When I heard the Tri-Cities would play host to one of the nationwide Taxed Enough Already (TEA) parties a couple weeks ago, I knew I wanted to cover it — not because I agree or disagree to any fanatical degree, but because I lived in Eugene for six years while Bush was president. As I started honing my craft at the Oregon Daily Emerald, I covered my fair share of left-wing rallies protesting everything from the war to the suspension of habeas corpus. Aside from some small counter-demonstrators, I hadn’t covered any large right-wing rallies during the last eight years.
Not surprisingly, there were a few differences — mostly age and race — but what was startling were the similarities.
No protest is complete without a ridiculous number of signs, of course:
Some of which made very outlandish claims:
To me, any reasonable debate goes out the window as soon as words like "Hitler," "Nazi" and "fascist" start getting thrown around. It's the pseudo-educated version of children arguing over who's dumber or more gay, but sadly, no rally is complete anymore without frightful hyperbole.
If you check out my photo gallery of the Tri-Cities TEA Party, you'll see a costume or two, though none as outlandish as I saw in national coverage of the events. And while it’s tough to take someone seriously when he's dressed up like Ben Franklin or a gorilla (both of which I’ve seen), these goofballs do make for good pictures.
Protests need symbols, too, and the TEA Party was no different, calling on the patriotic image of the Boston Tea Party to give these rallies some pizzazz. The real head-scratcher is why a rally protesting frivolous spending involves the purchase of food items not intended for consumption, but whatever, it's a protest!
It may sound like I'm complaining about having to cover these things, but it's quite the opposite. It's always great to see people exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and if it weren’t for the animated showmanship, I wouldn’t have much to photograph.
What I do have a problem with, however, is the use of children as props. This bugged me at the left-wing rallies, as well, but, as with before, it's hard to resist shooting photos of parents forcing little kids to cluelessly promote the slogan du jour:
Even if the idea behind the slogan causes a tsunami of shuddering to run down my back, making it difficult to snap a clear shot:
Does that make me a hypocrite? A little, perhaps, but it's my job to document the event, and if parents are propping their children up with homemade signs, then so be it. You may be wondering why, if I have repeatedly complained about people mugging for the camera, I would indulge these parents by snapping a shot when they grab their kids and tell them to smile for the camera. I do because to me, the act of showing off your kid matches the whole "hey-look-at-me-this-is-what-I-stand-for" mentality of participating in a protest in the first place.
Plus, those shots were never considered for publication beyond the online photo gallery, where I also limited the number of that type of photo.
Don’t construe my argument as a tirade against parents getting their children interested in politics at a early age. Teaching your kids about civics is most definitely a good thing, but forcing them to spew some anti-tax or anti-war line they don’t understand to try and tug some heartstrings most definitely is not.
Gripes aside, covering the TEA Party lived up to my lofty expectations. I was especially glad the event was later in the afternoon instead of under the harsh noontime sun, as TEA Parties were in many places around the country.
It was also pretty funny to hear an organizer screw up the Pledge of Allegiance after getting on the microphone to kick things off and saying that since we’re a patriotic nation, that the rally would start with the Pledge.
But my favorite moment was when I spotted one child in particular, because as good as it is to pass along your world view to your children, sometimes, you just have to let a kid be a kid: