Contending Views at the Beaver County Court House – Progressives Push Back Tea Party

912rally‘Healthcare Not Warfare’ Vigil
Meets the 912 Tea Bagger Rally

By Carl Davidson and Tina Shannon
Beaver County Blue

Things were different than usual in front of the Beaver County Courthouse at 1:00 pm this Saturday September 12th. For one thing, a well-used car, festooned with the message “Support Health Care Reform!” was parked across the street. A Beaver County Transit bus driver and his family had arrived at 11:30 to park it there.

“We knew you’d be here,” his Dad said. “We showed up early so we’d get a good parking spot. We wanted it to be here for you.”

So when some 200 right wing ‘Teabaggers’ showed up for their anti-Health Care and anti-Obama protest at the Beaver County Court House, they found that their message wasn’t unchallenged. Directly across the street were over sixty people with a large ‘Bring the Troops Home Now!’ banner and dozens of placards declaring ‘Healthcare Not Warfare!’ and ‘Honk for Peace!’

The Teabaggers were newcomers to this venue, stirred up by a steady drumbeat from the Fox News network and its over-the-top racist commentator Glenn Beck. Their anxiety over the economic crisis had been stoked into a divisive politics of fear and resentment by the far right wing of the Republican Party.

The vigil for peace and healthcare, on the other hand, had been at this spot every Saturday for the last six years, since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan got underway. Sponsored by Beaver County Peace Links and the 4th CD Progressive Democrats of America, their ‘Honk for Peace’ signs and other placards linking ending the war to health care and supporting the troops had become a well-known and popular fixture to county residents.

“Most of the drivers give us a favorable honk and a ‘V’ sign these days,” said Tina Shannon, PDA’s local president. “They’re upset with the wars, and the drain they place on everything else.” Shannon, a New Brighton resident, said she could sympathize with some of the fears of the Teabaggers, but their notions of doing away with government regulations and social spending didn’t help at all. “They’re being manipulated by the Republicans and the insurance companies,” she concluded.

“I’m pleased with the extra turnout we got today,” said Marcia Lehman, from Ambridge and chair of Beaver County Peace Links. “We usually get a dozen or so, although over the years more than a hundred have taken part.”

When the vigil’s organizers learned the right wing would be having a rally at the same time and place, they put out the word for some support. About fifty additional activists turned out – many from the labor movement, but also from health care activists, local churches, veterans, and students. A few people came from the Pittsburgh area, including Jennifer England, a member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Several people brought their families. Others grabbed a few friends to make a car full.

Holding up a ‘No More Lies’ placard, Bob Schmetzer of Local 712 of IBEW, the electrical workers, said, “What do you think? This is a good one to throw back at them, after their antics against Obama the other night. Unfortunately, it has a lot of applications!”

“We let it be known that we wanted no confrontation with these people,” said Randy Shannon of PDA. “But we determined to continue our protest. We moved to this side of the street, so there would be a clear separation between our event and theirs. We are sending a consistent and clear message against militarism. Some peace vigils folded after Obama was elected, but we decided to continue protesting until the wars are over, no matter who is president. The big turnout today for peace and healthcare shows that the peace movement is alive and well at the grass roots.”

The message from the Tea Baggers’ rally was anything but clear. It started off with some patriotic music, followed by old recordings of speeches of Franklin Roosevelt against the Japanese militarists, and two different renditions of the Star Spangled Banner. Intermixed were speakers trying to make the case that the Obama administration was socialist or fascist, and the country was headed on a communist path.

“What in the world are they talking about?” said one sign holder on our side of the street. “Obama’s just a liberal, and not even a very militant one. We oppose him on the wars, but this is ridiculous.” At that point, one woman with a pro-health care sign crossed the street and joined us, after mistakenly having gone into the wrong crowd. ” Glad I found you guys,” she said, shaking her head. “I was wondering what other country I had wandered into!”

Jay Paisley, a local independent flip-flop and political activist, pumped up the gathering, telling onlookers they weren’t “zombies of Fox News.”  But before the day was out, another speaker praised the rightwing network: “If it wasn’t for Fox News, none of us would be here.”

Another man crossed over. “I came out for the teabaggers,” he said. “But I didn’t know they were like that. I feel more comfortable over here.”

Several Tea Bagger speeches did reveal some common themes, basically neoliberal economics mixed with rightwing populism. They denounced Wall Street and government elites, but demanded an end to government regulations of any sort, along with deep cuts in spending and taxes to supposedly end the recession. The fact that it was precisely those policies that helped create the financial bubble and the ensuing crash didn’t seem to faze them.

Then came the demagogy and lies. One speaker went on at length about how Obama and the American Civil Liberties Union were in court to force the removal of crosses and Stars of David from the graves of the war dead in national cemeteries.  The only problem was that it’s an ‘urban legend’ and brazen lie spread by the far right, one that has been denounced by the ACLU many times: “The ACLU is not pursuing, nor has it ever pursued, the removal of religious symbols from personal gravestones. Personal gravestones are the choice of the family members, not the choice of the government. The ACLU celebrates this freedom to choose the religious symbol of your choice.”

The veterans’ gravestone slander stirred up the disgust of the anti-Obama crowd. It set them up for the appeal for the takeover of public schools for religious instruction that followed.

Then came the assault on the need for health care. “They tell us there’s 47 million without health care,” proclaimed another speaker. “Let’s break that down. First, 25 million of that are illegal aliens! We don’t owe them anything! Then 10 or 15 million are people with enough money to buy insurance but irresponsibly spend it elsewhere! There’s only about 8 million or so truly uncovered, and we can fix that with a few minor adjustments!”

Again this generated a wave of disgust laced with chauvinism the speaker was looking for – but not a thing said was true. Even the rightwing CATO Institute set the number of uninsured undocumented workers at 5.6 million, while another 4.4 million were legal immigrants. The largest single bloc was uninsured children of low-to-moderate income parents.

But you got the feeling that the truth wouldn’t matter much to many of those here. “What do we want?” shouted one speaker. “We want things put back the way they used to be!” The context and subtext was that all the unspoken entitlements of white and male privilege were slipping away, and it was time to shift into reverse.

A young man who looked to be in his early twenties and said he wanted to be journalist was asking questions. “When I talk with someone, I want to hear a logical, motivated voice; and, unfortunately, these days some people just don’t know what they believe.” He said after spending some time across the street. He wanted to know more about Progressive Democrats of America.

A Tea Party speaker noted that their side of the street was entirely white, except for one reporter from the Beaver County Times. “This was not good,” he said, “but whose fault was it? All the whites here picked who they voted for as Dr. King said, “on the content of their character.’ But African American voters didn’t. They were the racists for ‘voting simply on skin color.’”

“That’s a lie!” shouted an African American worker holding the “Bring the Troops Home Now!” banner on our side of the street. Unfortunately, his unamplified voice didn’t carry far enough.

At one end of our long line of placard holders, two Tea Baggers had come over to argue about the war and health care with two of the labor guys on our side. They went back and forth with no resolution, but still in civil fashion, until we wrapped up our part of it for the day. Randy Shannon made the rounds, getting commitments from people to take part in a Single Payer march and rally at the AFL-CIO convention in Pittsburgh, which will also feature a showing of Michael Moore’s new film, ‘Capitalism: A Love Story.”

Everyone was in good spirits for having stood their ground without incident. Yet there was also a new seriousness about the danger in how ‘the Big Lie’ technique was being deployed among the working people we see every day in the county. There is clearly a lot of work to be done, and more battles on the horizon. As we sat around afterwards in the Shannon’s pleasant New Brighton backyard, having lunch and drinking some real home-made tea, we talked over the future. Those among us who had come to the Peace Vigil for the first time vented frustration, while those of us who have been doing this work for some time added constructive possibilities to the conversation. We were all encouraged by the feeling of unity growing amongst us and spreading to new allies.

7 thoughts on “Contending Views at the Beaver County Court House – Progressives Push Back Tea Party”

  1. Thanks Tina and Marcia, for your leadership! Unfortunately Jennie and I were committed to a farmers market at that time and couldn’t make it. Next time! You guys handled it well!

  2. Not sure where you got your “information” for this farce. I can’t even call it a news story. To begin with, the proper term is Tea Party Patriot, not “Tea Bagger”. How should I describe the anti-war crowd – Code Pinkos? In addition this rally was not even organized by the Tea Party Patriots. Did you even bother to talk to any of the people who planned this rally? Guess not. Sounds like you’re fabricating. Well get ready for the next rally on April 24th.

    1. If you want to disown the ‘9-12’ Glenn Beck group that pulled this rally together as not part of your movement, that’s your business. But they consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement. And we did talk with some of them, and a few came over to our side of the street and stayed with us instead.

  3. Dear Sir,

    I videotaped this event and, unless the anti-war protesters were camouflaged, there were only 25 (at the most) present at this rally. If you like, I can capture a frame or 2 from the video and send it to you.

    Also, be very glad we live in a country that we can speak our views in a public forum without fear. Unlike you, I support the rights of every american to engage in open debate. I too am former military. And, although I disagree with them, (..and you)I would risk my life for their rights to protest.

    One more thing – I find it interesting that you use the derogatory term “Tea Baggers” in your description. I’ll bet those original 200 men in Boston would take great pride to be remembered this way for something they did so long ago. This is no different than a derogatory term describing a black man and removed any credibility from your story. If you attend on the 24th, which I hope you do, I hope you are able to write a more accurate story.

    1. I’m sure you can show a tape of 25 on our part early in the day. But I counted them at the peak myself, and I’ll stand by the number. But what would be more interesting for you to show is the speaker from your side making the absolutely false and demagogic claim that Obama and the ACLU plans to take the crosses and stars of David off of the graves in military cemeteries, which is a total fabrication.

      1. It is indeed imaginary. The speaker’s claim was that Arlington Cemetery and gravesites and their monuments were the target. But you’re being hustled by this site for donations, and you don’t even realize it. Show me one actual grave where the ACLU has tried to take down a Cross or a Star of David, and you might have a point. But you don’t, because no such case exists.

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