It was billed as the most diverse tea party rally ever. For three hours Saturday afternoon, we waited for the diversity to show up.
Was Saturday's Uni-Tea rally in Philadelphia a success? Well, it depends on your definition of "epic fail." If you're more on the defensive end of the tea party spectrum, you would have left the rally this afternoon even more convinced that the movement is not now about race and never has been. If you're the kind of tea partier who'd like to see that abounding not-racism result in some actual demographic diversity in the movement, the Uni-Tea rally appeared to be a borderline disaster.
For three hours, a small crowd drifted in and out of Independence Park as speakers and musicians regaled them with paranoia about Democratic politicians and policies and reassurances that no matter what anyone says, there's no racism in the tea party.
Even as just a regular old tea party rally, the event fell flat. Though organizers said the event's website had been visited more than 2 million times in the days leading up to today's rally outside Independence Hall, for most of the afternoon there were fewer than 500 in attendance. It was clear from the large numbers of volunteers and the 1,500 bottles the organizers put on ice that they expected a big crowd to turn out. They did not get it by a long shot. They blamed a traffic jam on I-95 for keeping people away (for the record one organizer said that she counted 1,500 on the high end of attendance, but that appeared a bit generous to us).
Among those who did make it, for most of the time the numbers of non-white faces could be counted on two hands, and maybe a foot.
The same can't be said for the group who went up on the event's small stage. Organizers promised the most diverse cadre of speakers ever to grace a tea party rally, and they delivered. For the most part their message was the same: tea partiers are not racists and never were -- but liberals are.
"The more liberals talk about race, the more they show who the real racists are," right-wing blogger Andre Harper told the crowd. "It's 2010. The tea party has officially moved on passed the race issue. The liberals can have it."
Apparently, Uni-Tea wasn't only bridging the racial gap. Brendan Kissam and Matt Hissey wandered into the event carrying signs that said "proud gay conservative" and "freedom is fabulous." They said they were "the Gayborhood's envoy to the tea party."
The pair said the tea party is welcoming to their minority group, too. "The Tea Party is accepting of everybody," said Hissey, adding that "Skin color diversity -- that's not real diversity. Everyone here has a different life experience." Hissey recognized that the tea party "might be against gay marriage," but that's ok, he said, because he is too.
Uni-Tea reached out the hand of tea party acceptance to young people, too -- in the form of white conservative rapper Hi-Caliber and a band of veterans called The Bangers. "This reaches out to the 18-34 year-olds," organizer Jeffrey Weingarten said. It should be noted that Weingarten was successful in getting at least one 18-34 year-old to join him for the day: his son, Freedom Weingarten.
David Webb, an African American top official with Tea Party Federation and the man who shamed Mark Williams and the Tea Party Express for being racist a couple weeks ago, emceed the event and told the tea party crowd that it didn't matter if only a few minorities joined the cause.
"I didn't realize that any movement everywhere had a minimum daily requirement of black people to be legitimate," he said.
In his speech, Andrew Breitbart, echoed the sentiment, blaming the liberal-media "cabal" evident in things like JournoList for suggesting that there have been moments that tea partiers have appeared to be less than 100% welcoming of blacks.
Most of the emphasis was on how not-racist the tea party is. But one speaker, African American conservative blogger Vanessa Jean Louis, offered some solutions for what conservatives can do to reach out to African Americans.
"Black people are very conservative," she told TPM. "I think the problem is with the packaging of the message. So if we can talk about issues, instead of you know, left talking points and right - wing talking points, if we could talk about the issues, then that would really resonate."
Louis said there was a simple explanation for why there aren't more black tea partiers.
"Typically the conservative movement is predominantly white," she said. "But there are black people there. And there are more and more black people waking up to what it means, what higher taxes mean."
The few African Americans scattered amongst the audience seemed to agree. All of the minorities in the crowd that we talked to said they were comfortable being part of a movement that they acknowledged was very white, and they said that charges of racism against tea pariters from some African Americans are largely coming from the movement's political enemies.
The long-term effect of what was essentially a small group of white tea partiers gathering to be told by minorities that they're not racist is unclear. But organizers said they accomplished a lot at the event, and said that more Uni-Tea rallies are planned for the future.
"I hope it has taken away any idea that the tea party is racist," Terry Adams of the Independence Hall Tea Party, a co-sponsor of the event, said. "The crowd today was more diverse than I've seen at a tea party rally."
"It's a start," she said.