Friday, April 16, 2010

Tea Time in Chicago

I’ll tell you right now: this Chicago Tea Party report has a very happy ending…and, I’m going to get to it as fast as I can, so just sit tight and be patient.

I haven’t had a chance yet to check in on reports of tax day Tea Parties from around the country, but I don’t suppose Chicago’s made much of a ripple. Other rallies were much bigger, featured speakers of national stature, or had coverage on Fox. But in heavily Democratic Chicago, the capital of Obamanomics, what could happen worth comment?

The Windy City’s Tea Party took place on Daley Plaza in the center of Chicago’s Loop. Daley Plaza is dominated by the five-story high Picasso statue depicting a giant iron bird. Since it’s erection in the 1960s, it has evenly divided locals between those who like it and those who think it is an eyesore. Artistic merit aside, it never the less qualifies as a major Chicago landmark. You can walk by even in the dead of winter and find tourists, under-dressed and shivering, snapping pictures of each other in front of it. Then, to the west of the Plaza, across Clark Street, looms Chicago City Hall. It is the local equivalent of the Tower of London; the source of some local pride, but also the site of many infamous deeds.

The rally kicked off smartly a few minutes after noon, right at the heart of lunch hour. It was a warm day and the Plaza quickly filled. A couple major problems quickly became apparent. First, the speaker’s platform was located too close to the Picasso, so the view of a lot of people was blocked off. And, second, the sound system, which would have been fine for a high school pep rally, was totally inadequate to reach the ears of several thousand of the attendees. For most of the rally I could hear nothing but a low rumbling blur.

What happens when people half-way back in the crowd can’t hear? They stop trying to listen and begin to talk among themselves. It was in large part due to those conversations that the event was such a success. There were people all around introducing themselves, taking pictures, commenting on clever signs, exchanging literature, business cards and email addresses. Yes, there were a few “Party Crashers”, but they amounted to little more nuisance than ants at a picnic. On the plus side, however, was a surprising number of the genuinely curious; those who came to see what the Tea Party was all about. It was a lively, very satisfying social gathering; a cocktail party without the cocktails.

Several of us eventually managed to inch our way into hearing range just as the MC introduced Congressional candidate Joel Pollak, who is running for Congress in the Illinois 9th District, for the seat now held by Democrat Jan Schakowsky. If somebody from the Republican National Committee is reading this, pay attention: Pollak is somebody to keep an eye on.

Pollak's turn at the podium came late in the program. He stepped to the microphone with a toothy grin, gave the crowd a few laughs and then got down to business. He clicked off a short stump speech stressing political accountability, of “More freedom, less government, less taxes”. Then he shouldered an acoustic guitar and led the crowd in a Hootenanny. It was a blast. Joel Pollak was on stage about twelve minutes and created a lot of buzz in the crowd.

A little later, after the rally, I walked into The Berghoff for a pint of dark. Several groups of Tea Partiers had gotten there ahead of me and were in discussion. While I was paying for my beer, a young man standing at the bar carrying a nice Canon professional commented on my Stereo Realist. Camera-talk led to talk of the Tea Party. He’d attended the rally to photograph it. He had seen little that impressed him, “A few nice people, but not what the country needs right now.” He was generally unsympathetic to the views of the Tea Partiers.

As the remaining Tea Party crowd drifted out of the bar and onto the sidewalk, the photographer and I continued talking.

“What do you think of Sarah Palin? What about Glen Beck? How can you let all those people go without health care?” I did my best to advance the ideas of Free Markets, less government, and lower taxes, and to describe the dark waters that lay ahead if we don’t bring government under control.

Then his cell phone rang. It was the photographer’s new girlfriend.

“I’m at The Berghoff talking to some Tea Party-guy.” He said. “Okay, see you in ten minutes.”

We continued our conversation, and ten minutes later the girlfriend walked in. She was in her late 20s, wearing a cotton sun dress, and very attractive. The photographer introduced us, “This is Lisa.”

She ordered a beer and sat quietly while the photographer and I continued our conversation.

When her beer arrived she, with some ceremony, picked it up, took a sip, set the glass back on the bar then looked at us steadily for a moment. “Are you guys just talking politics? ‘Cause, if you are, here’s my politics: I voted for Barack Obama and I wish I hadn’t.”

Maybe it wasn't the sum-total of the Tea Party philosophy, but what happier, more unexpected conclusion to the day’s events could there be? A beer at The Berghoff, and a cute girl who wraps things up in one sentence.

Case closed.

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