I thought I'd follow up on Carla Axtman's report about the incident in Roseburg whereupon a group of mostly-grandmotherly progressives gathered in a city park for a MoveOn.org-inspired meeting - and were driven out by a larger group of Tea Party activists bent on disrupting things.
I had a chance to chat with Sara Byers - a former legislative candidate and one of the organizers of the gathering on Sunday afternoon. She explained to me why they decided to walk away - rather than engage the Tea Party folks. "We were going to have a a very peaceful meeting. The last thing we wanted to do was get into a shouting match."
Byers told me that one of her fellow progressives (whose name I will withhold) sought to engage the Tea Party activists. "She always wants to talk with the other side. She's a firm believer in dialogue." But rather than dialogue, she was met, says Byers, "with lots of 'F' words and 'bitches'".
According to Byers, a number of TPers repeatedly said "Go back to California!" despite the fact that most of the progressives present are native Oregonians - and the Roseburg Tea Party group's leader, Rich Raynor, proudly notes that he moved to Oregon in 1995.
The only strange thing was that it involved a bunch of senior citizens and middle-aged folks. It was obvious, for instance, that these people were hoping to provoke an angry response resulting in violence that they could then trot out as proof of liberal "thuggishness." ...
Fortunately, this particular gathering of progressives was smart enough to avoid that trap. As we see more of these attempts to provoke violence, though, I'm not so sure that's going to continue happening.
Which is an important point. They're doing this to provoke a reaction - even a violent one. And to be sure, it can be hard to keep your cool when being provoked.
Here's the best response: Get out your own camera. If you've got a smart phone, turn it on and start recording. We've had lots of reports of these provocateurs turning and running once the cameras are turned on them. At a minimum, you'll have evidence of what really happened - rather than the edited version of events that the provocateurs publish.
As for Roseburg's Rich Raynor and his Tea Party idiots, I'm glad to see that John Kuzmanich - the chair of the Oregon Tea Party - has agreed that their behavior stepped over the line.
I'm all for robust political debate (obviously), but I also think that people who want to gather peacefully to have a meeting or stage a political rally should be allowed to do so - without interference, harassment, or physical threats from those who disagree. And I'm hopeful that Kuzmanich and other Tea Party leaders in Oregon will encourage their supporters to behave accordingly.
And yes, I encourage folks on our side to do the same. Leave the Tea Party people alone. Let 'em have their rallies. Harassing them or attempting to intimidate them is a waste of time. Actually worse, since it tends to harden opinions.