The first thing you need to know about the Tea Partiers: they take their traffic laws very seriously.
In a city known for its jaywalking, roll-through red lights and the white-knuckled anarchy of the traffic circle, the thousands of flag-carrying jeans-clad protesters who descended on Capitol Hill today stood out in the D.C. morning rush hour by literally standing — they waited patiently curbside as “Don’t Walk” signs counted all the way down to “Walk” outside D.C.’s Union Station transit hub while caffeine-fueled Hill staffers (and at least one reporter) rushed past them into a sea of beeping horns and one-finger arguments about who has the right of way.Once on the Capitol’s West Lawn, however, the Tea Partiers’ willingness to wait disappeared. Though it would be hours before many people paid them any attention, their banners unfurled immediately and full-throated chants of “Kill the bill!” began the second they hit the grass they kept reminding one another that, as American taxpayers, “we own.”
It was a strange atmosphere before the protests started at noon. The Tea Partiers — many of whom rode buses all night from places as far away as Florida — milled around, shaking hands with the friends they met the last time they stormed DC, back on 9/12. But every now and then, without warning or obvious provocation, the familiar “Kill the bill!” refrain would start up again in little groups scattered throughout the crowd.
And that’s the second thing you need to know: Tea Partiers know how to stay on message. Sort of.
They hate the Democratic health care reform proposals. They hate them because they think they will raise their taxes. They hate them because they think they will put the government in charge of their lives. They hate them because they think they put the country on a path toward jack-booted, secret-police state socialism.
“YOU ARE ENSLAVED IF YOU ARE NOT FREE,” one protest sign read.
But the Tea Partiers don’t all agree on how far into oblivion the country has already descended. Dorothy Manley, who drove from Port Saint Lucie, FL to help her friend Julia Glattfelt sing their special version of “Yankee Doodle” into a bullhorn, represented the darker view espoused in the crowd.
“They’re evil,” she said of the people in the Capitol Building that rose before her. “I never used to think that of my government, but that’s what happened — they’ve turned evil.”
“People need to be afraid,” Glattfelt said. “But they don’t want to believe the government is doing to them what it’s doing. It’s just too hard to think about for a lot of them.”
Neither woman expected their song would have much effect on the goings on inside the Capitol.
Across the lawn, however, it was a different story. Laurie Danley traveled to D.C. from New Jersey with her husband Walter, six year-old son Thomas and the couple’s ten month-old twin daughters. She said she was on the West Lawn because she couldn’t think of another way to get through to her representatives.
“We’ve had a lot of hang-ups,” Danley, explaining that her members of Congress won’t take her family’s calls protesting the health care bill. “It gets pretty heated on the phone.”
“I really want to believe that the people in there listen to the people,” she said. “I honestly think they’ll hear what we say today.”
Keith, a disabled veteran from Goldsboro, NC, was somewhere in the middle of those two views. He was wandering around the Hill with an empty suit hanging from a pole and an airhorn. (Asked if the suit was meant to represent a specific member, he just said, “pick one.”)
“The lights are on, but there’s nobody home in there,” he said, pointing at the Capitol Dome. “These people don’t know what’s going on out here. We have to tell them.”
And that brings us to the third thing you need to know: The Tea Partiers think they’re winning.
Two days after the GOP’s sweeping victories, and in the wake of the Conservative civil war that was NY-23, the crowd was hopped up on its own political significance.
“The people said they’ve had enough of this ‘change,'” Carla, a protester from “the Philadelphia area” said about Tuesday’s elections. “We were shocked by the results — I knew people were upset, but I didn’t know how much.”
Carla’s sign read, “World Series 2009” and underneath was listed, “Strike 1: Virginia, Strike 2: New Jersey, Strike 3: Obamacare. 2010: You’re Out!”
But Carla wasn’t talking about Democrats with the sign. Her message was about a specific ideology. “We’re conservatives more than we’re Republicans,” she said of the crowd. She said she couldn’t name a single political candidate ready to carry that banner to the White House in 2012.
“I wanted Romney last time, but not any more,” she said. “My mind is still open for next time. We have to see what they say and what they’ll do.”
“We still have a lot more to do,” to get the candidates Tea Partiers want, Carla said.
A crudely spraypainted sign across the lawn echoed her point.
“IT’S HUNTING SEASON 4 RINOS,” it read.
Check out the ladies from Port Saint Lucie and their rendition of “Yankee Doodle”: