Thursday, April 16, 2009

Obama Foodorama Goes To The DC Tax Day Tea Party: Fox Media Construct or Post-Modern Con Kumbaya?

Was Fox News one of the Tea Party organizers, or just very very very very good friends with them? Fox's Griff Jenkins, radio host Laura Ingraham, and the DC rally organizer were very cozy...
Today, President Obama was at the White House talking about tax cuts for 95% of American citizens, and the White House was posting his tax return online, while hundreds of people were gathered across the street for the Washington Tax Day Tea Party at Lafayette Square Park. Racist, homophobic, anti-Obama hate monger and Con dark star radio show host Laura Ingraham showed up to briefly yell at the crowd (that's her, in photo), because DC was ground zero for the nationwide Tea Parties.

The big foodie drama move: One million tea bags were supposed to be dumped on the steps of the Treasury, which then changed to being dumped in Lafayette Square, which then changed to nowhere, because organizers couldn't get a permit, even when they promised to put the tea bags on tarps at the park, and clean 'em up. But the protest went on anyway, even without the crucial jumbo prop. All week, there's been much discussion in the media about whether the Tea Parties are faux Republican spin machine events driven primarily by Fox News, or real grassroots protests. After teabagging with the tax protesters yesterday, Ob Fo is still uncertain about the answer to that question.

What can be said, without a doubt about the Tea Party in DC: A lot of people showed up. And Fox News reporter Griff Jenkins and his assistants were busily inciting the crowd to amp up their furor.

Hundreds of people were in Lafayette Square (but probably not 1,500, as organizers are reporting). And a lot of people were very upset over a lot of issues that went above and beyond taxation: Bank bailouts, unemployment, constitutional issues, communism, socialism, Marxism, toxic assets, specific court cases, specific politicos (Specter, Pelosi, Grassley), guns, nukes, right to life, stimulus, recovery, anti-pork barrel everything.

Ob Fo spoke with dozens of people, and there was a huge range of ages, states, and perceived socio-economic status, based on attire. The states represented: New York, Maryland, Virginia, DC, Florida, Kentucky, Delaware, West Virginia, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey, California, New Mexico. Sure, some were tourists visiting DC for Spring Break, but the New Yorkers had driven down on purpose. Ob Fo spoke with small business owners, doctors, lawyers, teachers, a couple chefs, builders, little kids and college-age students (who ran the gamut from nose-pierced hipsters to buttoned-down Hill interns).

Everyone had an issue, a lot of them had the same issues, and taxation was just a tiny slice of the pie. It was a good reason to come on out on April 15, but not the main reason (above: A Tea Bagger art shot...dropped tea bags at the park).

Was the DC Tea Party bipartisan, as it was being billed? Not really. It skewed pretty heavily Republican, and pretty heavily anti-Obama.

Ob Fo gave out a lot of business cards...which say, obviously, 'Obama Foodorama,' and numerous times, there was a shout of glee--like We've got a Dem! Whooo-hoo! Let's convert her! On the other hand, a bunch of people were already aware of the website, and said they read it to 'see what the Obamas are really up to,' which supports Ob Fo's view that, y'know, the interest in Obama and food is bipartisan. There were definitely people from across the political spectrum.

But let's be very clear (make no mistake...): Fox News was a big presence at the DC Tea Party. And when Ingraham showed up to speak to the crowd, the people from Fox News made big attempts to manipulate the crowd into cheering and chanting, to get better background for their live feed with her.

The Fox people were waving their hands and shouting things like "Let 'em know how you feel!" "Tell America what you really think!"

And Fox's reporter Griff Jenkins, who was teabagging all day, seemed to be best pals with the harried woman who was identified as the lead organizer of the DC tea bagging, who is from (in pic above: Jenkins and the DC organizer, who is holding the cell phone). Jenkins reported on Fox that a truck had shown up at the park carrying the promised million tea bags, but had been "sent away." No. Ob Fo was there all day, too, and never saw a truck.

Million Teabags Gal announced that the tea bags had been sent to the office of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which she called a Libertarian "think tank," at 1899 L Street. CEI bills itself as "a non-profit, non-partisan research and advocacy institute dedicated to the principles of free enterprise and limited government."

On CEI's website, though, there's a pic of the million tea bags, and a story about the day's rally (above: Jenkins and Ingraham, during a break in the live Fox feed, shot from "amongst" the crowd; Jenkins has paused from personally asking the crowd to whoop it up for Ingraham)

It's worth noting, though, that while some of the Lafayette Square speeches were fairly excoriating, and somewhat hate filled, on an interpersonal level people were being really, really nice to each other, and there was a shared sense of...worry about the State of Affairs in America.

Fox might have been manipulating things, but Fox wasn't getting people to stand in the rain for hours. No amount of media invention can create that kind of commitment. It was absolutely pouring rain, and strangers were inviting each other under their umbrellas, sharing their plastic tarps. The protesters who showed up are very concerned about things. They're very scared, for themselves and for their children. There was a shared sense of mission, of the real beginning of a political movement that might be very different from the previous Republican aesthetic.

If the Republicans are going to regain any kind of power at all, it's going to be through the recruitment of the disenfranchised grassroots, and it's going to have to be people from a multiplicity of political belief systems.

Realistically, the DC Tea Party might've gone on for hours, and gotten even larger, if it hadn't been for the weather, and if some idiot hadn't tossed a box of tea bags onto the North Lawn of the White House, which caused the evacuation of both the White House and then Lafayette Park (above: these protesters were carrying decorated kitchen brooms, and chanting "Sweep out the bums").

The Tea Party might've become a much bigger event, because at the time of the evacuation, the crowd was the largest it'd been all day, and the weather was the worst it'd been all day, and the scheduled speakers were done. Yet the crowd continued to hang out, first on the sidewalk when the park was closed, and then for a little while back in the slushy muddy middle, after Park Service police reopened it. People had a need to be heard, even if no-one...such as the President...was 'officially' listening. So...yeah. Tea in DC might've been a constructed media event, but it was also a little bit Post-Modern Con Kumbayah. Y'know, with a wee bitty bit of hate speech and off-gridder paranoia thrown in, just for good measure.

It might serve every single Tea Bagger very well, however, to stop teabagging and actually listen to what The President has to say, without the filter of Fox news, and to pay closer attention to what he is actually doing. A lot of people might discover that they're going to be served far better, in general, by the current Administration, than by anything that's even nominally associated with Michael Steele, Eric Cantor, Sarah Palin, John McCain, Michelle Malkin, Laura Ingraham...and oh yeah, Rush Limbaugh, the current Republican presidential candidate. (Pic: Lafayette Park, mid-evacuation).

*A mid-Tea Party blogpost is here. See Griff Jenkins at the Tea Party in this video here at Huff Po).

*Feeling transparent about taxes? Download the President's financial details in PDF here (1040), and here (709), and here (Illinois state).

*Photos by Obama Foodorama. Feel free to yank 'em without attribution, because the Cons already have. Ob Fo tweeted the Tea Party here; there are more pix in the tweet stream.