TEA PARTYING, Pt. I (2010)
A WEEKEND WITH THE RADICAL RIGHT IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
Photography by: Sean Marlin
“We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear – fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer.” –Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, 2003.
Originally edited & published at The Monarch Review.
It’s four o’clock in the morning, and I’m rushing down the apartment stairs to my car with several bags, my brain still soaked on whisky & mind lost on love. I slam the keys into the ignition and hear the engine turnover – a loud grumble of purpose in an otherwise silent neighborhood of rest. I start out onto 51st, and over to a small house on a slanted street in East Austin, dropping off one of the bags for an American Beauty in an attempt to leave all thoughts of her behind. It won’t work. But, enough of that.
The other two bags: One, a rucksack full of necessities. The other, a duffle bag full of Sweat Leaf Tea bottles of various flavors, all a quarter full with booze. This weekend I will be partying, and I will be doing it with the Conservative Headquarters of America – the Alabama Liberty Convoy. Their plan is a Taxpayer March on Washington; a real fiesta on the 9th anniversary of 9/11.
I race down to San Marcos and make my friend (and visual artist) Sean get in with all of his weird equipment at this ungodly hour before we ride, ride South and then East past the last rainy band of Tropical Storm Hermine and through the fog into the sunrise near Houston, 70. Over to Louisiana, 80. Along the southern edge of Mississippi, 90. And straight up the heart of Alabama, 100 miles per hour. I’m glad the old Volvo made it.
It’s already sundown by the time we get to the charter, arriving in a K-Mart parking lot near Montgomery. We mingle with some of the people boarding the Convoy’s bus, and it becomes apparent in no time that we are the only two people within fifty miles without some sort of mental deficiency. As we board, a man named Baxter asks us if we know what we’re marching for. I tell him I only believe in my people, and their right to organize. He seems dissatisfied. We learn of several stops we will be making on the fifteen hour trip: One Starbucks for an iced coffee, one KFC for a bucket of Colonel’s fried chicken, three Taco Bell’s; one for a bean burrito and two more for Empanadas, and four McDonald’s: One for a Coca-Cola Classic, and three more for refills. Part of McDonalds’ corporate plan is to move forward with rapid urbanization, putting a hamburger joint within no more than 4 minutes of your face everywhere you turn. In a world where the Golden Arches mean more than the Stars & Stripes, I guess that doesn’t matter; Baxter would agree.
Strange looks are shot at us from around the charter – we must be terrorists. Us, with our beards, and me, with an army-green duffle bag full of who knows what, they think. They stare at me, racking my nerves. I pull out a bottle of Raspberry Sweat Tea + Vodka, and take a sip. They look away, so I down the bottle. I feel much more comfortable, and begin dozing off.
* * *
When I wake up, we’re in Virginia. The dry, cool air pierces through the bus and onto my bare arms reminding me that there’s another beautiful sunrise waiting for me to glare off into, just over the green rolling hills. The Tea Party is flowing out of the bus and into a truckstop diner. I file in behind them, but can’t stomach the food at the buffet, so I throw my hands up in frustration & walk outside to take a break from the right-wing nutjobs & look at the mountains.
Unfortunately, a BP gas station is blocking my view. A Mack Truck pulls up beside it bearing the inscription “Trucking for Jesus.” This won’t do. So, I start to walk over a metal barrier to fix the problem when I’m stopped by a Partier.
“This is a war, it’s on Obama and someone’s got’ta fight it,” she tells me with a big smile.
“I’m glad we’ve got young people like you. I tell ya, we had five-hundred thousand people at Glenn Beck’s rally, and they was all singin’ Amazin’ Grace. It was the most wonderful thang. Don’t look like we got as many people this time, but that’s all right. We’ll tell ‘em who’s who!”
I nod my head, looking through my shades and past her at the mountains.
“Yes, I’m ready to march. When will we be there?”
“They said about nine o’clock, but that ain’t happenin’. Say, I heard you drove all the way from Texas. Maybe you should drive!” the strange woman says with a laugh.
“You’re probably right.”
“Did you know? I have sons about your age. One of them is in the Navy. I tell him, well what if Obama tells you to turn that gun on the Tea Party? And he says, he said ‘Mama, I’ll lay down my weapon and come stand beside you.’”
That’s very sweet, I tell her, although I feel uncertain about the truth in that sentiment because I know she (and apparently 500,000 others) are sadly misguided souls with no other degree on their wall than the one from Beck University; a giant band of illiterates gasping for air in this Sea of Change, and reaching for someone to complete their thoughts. Rupert Murdoch, with his remote to control to the various channels of thought, he is happy to give them what they need.
I guide us back to the bus where I meet up with Sean, who somehow managed the breakfast of grits, gravy & eggs inside with The Party.
“These people are idiots!” Sean says, thumbing through some pictures on his digital camera.
“And really – really – these people have nothing to fucking complain about. Nothing!” Sean tells me, steam coming out of his nostrils.
“I feel like we’re on the Children’s Crusade. You know? With a bunch of lame-minded, lame-bodied soldiers unable to really do anything. I mean, what are they really going to fucking do?”
“Sounds like you had a good breakfast,” I tell him.
It becomes apparent quickly that these ‘soldiers’ are really just a group of gentrified right-wing patriots, with not much more on their agenda than a weekend away from home and some company to complain with about losing their fortune; an excuse to miss church on Sunday. On the bus, I plug-in to my iPhone and fall asleep again, annoyed with the Disney movie they’re watching. Soon we’ll be unloading our bags at the Omni Shoreham in the capital of the world.