Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Why I Am Going To The Tea Party

I've never really been much for protests. Not that I have a problem with anyone attending one, of course-- I'm all for freedom of speech. Protests just have never really been my free-speech vehicle of choice.

When I was in college, I got to experience a protest first-hand during the Rodney King incident. Thanks to a protest, I almost didn't make it home from the store. The bus I was on had to be re-routed because a sit-in was going on at a key intersection, and I got dropped off in a different part of the campus. I had to walk back to my dorm past another arm of the protest, and as I skirted its perimeter I came a few inches away from being hit in the head by a randomly thrown rock about the size of two fists that came arcing over the crowd from somewhere in the middle. And to top it all off, one of my suitemates, who was in support of the protests, was whooping it up and really didn't care if anyone was hurt, because in her opinion anyone who was hurt deserved it. My other suitemates were aghast at her callousness. They had family near the violence going on in L.A. and in those pre-Twitter days had no way to communicate with them other than through the overloaded switchboards. After that I figured I didn't want to have much to do with people who were so angry that they would throw rocks over a crowd and not care if it hit anybody. And I was only inconvenienced by the change in bus route, but if I'd been in a wheelchair or on crutches I'd never have gotten home, because the route I had to walk involved going up a very steep hill.

I thought the protesters were selfish. I felt they put their cause, about which their gathering, candle-lighting, and rock-throwing would do nothing, above the safety of others. It made no difference whether people in San Diego had an opinion one way or another about incidents in Los Angeles, because the Los Angeles city government was in charge of that. So I thought the protesters were feckless as well. I figured if they really wanted to spend time and effort doing something about a cause they felt passion for, they should quit having meetings to plan an agenda to call a committee to write a paper about how passionate they are; they should just get out and DO something about it. And that's why I had never attended a protest, until the first Salt Lake City Tea Party. (The one tomorrow is the second.)

So why did I do it then? Why did I drag my kids, who can't even all make it to the planetarium, to the Capitol Building and stand for an hour holding up a sign?

I honestly don't know, but here are some factors.

For one thing, my view of protesters was softened up a bit by some of the anti-Iraq war protests. Groups like Code Pink didn't help any; they only reinforced my previous view of protesters as bullies with bullhorns who can't abide people having different opinions. But others, like former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, showed me that not all protesters are like that rock-throwing yahoo at UCSD. There are peaceful protests and people who genuinely believe in using their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and speak. I would disagree all day long with Mayor Anderson on a variety of issues, but I admire the fact that even though he was in office at the time, he did not hesitate to speak his mind as a private citizen.

For another, I wanted my kids to see this aspect of government. Left or right, people are noticing that the voice of the people is left entirely out of the political equations nowadays. Protesting is one aspect of the voice of the people. I love our Constitution and I didn't want my kids growing up thinking they didn't ever have a chance to speak their minds, no matter how feckless that speech may be. I want my children to know that I have an opinion and am not afraid to use it. Unlike the youthful activists I met at college, I don't hold any illusions that my meager presence will rock the world. I'm not going to the Tea Party for the sake of the world or even the nation; I'm going there for my own sake.

Another factor is that through the fight against CPSIA, I'm discovering that my tiny voice, when combined with others, really can make a difference-- but that if I am silent because my voice is too tiny, no one who's listening will know I'm there and my view will be entirely left out. Without the combined tiny voices of the others like me, Congress hears only the whispers of those closest to their ears. And because Congress is composed of human beings, they are vulnerable to fallacy in choosing those to whom they listen.

Do I agree with every thing that every person who attends a Tea Party has ever uttered? Certainly not. Reasonable people can and do differ in opinion on many topics. Do I hate President Obama? He's only been President for less than a hundred days. Though I don't like the cut of his jib, he may yet be blown by the winds of history into a position where he can do something great, and I don't pretend to know the future. Do I think taxes should be abolished entirely? No, because there are legitimate functions of government that cost money. Reasonable people can disagree on what those functions are and how much money should be spent on them. And sometimes you lose the argument.

But when reasonable people are cut out of the conversation wholesale, leaving only those in power who feel free to change the law to suit themselves and their friends without at least consulting the people, there is no chance for disagreement at all. That is the point at which I feel moved to speak up. I feel we have reached that point.

And so I will see you and thousands, tens of thousands, of my fellow Americans at the Tea Party protest tomorrow.