Confession of a Reluctant Tea-Partier
In the Soviet Union any mass expression of public sentiment was by definition a fraud. To participate in a demonstration of any kind meant a complete waste of a perfectly good day. All organizations got their quotas to provide a certain amount of bodies to march through the town celebrating state holidays. Being a child was no excuse -- I remember taking part in an annual May Day demonstration as a 10-year-old member of an ice-skating girls' group. The sacred duty of any self-respecting citizen was to avoid being drafted at all costs. I could not imagine that intelligent people could spend time and energy coming to a rally of their own free will.
My late and very much missed father used to say: "First, you have to know why you want to leave the old country, and only then to decide why you want to settle in a new one." Boy, did we know the first part! Our difficult journey to America started in 1978 and ended in 1987 -- nine long years of being "refuseniks," surviving persecution with humor and general youthful light-heartedness. There was no time or opportunity to follow the second part of my father's advice.
My family came to the United States the day before the Thanksgiving of 1987. Being intellectually curious, I immediately began wondering how this country functions and what makes the United States the envy of the world (don't believe all that criticism from outside -- it's mostly ignorance). As a confirmed bookworm I started reading everything in sight from the Constitution and Federalist Papers to the New York Times to National Review by way of the Economist and the Village Voice. My English improved dramatically but my respect for the media evaporated. However, I got some basic knowledge of American institutions.
My husband and I applied for US citizenship the day we became eligible. I think my examining officer got the shock of his life when during the interview I recited the Bill of Rights, named all Supreme Court justices and added the names of all elected officials of the state including our hapless congressman. Talk about useless knowledge! After that we proudly voted in every election, but the idea of venturing a political opinion never crossed my mind (an unfortunate result of being brought up in a totalitarian society where keeping your mouth shut is a basic rule of survival). There was something unseemly in proclaiming my deep love and appreciation of America for all to hear.
When candidate Obama showed up, I realized that I had heard his typical stump speech every single day of my old Soviet life from big and small Communist party bosses -- the same structure, the same cadences, the same bogeymen, the same demagoguery, the same targets. The American people had no defense against this rhetoric. The result of the elections was totally predictable. To me it was a "Back to the Future" moment.
Imagine you are having a terrible nightmare. Just as you are about to suffer torture or certain death, you wake up and realize the sun is shining, your family is peacefully sleeping, and everything is in place. After enjoying a few blissful moments, you turn your head and see that hideous monster from your dream coming after you for real. This image described the trajectory of my life perfectly. Running from Communism, finding the safe haven and a new life, and now to have the same wrecking crew coming even here?
In February or March of 2009 my husband, two friends, and I went to the first New York City Tea Party in front of City Hall -- more out of helplessness than anything else. The signs were great and funny, including a board showing odious Senator Schumer as Marie Antoinette. When a man next to me remarked on the steadfast conservatism of the Cuban-American community, I mentioned the huge Russian contingent right here in New York City as an equally conservative bloc. He looked at me like I was from outer space.
I attended a few more Tea Parties in our area (my husband dropped out, not believing in lost causes) just to support a worthy idea, not to expect any tangible result. Then we found out about a big march on Washington on September 12, 2009 and decided to give it a try. The march was already in progress when five of us emerged from a downtown metro station and joined in our first protest action.
The atmosphere was incredible. Complete strangers were talking to each other, taking pictures of thousands of funny posters, smiling, and feeling as one. Contrary to popular opinion outside the United States, here was an ample proof that Americans have a great sense of humor. There were so many people that it was not really possible to see, let alone really hear the speakers. But nobody cared. People were just expressing their opinions in a typical American fashion, loud and clear.
I felt as if I had come home. Or, to paraphrase our First Lady, for the first time in my life I felt like a real, full-blooded, free American. It was glorious.
Luba Sindler is an overeducated classical musician who ponders the world's problems in her spare time. Obviously, she has too much time on her hands.