Essays — September 5, 2012 12:44 — 1 Comment

Tea Partying – Thom Fain

A Weekend with the Radical Right in Washington, D.C.

“We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear – fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer.” –Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, 2003.

It’s four o’clock in the morning, and I’m rushing down the apartment stairs to my car with several bags, my brain still soaked on whisky & mind lost on love. I slam the keys into the ignition and hear the engine turnover – a loud grumble of purpose in an otherwise silent neighborhood of rest. I start out onto 51st, and over to a small house on a slanted street in East Austin, dropping off one of the bags for an American Beauty in an attempt to leave all thoughts of her behind. It won’t work. But, enough of that.

The other two bags: One, a rucksack full of necessities. The other, a duffle bag full of Sweat Leaf Tea bottles of various flavors, all a quarter full with booze. This weekend I will be partying, and I will be doing it with the Conservative Headquarters of America – the Alabama Liberty Convoy. Their plan is a Taxpayer March on Washington; a real fiesta on the 9th anniversary of 9/11.

I race down to San Marcos and make my friend (and visual artist) Sean get in with all of his weird equipment at this ungodly hour before we ride, ride South and then East past the last rainy band of Tropical Storm Hermine and through the fog into the sunrise near Houston, 70. Over to Louisiana, 80. Along the southern edge of Mississippi, 90. And straight up the heart of Alabama, 100 miles per hour. I’m glad the old Volvo made it.

It’s already sundown by the time we get to the charter, arriving in a K-Mart parking lot near Montgomery. We mingle with some of the people boarding the Convoy’s bus, and it becomes apparent in no time that we are the only two people within fifty miles without some sort of mental deficiency. As we board, a man named Baxter asks us if we know what we’re marching for. I tell him I only believe in my people, and their right to organize. He seems dissatisfied. We learn of several stops we will be making on the fifteen hour trip: One Starbucks for an iced coffee, one KFC for a bucket of Colonel’s fried chicken, three Taco Bell’s; one for a bean burrito and two more for Empanadas, and four McDonald’s: One for a Coca-Cola Classic, and three more for refills. Part of McDonalds’ corporate plan is to move forward with rapid urbanization, putting a hamburger joint within no more than 4 minutes of your face everywhere you turn. In a world where the Golden Arches often seem to mean more than the Stars & Stripes, I guess that doesn’t matter; Baxter would agree.

Strange looks are shot at us from around the charter – we must be some kind of terrorists. Us, with our beards, and me, with an army-green duffle bag full of who knows what, I imagine they think. They stare at me, racking my nerves. I pull out a bottle of Raspberry Sweat Tea + Vodka, and take a sip. They look away, so I down the bottle. I feel much more comfortable, and begin dozing off.

*  *  *

When I wake up, we’re in Virginia. The dry, cool air pierces through the bus and onto my bare arms reminding me that there’s another beautiful sunrise waiting for me to glare off into, just over the green rolling hills. The Tea Party is flowing out of the bus and into a truckstop diner. I file in behind them, but can’t stomach the food at the buffet, so I throw my hands up in frustration & walk outside to take a break from the right-wing nutjobs & look at the mountains. Unfortunately, a BP gas station is blocking my view. A Mack Truck pulls up beside it bearing the inscription “Trucking for Jesus.” This won’t do. So, I start to walk over a metal barrier to fix the problem when I’m stopped by a Partier.

“This is a war, it’s on Obama and someone’s got’ta fight it,” she tells me with a big smile.
“I’m glad we’ve got young people like you. I tell ya, we had five-hundred thousand people at Glenn Beck’s rally, and they was all singin’ ‘Amazin’ Grace’. It was the most wonderful thang. Don’t look like we got as many people this time, but that’s all right. We’ll tell ‘em who’s who!”
I nod my head, looking through my shades and past her at the mountains.
“Yes, I’m ready to march. When will we be there?”
“They said about nine o’clock, but that ain’t happenin’. Say, I heard you drove all the way from Texas. Maybe you should drive!” the strange woman says with a laugh.
“You’re probably right.”
“Did you know? I have sons about your age. One of them is in the Navy. I tell him, well what if Obama tells you to turn that gun on the Tea Party? And he says, he said ‘Mama, I’ll lay down my weapon and come stand beside you.’”

That’s very sweet, I tell her, although I feel uncertain about the truth in that sentiment because I think that she (and apparently 500,000 others) are misguided souls with no other degree on their wall than the one from Glen Beck University; a giant band of near-illiterates gasping for air in this Sea of Change, and reaching for someone to complete their own thoughts. Rupert Murdoch, with his remote control to the various channels of thought, he is happy to give them what they need. I guide us back to the bus where I meet up with Sean, who somehow managed the breakfast of grits, gravy & eggs inside with The Party.

“These people are idiots!” Sean says, thumbing through some pictures on his digital camera.
“And really – really – these people have nothing to fucking complain about. Nothing!” Sean tells me, steam damn near coming out of his nostrils.
“I feel like we’re on the Children’s Crusade. You know? With a bunch of lame-minded, lame-bodied soldiers unable to really do anything. I mean, what are they really going to fucking do?”
“Sounds like you had a good breakfast,” I tell him.

It becomes apparent quickly that these ‘soldiers’ are really just a group of gentrified right-wing patriots,with not much more on their agenda than a weekend away from home and some company to complain with about losing their fortune; an excuse to miss church on Sunday. On the bus, I plug-in to my iPhone and fall asleep again, annoyed with the Disney movie they’re watching. Soon we’ll be unloading our bags at the Omni Shoreham hotel in the capital of the world.

* * *


9/11: March against Obamanation


It’s nearing midnight, and I’m waiting on a call by a waitress we met earlier after unpacking our bags and finding ourselves at her table in a café. She eventually comes around to it and agrees to show us around the D.C. entertainment district–it would be like something from film noir. The beautiful city I had seen during the daytime had transformed itself: Everyone in the Adams Morgan district is well-dressed (although very drunk), and the architecture looks amazing under the moonlight, but the beauty of it all is being ruined. There are sirens blaring from every which direction, people being chased by police officers, cuffs being slammed on the wrists of some poor white kid (certainly not from Georgetown). Pretty women, with pizza slices the length of my arm dripping cheese onto their dresses.  Gay men making out at the bus stop, then being taunted. And horns honking at me at every crosswalk I try and pass. I came into town thinking I would have to fictionalize Conflict, but here it all is right in front of me.

With our tour guide leading the way, we would thankfully find a way out of this mess and into an old-timey speakeasy tucked away amongst the others and plastered with ivory, apparently owned by the Thievery Corporation. A place where people could take their liquor seriously, and still not act like savages. After a couple of rounds, we would have to say buenas noches to our new friend and hail a cab back to the hotel for some sleep; there was no way my nerves could handle a walk through this Arena of Fiendishness, not tonight; I need some golden silence before tomorrow’s rally.

* * *

Our alarm sounds at 9:30 the next morning. Soon, it would be time for the Big March. But first, Sean and I would have to pre-party: I head to the mini fridge in our room on the 6th floor of the hotel, and grab a sweet tea + whiskey. I hook up the iPhone to the clock beside the bed, and start walking toward the window when I hear Kanye West coming from the clock speakers:

“With some light-skinned girls and some Kelly Rowland’s–In this white man’s world, we the ones chosen!”

With my drink in hand, I look down and out at all of the Leisure Class people, tanning & swimming & living carefree in the pool below.

“Lost in translation with a whole fuckin’ nation – They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation…”

I open another drink, still listening to Kanye, with Sean trying to tell me something as a group of blackbirds fly by just outside the window.

“Thom, Jesus Christ man, we’re going to be late if we don’t catch our train soon,” he says, unplugging the iPhone and tossing it at me.
“Come on man, let’s fucking go. And put that cigarette out, I don’t want to be getting a phone call by some idiot at the hotel!”

I agree with him, and tell him that it’s time for The Party. We leave our room and head across the hall and down the elevator, rushing out across the street and down the stairs, him with his camera equipment flopping around at his side and me with an old magazine camera I figure I’ll test out. Down, down we go to the escalator to the rails beneath, under ground and into the low light of the subway. It’s here that I would see the most peaceful thing of the entire trip: a young woman on a train across the way in a Muslim hijab, surrounded by people seemingly of various ethnicities and backgrounds, but not being bothered by any of them; moving along peacefully to wherever she is going.

But that moment of Peace would not last. As Sean and I hop on our train & then off & up the escalator & out of the subway, meeting the hazy midday light, we shade our eyes and set out to find the Tea Party. We walk quickly, past this great architecture and these roped-off areas filled with great bronze statues of old men on horses. Police officers have cleared the way for these patriots to TAKE AMERICA BACK: there they are in the distance, waving their big yellow flags with attack snakes on them and the mantra “Don’t Tread On Me” in some sort of font that is not Helvetica. Past those, across the road and beyond the big green trees we see a Texas Flag in the distance, our comrades, and so we rush to get there before The March.

* * *

As we near the rallying point, I see a man with a big gray moustache sitting underneath an old tree. He’s reading a copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, almost making me think twice about the sanity of these Patriots. Apparently they are not, as I had thought, some actually are deserving of respect, regardless of whether or not they wound up in some twisted game of Politics run by the GOP’s Ministry of Propaganda. Turns out, the guy is a retired militaryman, a worker – a volunteer for the American Red Cross. A Green Bay Packer fan. And, the man with whom I would march beside.

As the march begins, we leave for the national mall behind someone dressed as George Washington in full costume, down the streets of Washington with cars on each side of us wondering what the hell is going on. Chants of “USA! USA! USA!” begin, and I just go with it, with big flags of all kinds waving around me. A huge round of applause & hoots & hollers & whistles erupt as three soldiers in uniform step out of a car and line up on a sidewalk, egging on the crowd. I walk a little further, sweating profusely with my boots clicking along as I try and keep up with the energy of the crowd. People are standing on the balconies of the surrounding buildings, all eyes on the Tea Party.  Pickets bump up and down throughout the crowd, with various signs attached to them and reading such things as “STOP Socialism” & “What Would Jefferson Do?” & “SLAVERY BY GOVT IS STILL SLAVERY” & “I STILL PLEDGE ALLEGIENCE”. It is chaotic, and I do not see order coming from it, no sir, certainly not today.

At the end-point of the rally, a country and western singer begins preparing to sing to the audience, who have all by now folded out their lawnchairs somewhere in the shadow of the Washington Monument. I leave for the subway, heading back to the hotel to phone the president of Alabama’s biggest chapter of the Tea Party.

Thom Fain: What in American politics caused all of this Tea Partiness?
Loretta Wakefield: Unfortunately, the majority of Americans across the age spectrum have been asleep, and have not been paying attention. And they just let the government do whatever the government was doing. Americans got very fat and lazy and just sat back and let the government do its thing, and let it gradually move to too big, too expensive, and out of control.

TF: Have Obama’s policies created this poor state of affairs?
LW: His agenda – to fundamentally change America – made it obvious to a large number of Americans that we better put the brakes on. Because the government is spending out of control.

TF: Would you not say that the government had to step in, because private corporations had too much power?
LW: As a whole, no. I don’t think that private corporations gained too much power. I believe that free market capitalism is what made America the country that it is. I do not believe that government having control over private industry is a good thing, no.

TF: So would you say the Tea Party is primarily a reaction to Obama’s fiscal policy?
LW: I would say a huge portion of it is based on the fiscal aspects, because we are spending ourselves into oblivion that’s going to destroy this country. This administration is shredding our constitution. The Tea Party believes that it is a divine, re-inspired document that stands on its own that was meant to say exactly what it says.

TF: You don’t think Obama is trying to make a more level playing field by taxing the more wealthy Americans?
LW: Well a poor man has never created a job in our country. The big, powerful corporations create jobs. And this government thinks that they are the evil-doers. This administration wants to take away from those that they consider wealthy, and they want to give to those that they consider less fortunate. We care about Christian values. And we are supposed to share with the less fortunate, but not because the government takes it away from you and gives it to someone sitting there with their hand out.

TF: I noticed the Tea Party is mostly made up of people later in age. What do you think this says about the generational divide?
LW: One of the primary reasons that I think you see more older people, is because they are retired and they have the time to dedicate and show up to events. When you are raising a family, and working 50 hours a week with kids, no matter how much you care you don’t have the extra time. Unfortunately, our younger generation tend to be focusing on careers, school, having fun and living their lives. They’re not thinking about these issues. But the country is spending your future. Unfortunately, our educational system is a breeding ground for liberal progressive ideas. And they teach the children, at all levels of our education system, that big government, that socialism, that progressivism – that all of these things are great. So they don’t get involved at speaking out against these things.

TF: Do you think our values are different because of that?
LW: I think that because of the schools, yes.

TF: Do you think Rupert Murdoch supports the Tea Party?
LW: I have no idea. I’m not that familiar with him, or his views.

TF: Why are you personally involved?
LW: I’m an American who cares a great deal about this country, and I was raised in a military family. This is not about race, as the liberal media tries so hard to make it be. The media is slanting the views of the Tea Party movement. We don’t dislike Barack Obama because he is a black man. We don’t care if he is purple; he believes in Socialism, and he is working a Socialist agenda. The Tea Party cares about the Christian values that this country was founded on. The movement cares about fiscal responsibility, belief in limited government, respect for the constitution, and respect for life. This country was founded on Judeo-Christian values.

TF: How does the government best unite society?
LW: During Ronald Reagan’s time as president, he brought the people of America back together because he brought back Pride in being an American. He brought back Pride in our Flag, in our country, and everything America stood for. This administration does nothing but apologize for America, condemn the very things that have made America great; this administration is destroying the Pride in America. Instead of trashing our values and downgrading them, this administration needs to be Proud of the country, the flag, the values and tout those things. America is a loud, screaming Eagle that is proud, and flies over and higher and above everybody else. The American Eagle is strong, and its powerful, and it’s got a huge wingspan – and that’s what America is supposed to be about. Not bowing to the feet of communist dictators, and apologizing for what we do and making excuses. That’s not it!
TF: I tip my hat to that.

In creating the Tea Party, right wing social engineers and the media empires who back them have further diversified the conservative half of this country, and forced the Republican Party to use this take-up-arms rhetoric in an effort to appeal to a disenfranchised electorate. A populace that doesn’t believe in their government, their employer, or any form of a social safety net. On the road to an Orwellian Republic, News Corp has become the first news organization (in this country) to help lead a political party – not to keep the government in check, to inform this nation’s citizens, and to exercise a professional degree of journalism – but, clearly & blatantly, it is a channel of the political machine, and they are using Religion to deliberately distract The People from today’s social & political realities. And on the flip side, the Democrats and the Left in this country use Entertainment to do so. Both are a threat to our liberties and are easy to indulge. In the end, I see that the people I marched with in the Tea Party are not drowning in a Sea of Change any more than my liberal friends float along–in Aldous Huxley’s words–a Sea of Irrelevance. What this country really needs, more than any hate-filled march full of one-sided rhetoric fueled by various politicians, newsmen and reverends, is a return to an informed, liberating Republic.


Thom Fain was born in Dallas, Texas, and attended community college there while working as an urban tree farmer before moving to Austin in mid-2009. There, he earned his B.S. in Applied Sociology at Texas State University, and worked as a freelance journalist. Thom reported as an intern for the daily digital magazine Culture Map, and then worked at the San Marcos Daily Record as a sports reporter. He currently writes for Central Track, an alternative to alt-news sources in Dallas. He continues to explore creative nonfiction writing and engaging in social issues. **Photo credit: Sean Marlin.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney