06/16/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Progressives Crash Iowa City Tea Party

Progressives Crash Iowa City Tea Party
by Trish Nelson

An actual tea party would probably have been more exciting. All in all, I'd have to consider this one a dud. The tea partiers are so yesterday. Can we please stop talking about them now?

Probably not, because the extended infomercial-without-the-information/reality-TV-program-without-the-reality, that we collectively know as the Tea Party, will go on as long as the money and the media want it to go on. We don't have a choice in the matter. To borrow a phrase, the tea partiers are being rammed down our throats by "news" organizations which sadly, are now under corporate owners' entertainment divisions. It doesn't matter that there were probably more press, passers-by, lunchtime locals, progressive counter-protesters, student onlookers and curiosity seekers than there were actual tea partiers, and that the tea party message was the same tired nonsense, with the same idiot signs with snakes that say "don't tread on me" whatever that means, and socialism with a red line through it. It is what the media says it is, true or not.

It was a modest-size group on the ped mall in Iowa City, despite KWWL's 6:00 report that "hundreds" of tea partiers showed up (a common ploy by the media to justify their over-coverage is to exaggerate numbers). By the time you counted the lunchtime crowd, students, the progressives, the media, and onlookers, I don't think 30-50 tea partiers would be too far off the mark (how many of those were local? Not many, I would hazard a guess. The one I spoke to, was not local). KWWL's real anchor (Ron Steele) responsibly attempted to correct the 6:00 report at 10:00 by saying there were "about a hundred" in attendance.

KGAN meanwhile, excused themselves for covering such a flimsy event by trying to sell to their audience that the protestors "packed the ped mall." I guess they weren't around when Obama the candidate came to the ped mall - now that was a packed ped mall. But today? It didn't look much more populated than a nice spring day lunchtime downtown crowd... Some present speculated less than 100, counting the progressives who successfully crashed the party and, BTW, had a really good time.

Progressive groups represented included Citizens for Community Improvement, Iowans for Better Local TV, DFA, Johnson County Democrats, Loebsack supporters, Obama supporters, Veterans for Peace, Iowa City Federation of Labor, Grandmothers for peace.

The folks in charge of the reality infomercial must have made a strategic pr decision to ditch the horrid Obama pictures and to stop looking angry. One of the local news channels showed a partier saying, "I'm not angry! Do I look angry?" with an extremely forced smile on her face. I noticed that same thing when another partier came over and started a pseudo-conversation with Julie Bryant, friend and progressive activist, to which Julie replied, "No way are you telling this Navy veteran about protecting the constitution," or something to that effect which shut the woman up for a moment. But she never took the fake take-my-picture smile off of her face. Julie's sign said, "This Navy Veteran stands against racists, homophobes,and hypocrite tea baggers!"

I did not listen to the speeches. I was standing on the fringe with the progressives over by the public library, holding a sign that said, "Teapartyers Get Way Too Much Media" in one hand and an "Iowans for Better Local Television" sign in the other for effect. The signs drew a lot of interest. I was interviewed by both KWWL and KGAN who asked what the signs meant. I gave them a little spiel about the fact that there are many activist groups in Iowa and around the country that never get any TV time, and that I thought the media could do a better job of fair and balanced coverage.

Both local news teams tried to get me to say things about the tea partiers, to stir up controversy I assume, by asking, "What do you think about the tea partiers? What do you think they are all about?" Sort of lame made-for-bad-TV questions, but I didn't bite. I kept the message about the media. While I did not think I would end up getting actual air time on the TV, KGAN did show a short clip of me on the 6:00 news (must've been a novice reporter), sign and all (but I and my sign did not make the 10:00 edition or the web video on either channel - I guess that would have been too much to ask). They also aired my friend and activist Carol Bradley, who pointed out that "Obama inherited a quagmire.. you can't expect everything to get done in a's going to take a little while to straighten things out."