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I was attacked at the Tea Party rally–but not by Tea Party members.

Date: April 18, 2011

This past Friday, April 15th, I went to the Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland to check out the Tea Party tax day rally. It was my second time attending a big Tea Party event after the Oregon Tea Party convention right before the 2010 election, which was at the warehouse of a gun shop (I’m not making this up). Readers of this blog may remember that I’ve also attended an Oregon Right to Life rally in the past.

I of course do not support these groups, but I am interested in learning about groups and people who are politically active and hold views that are very different from my own. I am particularly interested in reading hand-made signs people bring to these political events, because I feel that they demonstrate the inner logic and emotions of people who hold (what I believe to be) reprehensible views more than any official speakers, or FOX News hosts that repeat lines calculated to energize the crowd.

So here are some of the signs I saw at the rally:

“Obama’s spending means freedom’s ending”
“Cut taxes, cut spending, no more pork”
“Are you better off than you were 4 trillion ago?”
“Re-distribute my work ethic, not my wealth”
“Less gov = more love”
“God bless the USA #1”
“Obama – Don’t let your socialist chefs cook Ameria’s goose”
“We the people own this house” (picture of capitol)
“Obama… You’re Fired!” (picture of Donald Trump)
“Wake up America – The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants”
“Prosperity follows liberty”
“Give me liberty not debt”
“Hell no to tyranny”
“Impeach Comrade Obama”
“Your ‘fair share’ is not in my bank account”
“We are not a piggy bank” (worn by young children)
“My debt today is $45,979.25” (worn by young children)
“Stop Obamunism before it stops U.S.”
“Taxation is theft!”
“Who caused the recession? The federal reserve bank!”
“$ support police fire military not banks”

As this was the tax day rally, many signs focused on taxes and how they take away (economic) liberty. Several speakers made critical comments about the public transit system Portland is famous for, and how they must stop the light rail’s expansion to Milwaukie and Lake Oswego, both of which are predominantly white suburbs to the south of Portland. Public transit is a public system funded in part by tax money, but I felt that there was more to their opposition than simply that they oppose public projects; it seemed that they disliked these suburbs connected to Portland by fast light rail because they think that it would bring criminals and other undesirables (including people of color, except those who clean their houses and cook their meals) to their neighborhoods in the suburbs.

There was also a small group of protesters who showed signs opposing the Tea Party. Here are their messages:

“Tea puppets for Koch”
“Tea puppet fascist”
“A future with the Tea Party: Imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever”
“Pay your taxes asshole”
“The party is over”
“Free humanity not free market”
“My movement isn’t paid for”
“Support people not corporate greed”
“Tea Party – No bright ideas from dimwits”
“Don’t be a Koch sucker”
“Tea Party – This is not 1773”
“Veterans Against a Dick Armey”
“Tax wealth like work!”

In case you didn’t recognize the name, “Koch” (pronounced Coke) refers to billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, who have contributed close to 200 million dollars in the last ten years in conservative politics and is now the biggest funder of Tea Party groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. Dick Armey by the way is a former congressman who heads FreedomWorks now. The sign stating “My movement isn’t paid for” is a snipe at how Tea Party claims to be a grass-roots movement of regular people, but is in fact heavily financed by super-rich like Koch brothers. But that doesn’t justify the statement “Don’t be a Koch sucker,” which, given the context, I find homophobic.

Some statements like “Pay your taxes asshole” seems to be an attack on the tax breaks rich people and corporations enjoy, but directing that at average Tea Party attendees doesn’t make very much sense, considering the fact that most of them are not rich. Calling them “puppets” or “fascists” probably only leads to further polarization, which make us forget that many Tea Party participants are angry about the same thing that those of us on the left/liberal/progressive are, which is the bailout of rich bankers while the rest of us struggle to find or keep employment and pay rent or mortgage or healthcare costs. I don’t agree with their solutions, but calling them fascists does nothing to improve the situation.

I experienced first hand what being called fascist feels like. I was taking pictures of Tea Party, and then moved on to the gathering of protesters to take their photos as well. But as I approached the protesters, I was surrounded by three white men who began yelling and screaming at me from three directions “Fascist!” “Go home teabagger!” “We’ll post you on YouTube” and various insults about my appearance. They apparently thought that I was a supporter of Tea Party, but this is not an acceptable treatment of another human being even if I were one.

At first, I didn’t want to tell them that I’m not a Tea Party supporter, because I didn’t want to imply that it was okay to act this way to someone if they were one. But I felt scared for my safety, so after some hesitation I told them “hey guys, I’m on your side.” But when I thought about it, I’m not really on their side: I oppose Tea Party, but I also oppose people who lack some basic level of civility and common decency.

My feeling was further reinforced when I saw the only physical violence that took place that evening. Pioneer Courthouse Square has a theatre-like stairs on the edge where protesters were gathering while Tea Party rally took place at the base of the stairs, but there was an elderly woman on a wheelchair on the other corner of the top of the stairs. She was sitting there by herself with a Gadsden flag (“Don’t Tread On Me” with the rattle snake), which Tea Party as adopted as a symbol. It made sense that she would sit there: it’d be dangerous for someone on a wheelchair to be in the middle of a crowd, and she wouldn’t be able to see the stage if she went to the square.

At one point, several protesters walked over to the woman and surrounded her with big signs, blocking her sight. They also used whistle to make loud noise next to her so that she could not see or hear the rally. Someone carrying a Tea Party sign noticed this, and came over to demand that the protesters leave her alone. Protesters ignored him, so he jumped on the protester holding the sign and took him down. Others from Tea Party saw this, rushed over, and quickly separated the two.

As much as I oppose Tea Party and I also oppose violence, in this particular instance I totally support the Tea Party guy who came to defend the elderly woman who was surrounded and intimidated by the protesters. She probably benefits personally from government programs like Medicare and social security quite a bit, programs that would be eliminated if Tea Party had its way, but it doesn’t matter: there simply is no justification for behaving the way some protesters did. Who is fascist here?

It appeared that most of the rational, reasonable liberals and progressives did not show up to protest Tea Party, perhaps because Tea Party is not a big factor in Portland. But these protesters do nothing to promote rationality and civil discourse and probably push Tea Party attendees to be even more extreme in their convictions. If I was a Tea Party supporter and experienced what I experienced that evening, it would probably make me less likely to listen to those who protest Tea Party. And if I was a Tea Party supporter and witnessed the protesters’ harassment of the elderly woman, I would further strengthen my belief in the moral superiority of the Tea Party movement.

I don’t question that Tea Party is a fundamentally deceptive and irrational movement fueled in no small part by racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and other prejudices. But if those of us who oppose Tea Party also practice these same prejudices or inhumane treatment of other humans, we are simply creating a left-wing version of the Tea Party movement. Still feeling scared from the hostile encounter, I went home feeling disappointed by the protesters’ inability to imagine something better.


  1. Thank you for your reporting on your experience. I’m not a Tea party supporter by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve also seen some of this behavior by counter protesters. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and a worry in my heart about what the run up to the elections is going to do to this country.

    Comment by Maria — April 18, 2011 @ 9:57 am

  2. “I FELT that there was more to their opposition than simply that they oppose public projects; IT SEEMED that they disliked these suburbs connected to Portland by fast light rail because they think that it would bring criminals and other undesirables (including people of color, except those who clean their houses and cook their meals) to their neighborhoods in the suburbs.”

    If you claim to be non-biased, voicing your own interpretation of someone else’s statements (“I FELT, IT SEEMED”)without backup is misleading. I am not a Tea Partier, but several of my friends are. They are not racist or against any group except those who would waste our tax dollars on projects that are not affordable in these economic times. Letting your phobias about racism taint some of your comments discounts the rest of your statements. This was a good report, except for the unsubstantiated propaganda.

    Comment by Gary — April 19, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

  3. Thanks Maria and Gary for the comments.

    Gary, what’s so misleading about clarifying which statement is factual and which statement is my interpretation thereof?

    If you think that my interpretation is wrong or biased, that’s your opinion and you are entitled to that. But it’s not the same as “misleading.” I am simply describing what I saw, heard, felt, and thought, and I keep what’s said/done and what I think it means clearly separated in my article so that my readers won’t be misled.

    By the way, the idea that predominantly white suburbs sometimes oppose extension of light rail system connecting inner city to suburbs due to fear about erosion of racial and class homogeneity is not unique. Many people have argued that white suburbian racism played a role in preventing or limiting light rail service extension to suburbs in cities like Buffalo and Atlanta, so it was not a leap to think that it is happening in Portland too. Once again, you are free to disagree but I am presenting my feelings and opinions as such.

    Also, I don’t claim to be non-biased. If you feel that my views are biased, you are free to point it out. Sometimes I might agree and take it back, and sometimes I might disagree but only after considering your perspectives and carefully rethinking the issue.

    Comment by emigrl — April 20, 2011 @ 12:13 am

  4. Hi Emigrl,

    First, I would like to present this page which documents the evening in question;

    Portland Avtivists Vs The Koch Machine

    I present that it displays a Highly Energized, but NOT VIOLENT Counter Protest to the Rally, and that WE MAINTAINED a separation between ourselves and the Tea Party, EVEN WHEN the police were NOT present[this fact becomes OBVIOUS at; 5:40 in the video

    I was there that night, and “clarification” to some of your statements needs to be addressed;


    “Pay your taxes Asshole” was VERY appropriate because the MAIN theme of the Tea Party IS taxes, they claim that they are overtaxed, which is lie, and the HIDDEN agenda behind the Tea Party is to support Corporations who don’ t pay their fair share[ignorance on THEIR part is NOT an excuse], so the sign was appropriate on ALL LEVELS.

    “Tea Puppets for KOCH”, this sign was VERY true, and FASCISM defines THE HIDDEN AGENDA of the Tea Party SO WELL it’s almost impossible to define the Tea Party WITHOUT USING the word.

    “Don’t be a Koch Sucker” might have been a bit crude, and over the top, but I don’ t believe that an insult to gays was intended, nor a result, you see, “straight” couples ALSO engage in this “Activity” too! [We had openly gay demonstrators in our ranks, and they did not find the sign homophobic]

    And you left one sign out; “Victoria Taft is DAFT”

    NOW as far as one of the Tea Party members “taking down” one of the Counter Demonstrators.

    THAT, if it even happened, would have been ASSAULT on the part of the TEA PARTY. I was there, at the location, and time period you describe, the police were present IN THAT AREA too, so SELF HELP was not necessary. In fact, this guy who you claim took down a Counter Demonstrator was VERY LUCKY that his fellow tea party members intervened, because HE would have been THE ONLY one arrested, because HE was the ONLY PERSON who actually committed a crime [ASSAULT]. And if the police failed to intervene, I [and others] would have stepped in, but since the police didn’t respond, and I was standing in the very area that you claim the incident took place[between the statue of the man holding the umbrella, and the Hot Dog stand], and never NEVER NOTICED the incident take place, I think it must have been minor.

    I am ALSO perplexed by the fact that you seem to have to point out that the three counter protesters who confronted you were “white”. What did you mean to imply by that comment? I apologize if you feel that our crowd was not diverse enough for you. We did have two black men in our group, as well as some Hispanics, and several women[one was even Islamic], but if you are implying that our group was mostly white, you are probably right, although I STILL don’t get the point. We didn’t discriminate, ANY one was welcome to join.

    Comment by Chuck Glisson — May 26, 2011 @ 6:50 am

  5. Chuck,

    First, thanks for sharing the links. I don’t disagree that the counter-protest was energized.

    As for it being “non-violent,” I think it depends on how you define violence. It is true that counter-protesters (as far as I know) did not commit criminal acts such as assaults; on the other hand, peace and civil rights activists who practice non-violence consider the sort of verbal and spacial aggression and intimidation such as what the elderly woman and I experienced a form of violence. I certainly felt physically threatened by them, and it was not an exception: I saw counter-protesters act “violently” under this definition throughout the event.

    Re intimidation of elderly woman and the “assault” that took place: Actually, I don’t think the police was nearby when the incident happened, though I don’t remember clearly. Perhaps you weren’t there either if you didn’t notice–as you remember, the counter-protesters moved around the square.

    I don’t think I need to respond to the question about race factor because your reaction is pretty much a collection of extremely common racist tropes that racists use to defend racism. It’s incredible that you would feel the need to invoke such racist tropes when I didn’t even accuse the counter-protesters of racism (but now I feel obligated to, based on your comment).

    Comment by emigrl — May 26, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

  6. Hi Emigrl,

    I feel that a few thinks need to be cleared up, like I said before the area and time that you describe “the assault” taking place did have heavy Police presence, and the 3rd photo from the Website [ ] clearly shows this.
    The area in question would have been directly behind the guy holding the yellow umbrella. There was a half dozen well behaved[but armed]Police Officers standing there.
    Did this “assault” occur near the beginning or end of the Rally?
    Because it is true that the Counter Protest did move around [counterclockwise] during the event, but they were only at “THAT” location when they first showed up, and at the end when the Counter Protest disbanded[it was getting dark, there was a band playing on stage, and the Police were kind of hanging around, but not really blocking or over shadowing the counter protesters because the police had figured out that we had been “Self Maintaining” a respectful separation from the actual Rally, made obvious at 5:40 in the video]

    Now as far as the racism issue, I was questioning YOUR comment where you pointed out that “Three White Men” challenged you verbally. The statement seemed “weird” to me, especially considering the fact that by demographics, Portland has a much lower percentage of minorities in it’s population make up than probably any other large city in America, it’s just a demographic fact. If this is just your style of writing, and nothing was implied, then it’s a dead issue, it just came off as an “innuendo” to me, and I wanted clarification, and my “tropes” concerning this issue were meant to be taken as “Sarcasm”

    Comment by Chuck Glisson — May 26, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

  7. Chuck – I just checked my video recording of the incident (or rather, the latter half of the incident, as I began recording when it started), and I don’t see any police officers in the background. So apparently they weren’t nearby. I can tell you that it happened around 6:05pm, because that’s when the video was recorded (give or take a few minutes–my camera may not have the exact time).

    And no, I don’t see any sarcasm in a racist saying racist shit.

    Comment by emigrl — May 26, 2011 @ 9:25 pm

  8. OK, let me be VERY DIRECT AND CLEAR, I am NOT a racist, and calling someone a racist who ISN’T a racist, is JUST AS BAD as BEING a racist. Furthermore, ONE THING that PISSES ME OFF is when SOMEONE ELSE tries to decide FOR ME what MY PERSONAL BELIEFS are! MY beliefs ARE MINE, and YOU don’t have the power or insight to see inside my heart. If you CONTINUE to tell these falsehoods about me, I am I going to get VERY OFFENDED. YOU owe ME an APOLOGY!

    And as far as YOUR CLAIM that there were no police present, this photo was taken at the approximate time and location;

    See the guy with the yellow umbrella? The location you are describing would be within a few yards of beyond his right shoulder, do you see ANY police in this picture anywhere?

    Comment by Chuck Glisson — May 27, 2011 @ 12:55 am

  9. Only racists would say things like “calling someone a racist who ISN’T a racist, is JUST AS BAD as BEING a racist,” which is yet another confirmation that you are one. If being called racist offends you, then stop acting like one. I mean, seriously.

    The photo wasn’t taken at the “approximate time.” It was taken some time before the incident, possibly as much as 30 minutes or so. Remember, cops didn’t stay in that location for very long. And the location isn’t even right for that matter: why would a supporter of Tea Party (the elderly woman who was harassed and intimidated by your buddies) sit so close to what’s depicted in the photo?

    Comment by emigrl — May 27, 2011 @ 1:15 am

  10. Regarding these comments made by Chuck:

    > [We had openly gay demonstrators in our ranks, and they did not find the sign homophobic]

    > We did have two black men in our group, as well as some Hispanics, and several women[one was even Islamic]

    While I did not observe the incident first-hand, and thus am not trying to speak for anyone that was present at the site of violence, I would like to point out that neither having gay or racial minority members in your group nor them being content with what your group does/says makes it impossible for your group to be homophobic or racist. I have met numerous people who said, “I’m not homophobic, I have some gay friends” or “I’m not racist, some of my friends are African-American (or Hispanics, Asian, Muslims, etc.)” as if being friends with minorities had given them some sort of proof that they couldn’t possibly be phobic of minority populations to which their “friends” (whatever that means) belong.

    I am appalled to see someone who (I guess) claims to be progressive use such very same-old rhetorics that conservatives and conservative-minded hateful people have always used to cover up their racism and homophobia. But that probably is because I have, until today at least, always been lucky to have around me progressionists who try to reflect on themselves when confronted with criticisms about their unjust behavior, regardless of whether in the final analysis such criticisms will turn out to be plausible or not.

    Comment by Masaki C. Matsumoto — May 27, 2011 @ 1:40 am

  11. OK, so what if a person REALLY ISN’T a Racist, but REALLY HAS friends who are of a race other than their own, and this person even has friends who are openly gay too? By YOUR logic, The person would have to be a bigot, and the ONLY way this person could NOT be a bigot or a racist, is if he DIDN’T have friends who were NOT of his race or sexual orientation.

    I’m sorry Masaki C. Matsumotobut, but I’m going to say the OBVIOUS; YOUR logic is STUPID!

    If you are looking to label someone a Racist, find an ACTUAL RACIST!

    YOU don’t know me! And people who DO know me would set YOU straight about me IN A HEARTBEAT!

    Comment by Chuck Glisson — May 28, 2011 @ 1:04 am

  12. If you want to talk about logics, learn how to read first. I said,

    > neither having gay or racial minority members in your group nor them being content with what your group does/says makes it impossible for your group to be homophobic or racist.

    Do you really, really think that this statement of mine leads to the conclusion you drew from it? Seriously. C’mon.

    Comment by Masaki C. Matsumoto — May 28, 2011 @ 8:24 pm

  13. It makes about the same since as it does to accuse me of being a “Racist”, it shows how you have to “Twist” the “Logic” like a “Pretzel” to come up with that conclusion!

    Comment by Chuck Glisson — May 31, 2011 @ 3:28 am

  14. Chuck – Whatever conclusion you may have in your mind, I do not have any conclusion nor did I ever try to reach one in my previous comments. Saying “it’s not impossible for you to be racist/homophobic” and saying “you’re racist/homophobic” are two different things. I’m only trying to defy your logic that just because you have racial/sexual minority members you cannot be racist/homophobic, because that logic simply does not flow. You may be racist/homophobic, or you may not——I don’t know——but your argument that you are not racist/homophobic because you have racial/sexual minority members is flawed. Your logic is just as absurd as saying because a man is married to a woman he cannot be misogynous.

    Comment by Masaki C. Matsumoto — June 1, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

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