This afternoon I had the opportunity to speak about the 9/12-Tea Party movement here in Durango. Wendy (the Bayfield leader) and I were asked to come and talk at Leadership La Plata. I had never heard of the group, but it is apparently an organization that takes applications from community members, then puts those accepted through a multi month program to teach them about the inner workings of our County. It is coupled with leadership skill training, hopefully turning out future community volunteers and leaders. Sounds nice. Wendy and I both agreed to talk and take questions for an hour and I was looking forward to sharing with a group that was at the very least intellectually curious.
This last Tuesday, we had a Tea Party meeting and the gal that had invited us was there to meet me. She told me that she was glad to have me coming, but wanted to give me a heads up that this might not be an exactly receptive audience. OK. While I wasn't overly concerned, I was certainly interested to see how this afternoon would go. On Thursday they sent me the group's itinerary for all of Friday. I could see that they would be spending the day learning about things like water issues and the gas industry's impact on the county. I was wishing I could have attended those earlier speakers and I hoped that our little presentation would be interesting for them.
When Wendy and I arrived, we got to hear the closing remarks and a few questions asked of the speaker we were to follow. It was pertaining to the natural gas industry and I found it very interesting. Well we were up, and we took our seats at the head of the room. The facilitator for the group stood up to introduce us and reminded the class about a previous class where they learned about the importance of being polite and civil. It went something like, "...even if you don't agree, remember these are our guests and it is important to treat them with respect..."
Uh, ya. That to me was kind of a big red flag and I asked the class if I should be concerned that the facilitator had to remind them to be nice?? The facilitator laughed a little and looked kind of uncomfortable but smiling. Weird. So we went ahead and talked. Wendy went first, and the great thing about her is how her passion and sincerity shine through. We both talked about a need to return to the ideals of our Founding Fathers. I decided to talk about how this is truly a grassroots effort whose goal it to educate voters so they can make their own informed choices. I talked about my belief that there should be a more limited Federal Gov't and expressed the idea that closer government is better government and States should be doing more of what Fed. govt is now doing. Blah Blah Blah
Then we opened it up for questions. The first was from a girl I'll call 'angry lesbian.' She asked if Alabama passed a law that outlawed black people from marrying would I be OK with that since I support State's rights. I referred to the idea that there are God given rights (as stated in the D of I) of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness and that it would be the federal governments role to ensure those rights, so no, I didn't think Alabama could pass such a law. There was some debate amongst the students about civil rights and gay rights. The a.l. was obviously very upset that some states laws were not what she wanted to see. This was followed by another person asking about the separation of church and state which led to people in the group commenting on public prayer. There was certainly the feeling that our group was just a bunch of religious zealots. Oh boy.
We managed to bring it back around and I spoke specifically about how this was not a religious or social movement I was involved with, but a movement that came about because people thought the Federal Government had grown too large and too indebted to continue on it's current course. We talked a little more about the role of government, then it was time to wrap it up.
There was a black gentleman in the class that asked the teacher if he could please have the floor before we finished up. He said, pointing to his skin, that this was the color he was on the day he was born and this is the color he would be on the day he would die. He could not take off his skin. He experienced every day what it meant to be looked at as a 'black man.' He then asked everyone not to equate race with sexual orientation because race was something you could not ever hide. Angry lesbian disagreed and said that when she walked into a bar holding hands with her girlfriend, she got the same kind of negative looks he did. And yes, she sounded angry whereas the black guy did not. He simply said, well, you can let go, I cannot take off my skin. It was just a really powerful and thought provoking few minutes where we heard from a man who can never have a choice of putting his skin color on or off display. I felt respect for what he said and understood that I did not know what it was like to feel how he did. He said that to him, the struggle for equality based on race as compared to sexual orientation was different. While he recognized there was a struggle there, he did not see them as the same because skin color can never just fly under the radar.
He then went on to tell the class that he worked for the Fed gov't as a translator in Japanese and Russian and had seen first hand how terrible it is when a government is too big with too much power. He assured us that this is not something we should want. I wanted to run over and high five him or something, but I just smiled and nodded my thanks for his comments. All of them. He ended the class so well and I was so glad he was there. It really got me thinking and I like that.
We got up to leave and the girls that originally invited us followed us out into the hall. They were very happy and thanked us for coming. They apologized for having us walk into an ambush to talk, but they said it went way better than they had imagined it would. I laughed out loud and said that she hadn't framed it quite like that before we started talking, but maybe that was a good thing! :) It is not pleasant to feel 'ambushed' but I think I'm glad I didn't know before because I just would have been nervous. I am glad I went and that we were able to answer some questions and hopefully dispel some wrong ideas (although I think a lot of people just enjoy holding on to their ideas so they can continue to be angry). I certainly enjoy hearing different points of view and hopefully learning from them. While it is certainly easier talking to a sympathetic crowd, it is good to stretch my own brain now and then! :)