What's it like being a liberal blogger at the Iowa City tea party? It's taking your life into your hands.
No, not because my conservative friends would harm me. It's because the location on the Burlington Street bridge was fraught with potential peril: four lanes of zooming traffic that literally shook the bridge, a six inch wide center walkway, and a raging dam below. Yet I have survived to tell the tale.
The tea party in "the San Francisco of Iowa" (as one speaker put it) gets an A for effort but an incomplete on message. The A for effort goes to a crowd of, my estimate, 300: the north side of the bridge lined across the river, the south side maybe 3/4 full, all one person deep (Deb Thornton was duly making sure the pedestrian traffic wasn't blocked).
The incomplete on message will have to wait for which soundbites and visuals are selected by media outlets larger than the Number Four Political Blog In Iowa. The signs carried a lot of mixed messages. Ax The Tax, the group opposed to the May 5 tax vote, was the largest single contingent, but their specific local message may have been drowned out by the larger national and general anti-tax message on what one speaker called "the government's favorite holiday."
That was one of the very few quotes I picked up over the bullhorns, but it didn't really matter. This was a visual event, as the water buckets labeled "TEA" (actual tea bags were seen, but tea dumping was verboten by the DNR) were carefully adjusted for the convenience of the TV camera. The speeches were drowned out by the traffic, the river, and the 12:00 "yabba dabba doo" steam whistle at the University of Iowa power plant. (Tangent: the Daily Iowan did a story on the whistle years ago and the workers actually yell "Yabba Dabba Doo!" How could you not?)
A brief chant of "no more taxes!" went up, on message, but whether this meant no increased taxes or an end of all taxation wasn't specified. (One good thing about Republican rallies: you don't hear the dreaded lefty "What do we want? _______! When do we want it? NOW!" and "Hey Hey Ho Ho Something Something's Got To Go" chants.)
One sign on message, one sign off message. Just like progressives can't shoo the Socialist Workers Party newspaper sellers away from a rally, conservatives draw, um, "allies" as well. As I rounded the corner near the rally, literally the first person I saw had a sign reading
Organizer Mike Thayer tried to urge the guy off the median strip, but Sodomy Guy, armed with his own bullhorn, didn't budge. "You're on your own," Thayer told Sodomy Guy, who started into his riff ("Rivers of innocent blood shed," etc.) but got sidetracked and spent most of the rally engaged in spirited debate with a passer-by as bits and pieces of speeches drifted over during gaps in traffic: "Iowa is sick of this spend and spend and spend and spend and spend mentality," "email your legislator," and such.
I saw a little abortion here, some term limits there, but most signs, a mix of the pre-printed, the stenciled, and the hand written, were on the anti-tax message, if not the specific sales tax message.
And so I leave it at that, kind of impressionistic. I'm sure Thayer's Coralville Courier will have its version of what went down, but like I said, what really matters is what plays out in news sources bigger than mine.