The strongest part of Merced's first homegrown tea party was that it represented the people.
The weakest part was that it didn't represent all the people.
Some 160 folks turned out at an Applegate Park gazebo Thursday evening. Thousands of other tea parties were held across America the same day. American flags-- big and small -- star-spangled caps and signs, signs, everywhere signs, held by Mercedians.
None looked factory-made, the "Astroturf" that the tea party nationwide dismisses as the opposite of "grassroots."
Our tea party was clearly homegrown. The "organizers" had met just last week in "a janitorial warehouse," Sam Palmer, a coordinator, told the crowd. Sixty-seven people showed up, he said: "We are our own speakers today."
And speak they did.
The charm and effectiveness of the group emerged in the spontaneity and honesty of what they said and how they felt. And how it was received. Nearly every speaker, who raised a hand and was recognized, was interrupted or followed by applause.
Palmer and Sean Nickerson, a truck driver, provided the platform for the people.
Then the people took over.
It could have been Lexington in 1775.
The redcoats were the entrenched political interests, mostly in the administration, but also Rep. Dennis Cardoza.
One sign: "Cardoza=Judas. 25% water (a reference to his vote on how much to release to Valley farmers and ranchers); 30 pieces of silver."
But the organizers made it plain and simple that tea parties don't endorse candidates.
Still, the crowd cheered and clapped when a woman charged that California State University, Stanislaus was under growing pressure not to let Sarah Palin speak, that they should let the university know how they felt. They were gung-ho when Palmer announced that the UC Merced Republicans had succeeded in getting Karl Rove, "Bush's Brain," invited to campus.
Socialism was roundly and soundly denounced by several speakers. Rein in the spending, they said. Top-down government is not acceptable. "We're the United States of America," one man said, 'not the Federal Government of America."
Derek Price, a Golden Valley High School teacher, won cheers when he said, "Individuals know more than bureaucracies." His dad John, a prize-winning design business owner, got the same reaction when he said, "We are a representative republic -- that takes more work than being a democracy."
Another sign: "Farming Is the Real Green Job."
A man in a black shirt said, "I'm not a public speaker -- I'm an American dad." A little later, a woman told him and the crowd, "That's the most important thing -- he's our hope for the future."
The coordinators captured the essence of the movement when they said that if they had $10,000, they wouldn't know what to do with it -- except put it in a bank. "We might rent a hall," Palmer allowed.
Education was the watchword. Educate yourselves about the issues and the candidates, especially local ones. A man in a black biker sweatshirt, his two children standing next to him, called the November election "the most important of my lifetime."
A man on a bicycle said they should hold a gun to the head of politicians. Palmer and Nickerson quickly responded that violence was not the way. "We have a gun," Palmer said. "It's called V-O-T-E."
Then came the ugly side of the tea party, the "You lie!" self-defeating rhetoric. It was articulated only by one woman, who accused a reporter that the "gun" quote would be the only one used in a Sun-Star story, more correctly, this column. This was the same woman who gave the reporter the head count of 160 earlier, a total that matched his own, and he had agreed with her.