Strange Experience: I Worked Security At the First Public Appearance of the Tea Party
Photo by Dan Mall on Unsplash
This was some years ago and I’m telling this story from memory.
I worked at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia — an amazing place that I highly recommend. In addition to housing an impressive collections of historic artifacts (I LOVE historical artifacts!), the NCC tells stories about the Constitution and history. They also hold events and rent space for others to hold events.
Back during the Obama administration, there was a small event — kind of like a news conference — with the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sibelius, briefing the public on the status of the new healthcare bill being debated in Congress. She was to make a statement to let people know what was happening, and then take questions.
At the time — and ever since — the bill was a bit of a lightning rod with the Democrats favoring it, those on the left accepting it although wanting something stronger and the right denouncing it as socialism. But, at the time, what would be in the final bill was unknown and this event was only, as I said, a public briefing. Of course, the administration wanted the bill passed but this event was for the public, not for lawmakers who would decide the fate of the bill.
None of that was an immediate concern for me. I worked on the floor of the National Constitution Center and was not involved in that event which would take place on the 2nd floor as I was working on the first. Until.
“Hey, would you like to work security for the event upstairs?” I was asked. Um…yeah, I like to help. But work security? ME? It just didn’t seem to be something I could do. But I was assured it was no big deal. I was told to simply watch a particular door and be sure only authorized people went in and out of it. Which people are authorized? I didn’t know, but being an accommodating guy, I eventually agreed to do it.
So, there I am, standing by the door, watching Sibelius starting her talk with some light-hearted humor, on a platform nearby. The “crowd” was small, but still growing. Maybe a dozen people, certainly not more than two dozen. But something was happening.
A variety of people arrived separately with matching buttons. (I never saw what the buttons said — I wish I had, but I wasn’t close enough.) They acted like they didn’t know each other but the matching buttons belied that fact. In any case, this didn’t concern me. All I cared about was that there wouldn’t be any trouble. Meanwhile, I watched the door, and let people wearing suits who seemed to know where they were going, go in and out — and telling everyone else the area was restricted.
Then it started. Yelling and pushing. Damn! My “easy job” had just become difficult. Sibelius kept her cool but I didn’t like the look of the crowd. Would it get worse? What could I do? What should I do?
A bit panicked, I asked people around me what we should do. I might have called for help on my walkie talkie. I did NOT wade into the crowd myself. I was worried it might escalate.
Although I can’t remember the exact words, the protesters were trying to drown out Sibelius and loudly complaining about the bill. Protest didn’t bother me — I consider that an American right, even when it’s rude. But I just didn’t know where it would end. Would there be violence? Guns?
It probably wasn’t a long time, but it seemed like a long time, when the audience — including the protesters — began to drift away. I was relieved. I really didn’t want anything bad to happen. Especially not on my watch.
In any case, I don’t recall how, but I found out that these protesters were part of something called The Tea Party — which I had not heard of but would be hearing about for many years ahead. I remember some months, or perhaps a few years later, during a blazingly hot summer, an obviously parched young man came into the NCC and asked me where the Tea Party protest was. I didn’t know, but I did some online research and found out. I let the young man know, but urged him to get some water before going over there.
He refused. He went directly to the protest. As far as I know, nobody was hurt. That’s the way I like it.