-existing propensity for paranoia and suspicion" may hint that he may not even feel it necessary to show up. His goal may be to get real TPs wondering whether their more vehement compatriots are "for real" or not. However it unfolds, Levin's conspiracy shows the extent to which many people on the left have given up on trying to engage the TPs or change their minds -- admittedly, the TPs themselves have given enough signals to convince people that the effort would be pointless.
However that plays out, there was an indisputably genuine counter-demonstration under way in Albany this morning. Across the street and far enough down hill so that the two groups would not see and most likely not hear each other, a group of Democratic sympathizers were on the sidewalk declaring their thanks to the ruling party for passing a health-care reform bill. If one of today's demonstrations looked like "astroturf," I hate to say, this was the one. And so I left each group in its little free-speech zone, unable or unwilling to communicate with each other, an American Bipolarchy in miniature. It's the beginning of a week of activity encompassing Tax Day and the Lexington-Concord anniversaries that have acquired dark connotations in recent history. It could get more interesting soon.
Update: the local paper estimates the turnout at about 200 people, with no count for the counter-demo. The writer is more concerned with the Carl Paladino angle than with anything the TPs had to say for themselves. For those outside New York, the businessman and self-proclaimed Tea Party candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination has been called out for sending racist and pornographic images in private e-mails. The charge earned him the "Worst Person in the World" award for last night from the Keith Olbermann show, which Paladino might wear as a badge of honor if it had anything to do with his political beliefs. In any event, for the moment Paladino represents no one but himself, but it's still fair to ask an authentic TP what they think of a man who actively solicits their support. It would be wrong to hold anyone but Paladino responsible for his foibles.