Yesterday, the peace picket and its contrapuntal Tea Party-ers, standing next to each other on Main Street took on an added vivacity and volume. A contingent of younger people had arrived to add their energies to the peace segment. They had brought a bullhorn:
"When I say 'war' you say 'no!'" the bullhorn urged.
"War!" said the megaphone.
And the peace contingent said "No!"
And there were variations on that theme.
Meanwhile the Tea Party contingent had brought a small boom box to elevate their own efforts. Country and western music swelled and dimmed and every once in a while there was a saccharine version of "The Star Spangled Banner" that filled the air.
The messages once spelled out with cardboard signs held up for the inspection of passing traffic now had banners and flags and some of the union songs I grew up on -- things like "Union Maid." The addition of labor concerns flowed out of Wisconsin, where public sector employees were successfully stripped of most of their collective bargaining rights. The governor's successful proposal was made under a banner of saving money in a cash-strapped state but was widely seen for what it was -- a Republican gambit to eviscerate what is left of labor alliances in this country. The Tea-Party-ers had signs saying public sector employees (police, firefighters, teachers, etc.) were egregiously overpaid feather-bedders, a strange accusation to be leveled against a next-door neighbor whose lifestyle is often so clearly modest. And the suggestion that collective bargaining would have a significant impact on Wisconsin's budget woes was ... uhhhh ... odd, to say the least.
Louder and louder and wider and wider ... that's the way it felt. The uprisings in the Middle East seemed to be gaining momentum in the United States. The issues seemed to swell like some blood-blister: Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; health care; Social Security, terrorism, racism ... tumbling over each other like bubbling white water over river rocks during the spring thaw. Everyone sensing the financial pinch and wanting to find the causes of the fault. No bankers or politicians have gone to jail yet, but holding your breath would not be a good idea. Might as well accuse your neighbor ... much to the delight of the bankers and brokers and politicians.
And in the midst of all the singing and bull-horning, a man carrying a large Don't-Tread-On-Me yellow banner (of which the Tea-Party-ers seemed to have a lot) sidled up to my left and asked me if there were a lot of Zen Buddhist temples in the neighborhood. I told him what I knew, which wasn't much, and then we got to chatting about how the winter had really put a crimp in his business, which was roofing. Other peace protesters gave the two of us sidelong glances (maybe passersby would think I supported the Don't-Tread-On-Me philosophy), but the conversation was pleasant enough so that I couldn't be worried about what others thought.
We were just a couple of guys shooting the breeze as if we had found ourselves at the same bar on a Friday after work ... a little wind-down time, a little conversation. Whether one held a flag and the other wore a dress ... well, that was small potatoes.