Thursday, April 16, 2009

The NYC Tea Party, April 15, 2009

For the past 20-odd years, whenever I’ve seen a protest rally in NYC I’ve given it a wide berth. Such rallies usually offer the sort of speeches that require shouting after every sentence and are interspersed with long periods of angry chanting, all amidst pushing and shoving and general misbehavior. The average age of the participants is 20, and the cause being supported is usually a couple light-years to the far side of the extreme left. Why would I go to a protest? I’ve always known that changing someone’s mind depends on reasoned argument, not decibels.

But I decided this week that there’s one exception to that. When attempting to get a politician’s attention, decibels matter more than reasoned arguments, particularly when the decibels are emitted by a large collection of voters. I went to the tea party mostly to provide another visible, vocal voter … and was pleasantly surprised.

First of all, everyone I saw in the crowd was well dressed (as if they’d just come from a paying job), patient, and polite to the surrounding NYPD officers. The average age was probably 40. The crowd eventually stretched for 3 or 4 blocks along Broadway, and from the fence of City Hall Park across a wide sidewalk, a lane or two of the street (barricaded from traffic), and another wide sidewalk. The people toward the back could not possibly see the people on stage, yet they did not push and shove. They read and commented on the protest signs held up by members of the crowd. They listened to the speakers and clapped at appropriate times. The only thing they didn’t do well was shout in unison: whenever the organizers tried to get a chant going, it fizzled. This rather amused me—we were obviously a thinking crowd unwilling to play “follow the demagogue.”

As for the content of the speeches: I doubt that anyone who didn’t already believe government spending was out of control was converted; such conversion happens in the privacy of one’s thoughts, not in the presence of amplifiers on city streets. That said, the speeches were much better than I had expected, with repeated praise for capitalism and calls for a government responsible to the people. One speaker referred obliquely to Atlas Shrugged. I saw several signs that explicitly referred to Atlas, and met a woman who was handing out ARC’s flyer. The attendees seemed to be hard-working and thoughtful people—precisely the sort who might be persuaded by Ayn Rand’s arguments, if they are intrigued enough to read her works.

As we were leaving, the event’s organizer reminded us not to leave trash on the ground, making a joke that this was probably the only time in the history of NYC protest rallies that such a request had been made. I didn’t see so much as a dropped tissue as we left.

The rudest the crowd ever got was in expressing its disapproval of New York’s senior U.S. senator. While it would be more accurate to shout, “If the Senator disapproves of the American Constitution and defending Americans abroad, I do not wish to have him representing me,” I have to admit (purely as a student of rhetoric) that shouting “Schumer sucks” has more punch. I hope the TV crews covered that bit and gave the senator cause for insomnia.