On The Scene At The Houston Tea Party

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In the end, it exceeded the expectations of even its once-seemingly wildly overenthusiastic organizers. Approximately 3,500 pissed-off demonstrators packed Jones Plaza for a warm-up blues-rock concert and harangues about high taxes, debt, bail-outs, and socialism.     

You'd have to think the crowd was decidedly of the Outside the Beltway persuasion. All in all, there hasn't been this many melanin-challenged people in Jones Plaza since Cory Morrow played here back in '03, and the near-beer bar-rock of Mean Gene Kelton and the DieHards billowing live from the stage suited the crowd to a tee.

Since the average age of the crowd was probably upper 40s, Kelton, the King of the FM Road Ice Houses, stuck mainly to covers of BTO and Delbert McClinton. Not for this crowd's delicate sensibilities were Kelton's original hits such as "My Baby Don't Wear No Panties," "Blow Up Lover," and "Texas City Dyke," which is not about a place to fish but instead a female welder of the Sapphic persuasion from the titular town.

Judging by the T-shirts and placards, the American right is now as splintered as the left was back in the days when Reaganism was rampant in the land. You have your smug-looking Ayn Randies, your pissed-off Minutemen types, a small but increasingly vociferous contingent of wild-eyed Texas secessionists, a paranoiac who claimed attendance there had landed all of us on "the Obama/Napolitano watch list," and a smattering of unreformed Cold Warriors. Like Japanese soldiers in remote postings in the jungles of Borneo, some apparently believe the Berlin Wall to still be standing tall, as one man waved a sign reading "If I'd wanted to be a Communist, I'd move to Russia." And speaking of old right-wing stand-by bugaboos, another man wore a shirt reading "Life's a bitch but you don't have vote for one" over a picture of Hillary Clinton.

And then there was the one stone-cold crazy we saw -- a man in a full-length V for Vendetta suit, who was waving a placard reading "Villanous Venal Vermin Vying to Vanquish Valiant Villages -- V Says Bollocks." While he earnestly attempted to get passersby to read his sign aloud, he bluntly refused an interview request from Hair Balls.

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt, see more in our slideshow
He left for the chicken fried steak. It's really, really bad over there.

The main body of the throng looked like the people you'd see in the second deck of Minute Maid Park at any Astros game. Two such were Shannon and Ernie Carney, husband-and-wife entrepreneurs, who stood on the fringes of the plaza waving placards at the steady stream of commuters headed home on Louisiana Street.

Shannon Carney told Hair Balls she was frightened of the direction the country was taking. "It's too big and wasteful," she said. "They work for me, I don't work for them. I am a good patriot and entrepreneur" -- she proudly claimed to own two of the smallest corporations in Texas -- "and they should have respect for my livelihood."

From behind a pair of large shades and a sun-hat festooned with dangling tea bags, Carney said there was plenty of blame to go around; that she was less an anti-Democrat or right-winger than an independent. (Hair Balls has heard that before.) "It's both parties," she said. "There's been a gradual, governmental creep for 200 years. This is a non-partisan issue. Both parties have misbehaved. I am an independent, and I think a lot. In fact, I probably think too much."

Ernie Carney was waving a placard reading "A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have." "Kinda says everything," he said. "Thomas Jefferson said that."

(Carney's chosen slogan was on at least one other placard, where it was also attributed to the Sage of Monticello. However, according to the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, the quote was actually first intoned by a far less auspicious Chief Executive: Gerald R. Ford.)

"Government's gotten way too big," Ernie Carney continued. "They should save me from foreign adversaries, not interfere with my business and livelihood. They are stealing my grandchildren's future. Bush left us with a lot of debt, but now it's multiple trillions. There's no way we'll be able to repay that. Or they can just print a bunch of money and a loaf of bread will be $50."

Before Hair Balls took leave of this couple, Shannon Carney placed her hand on mine and earnestly told me I'd "accidentally met the most patriotic couple in Houston."

A few feet away stood a lone counter-protester astride a bicycle. A scruffy twentysomething white guy, he waved a crude placard on which the legend "This sign is the brownest thing at the protest" was scrawled in ballpoint ink on an old box. "I'm down here 'cause I can be," he said. "I'm not here with anybody. I live in Sixth Ward and I just heard this was going on and I wanted to come down here."

The other side of his sign said something critical of Fox News. "Fox News has gone lib-rull," said a woman to his left. "What?" asked the counter-protester. "Are you getting this down?" he asked, turning to Hair Balls. Just then a Houston cop appeared and told him he was both out of the designated counter-protesting area and in violation of the city ordinance against riding a bike on the sidewalk. Obviously, he wasn't riding the bike at the time, but no matter. He was shooed across the street all the same.

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Okay, that's not bad.

Which was where, among the tiny contingent of counter-protesters, we found Cynthia Douglas, owner of the blog A Racy Mind. "I don't agree with those people at all," she said. "Someone needs to tell those people they are getting a tax cut. They either don't know or don't believe it. Plus, I wanted to tell them that Glenn Beck is an idiot, 'cause he is."

"John Galt was fictional!" she yelled toward one of the Randies across the street. But across four lanes of steady Louisiana Street traffic, it's doubtful anyone paid her much mind. "In other cities, like Washington, the counter-protesters and protesters can have words," Douglas said. "There's no discussion at this one."

Maybe there would have been if, say, KPFT had devoted as much time to organizing the counter-protest as KTRH's "news" department gave to organizing the tea party.

There, we made it through that whole thing without even one "tea bag" joke.

For a slideshow of the event, click here.



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