The Message

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Nobody knew what was going to happen at the Taxpayer March on Washington.  The Capitol Police didn’t know, the media didn’t know, politicians didn’t know, conservative pundits didn’t know, the organizers didn’t know, and the participants themselves had no idea.  Many who weren’t part of it still haven’t a clue what happened.

Three of us from the Sooner Tea Party left our Alexandria hotel early, under rain clouds, to meet up with the busload that would arrive from OKC around nine.  For the whole drive in I wondered how many people would be there, and I hoped it would be at least ten or twenty thousand.  I worried that it wouldn’t be.  Numbers send a message, and we had one for some people here in the capitol, I thought.

When the fifty or so of us Sooners walked away from Union Station we quickly joined a stream of groups and individuals flowing toward Freedom Plaza, the beginning point of the march.  When I reached 13th Street and the plaza came into full view I was shocked.  From the Ronald Reagan building north of Pennsylvania to the Starbucks south of the plaza there was a mass of people with flags and handmade signs of all different sizes, colors and messages: “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying taxes,” “I’ll keep my fingers, Bible, guns, and freedom – you keep the change,” “How will my children pay for all of this?”  “Clean sweep: Vote them all out.”

There seemed nowhere left for us to stand.  Rising above the assembly was the statue of the Continental Army general, Casimir Pulaski, astride his stallion, ready to lead another charge.  Someone was giving a speech I couldn’t make out and a cheer broke out, then another.  I looked around at others who were just arriving.  From the moment the streams of incoming demonstrators saw that bright and lively multitude, quizzical smiles appeared.  They relaxed, and despite the gloom of a few of the signs and the dark clouds, it became festive.

I entered the crowd saying “Excuse me,” and people made way.  We smiled and nodded in passing.  I climbed to the highest platform I could reach.  How far back did this go?  As far as I could see.  There were speakers like Kenneth Gladney and some music, but that wasn’t why I came.  I snapped photos and began talking to people.  “Where are you from?”  “Sacramento,” one couple said.  “Virginia” “North Carolina” “New Jersey” “Pennsylvania” “Ohio” and the list went on.  When I replied “Oklahoma” to that question I often got a surprised look and “Thanks for coming so far!” and I would thank them back.  In each meeting we made eye contact and there again was that quizzical look, a question expressed in a smile: “Is this really happening?  I thought I was alone, me and my family,” or “Me and twenty or a hundred friends, we thought this was our last stand.”  Then we marched down Pennsylvania to the US Capitol, singing and chanting, smiling and wondering as the clouds broke before us.

We sent a message, but it wasn’t the one we thought we had come to send.  It wasn’t a message to Capitol Hill, or to Obama, or the media, the left, or even the people back home, though some of them may have overheard a bit.  The real message became clear when we walked up to strangers and started talking. Five minutes later we had friends from some other part of the country, email addresses, new websites to check out, and ideas, crazy ideas about changing things that every ex-stranger seemed to share, and it didn’t matter how many we met.  There were always hundreds of thousands more.

The day came to a close and I began to see a new look in strangers’ eyes.  Our group kept talking to more people, briefly now, as we walked back to Union Station.  As darkness slipped across us there wasn’t much smiling, just faces like engineers and carpenters, mothers and veterans wear.  We strangers in the Capitol began saying: “It’s going to be a hard slog.”  “There’s a lot of work to do.”  “This is just the shot heard ’round the world.  Get ready for a fight.”

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This story has been cross-posted at Tea Party Gazette.

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