I withhold praise, I do. But Holly Otterbein’s cover story about the Tea Party in this week’s City Paper is admirable. Otterbein basically sets out to answer this question: What does the Tea Party look like in Philadelphia? Not in the exurbs of the city, but in the city itself.
The feature largely tags along with Diana Reimer, a Tea Party organizer who is actually from Lansdale, but is active in the city of Philadelphia and organized last year’s April 15 tax day protest in Love Park.
Otterbein relays how Reimer found the Tea Party (feeling disenfranchised, looking for a voice, and finding a suddenly loud one that aligns with common misunderstandings about how the nation and economy function), and positions Reimer as a fairly sympathetic person, who made a few missteps that were poorly timed to the nation’s economic collapse.
The finest thing about Otterbein’s piece is how fair she is, especially compared to Jonathan Valania’s quasi-undercover Philadelphia Weekly piece in February, which essentially asked: Who are these crazy hicks who think these crazy things? The answer, of course, is crazy hicks who think crazy things. Now you don’t have to read the piece.
But I digress. In addition to letting Reimer come off as somewhat sympathetic and as a reasonably charismatic organizer, Otterbein also corrects erroneous facts spouted by Reimer. For example: “‘There was TARP and all the bailouts, and these rich people are getting all this money, yet Don and I can’t sell our house,’ she laments. “Then Mr. Obabma comes in and bails out the banks and AIG, and look at these people, look at all the money they have!’ (The bank bailouts were initiated by the Bush administration in fall 2008, with the support of both the Obama and McCain presidential campaigns.)
In the piece, Riemer ultimately buries herself. Her husband is on unemployment and military benefits; she’s angry that, because she voluntarily quit her most recent job, she doesn’t qualify for unemployment herself. At 67, she is on Medicare. But: “‘I guess if you were an illegal immigrant you would qualify for every benefit there is,’ she says with an uncharacteristic sneer. ‘You would qualify for health care, you would probably get educated, and you would get whatever else America has to offer you. Now, what makes that fair?'”
Otterbein also addresses some of the racial issues associated with the Tea Party, which don’t manifest themselves in this article all that much, except for the vitriol about illegal immigrants and an awkward request that a black woman attending one meeting be their emissary to the younger, blacker, gayer Center City Philadelphians they want to attract.
The piece also includes a variety of voices from and descriptions of conservative political situations about the Tea Party movement in Philadelphia, demonstrating that even in a deeply Democratic city, the movement has an impact. And overall, Otterbein does a great job with this portrait, revealing the people who are, perhaps more often than not, the core of this movement: people who feel politically abandoned yet act almost willfully ignorant, and who themselves use the systems
of social welfare which they so decry.
– Nick Gilewicz