(*Editor's Note: Because the text of this post grew in ways I didn't expect it to, I have decided to post photos and possibly video separately. The photos appear below.)
Yesterday a reported 300 people, according to the Idaho State Journal, gathered in Optimist Park in Pocatello as part of the national 9-12 Project and TEA Party protest against health care reform. Optimist Park sits adjacent to the federal courthouse, the Pocatello Police Department and Pocatello City Hall. There were a lot of rowdy teabaggers, a lot of angry conservatives, and even a handful of teabaggers packing heat, but I wouldn't say there were actual optimists in 'Optimist' Park yesterday.
What was I doing in a park full of teabaggers? Both research for this blog and attempting to prove myself wrong. Back when Congressman Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) gladly accepted an invitation to speak to TEA Party Boise, in response to my anger and frustration with Minnick's now chronicled pandering, a Minnick supporter challenged me to actually attend a TEA Party event. I was told that these teabaggers were not who I thought and were more aligned with libertarian-leaning western Democrats than socially conservative Republicans. I had been to a few Republican Party events in the past, more than once to the Lincoln dinner sponsored by some of the most conservative Republicans I've ever seen in Cassia County, but never an actual meeting organized by teabaggers. It turns out, teabaggers are exactly who I thought they'd be.
First, before I comment on the more shocking moments for me, let me share this bit of information with those who think Minnick is gaining votes in the coming election rather than losing them and who took pride in Congressman Minnick's appearance before TEA Party Boise, likening it to Daniel going into the lion's den. As has been said before, no matter how Walt Minnick votes, these people are never going to love him or vote for him. Of course these teabaggers in Pocatello can't vote for the 1st district congressman, but if they could, they wouldn't. At the end of the day, Walt Minnick still caucuses with Nancy Pelosi and shares at least party identification with a man they don't believe is legitimately the President of the United States. Why isn't Minnick's pandering winning these fringe conservative voters over? Because they don't even like Mike Simpson.
That's right, Pocatello TEA Party and the Campaign for Liberty do not support the Republican congressman in their district. Why would they support a Democrat? Minnick might be wise to rethink who he hopes to "emulate" in Congress because these folks who rail against the Federal Reserve, continue to scream about Obama's birth certificate, and claim that the 10th amendment allows the States complete sovereignty don't like their Republican congressman who votes with the Republican Party 85% of the time, they sure as hell aren't going to support a Democrat who votes with Democratic Party even the minuscule 64% of the time that Minnick does. They may never vote for Minnick, but they certainly thanked him from the stage--thanked him for "going against the Democrat Party plan" and that it "doesn't matter what they bribe you with, no compromise!"
The fact that none of these people can bring themselves to referring to it as the 'Democratic Party' was the least of my concerns in this crowd. It should have come as no surprise to me upon arrival at the teabagger event that they'd open and close their protest with prayer. Several things should not have surprised me, but they did. The guy who offered the invocation is a former Republican Party county chairman. In the crows and part of the program of speakers were two guys who have run for the Idaho legislature, one against Diane Bilyeu this past cycle. Both guys ran as Republicans and were given the full support of both the Bannock County Republican Party and the Idaho Republican Party. That they were so involved shouldn't have shocked me, but it did. I should have known from their letters-to-the-editor alone that they'd be deeply entrenched in this movement. I was surprised by the sheer number of people there, I suspect more than the 300 reported by the Idaho State Journal that I mentioned earlier. And I was both shocked and concerned by the number of children in the crowd. Minivan after minivan pulled up and out popped numerous young families spending their Saturday afternoon with the kids at the park--the park full of protesters.
Among the many calls for taking back the government, the countless and tiresome references to "we the people," cries for repealing the 17th Amendment (direct election of senators) and 14th Amendment (equal protection under the law), assertions that the 10th Amendment protects Idaho from the "socialistic power grab" that is health care reform, the guns (and there were many), and the praise of Congressman Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) for calling the President of the United States a liar, what I found most disconcerting was a single word hollered from the crowd.
While Chris Stevens was discussing the 'evil' that is the Federal Reserve and questioned why the government can print as much money as they want, but we as American citizens can't print our own money, he mentioned the promised audit of the Federal Reserve. He noted that Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, promised legislation that would demand an audit of the Federal Reserve and one incredibly angry, older fellow in the middle of the crowd yelled it: "Faggot!" I was stunned.
Had I been in a crowd of Democrats had anyone stooped to the low of shouting such a derogatory word, there would have been stunned silence if not outright chastising of the guilty party. Not the case with the teabaggers. And I knew that going in, but was nonetheless shocked by what I heard. The speaker carried on, some folks cheered and the man guilty of using such a horrible word to describe a member of the U.S. House of Representatives was patted on the back. I am sure Barney Frank has heard this in his life, but as I stood there still reeling from a hatred I've never been able to understand and a word I have never uttered in my entire life, I wanted to apologize to Barney Frank personally. Nobody countered this man for his despicable choice of words and as the only Democrat in the park, I certainly couldn't. But I wanted to and I continue to feel guilty for not standing up to that sort of filth.
I left Optimist Park feeling anything but optimistic. I, like my fellow blogger Nemesis, worry about this country, the hate that exists here, and the highly volatile political discourse taking place. I left Optimist Park angry at a lot of parents for letting their children listen to hate spewing from that stage, the lies flowing freely in that park. I left Optimist Park yesterday wondering how everyday Pocatello citizens that I've encountered in the grocery store, throughout town, and on the editorial page of the local paper could be so hateful and so enraged. I left Optimist Park, but the events there haven't left me.