Over the weekend, I attended the “Uni-Tea” rally at Independence Park in Philadelphia. The event was billed as a “united tea party for all communities.” Just a few steps from the Liberty Bell, a group of about 300 gathered — blacks, whites, Latinos, and Log Cabin Republicans. The weather was warm and so were the spirits of the assembled. Emcee David Webb, an African-American talk-radio host, summed up the proceedings early on as he looked out at the crowd. “Ebony and ivory,” he said. “It’s not just a song.”
The impressive roster of speakers — Andrew Breitbart, Charles Payne, and Niger Innis, to name a few — urged the tea party to diversify and criticized the press and Democrats for calling the tea-party movement racist. With the NAACP having passed a resolution in mid-July asking the tea-party movement to purge its “racist elements,” many took care to swat away such allegations.
“I am terribly disappointed in [the NAACP’s] current political manifestation,” said Innis, the spokesman for the Congress on Racial Equality. “America fought and won the greatest social revolution in the history of man — the civil-rights revolution. Because of that, the pendulum has swung . . . You have certain politicians, certain leaders, that want to use the issue of race, the issue of racism, as a political weapon against those they don’t like or politically disagree with. How dare they do that to us! They should be ashamed of themselves — the NAACP, the Al Sharptons of this world.”
Innis then introduced Breitbart, “my brother . . . who has taken a beating in the establishment media.” The press, Innis said, “ignores the Black Panthers, they ignore Al Sharpton,” but “they go after this man.” Breitbart, of course, has come under fire in recent weeks for publishing a video clip of Shirley Sherrod, a black Agriculture Department official, which seemed, at first blush, to reveal Sherrod’s racial-tinged judgment. Days later, however, once the full text and video emerged, the context of Sherrod’s speech was seen in new light, with her words interpreted not as blatant racism but as part of her own journey to overcome racial bitterness.
Breitbart’s appearance in Philadelphia was his first public speech since the kerfuffle. He did not address the matter head on — Sherrod is reportedly planning to sue him. But the conservative provocateur did talk about race and the tea party. “I do not like to see our country ripped apart at its fabric,” Breitbart began. “That is what is happening right now,” thanks to the “media cabal.” The tea party’s goals, Breitbart continued, cannot be drawn along “racial lines.” Instead, he says a “unified front” of citizens is necessary. “The future of this country is not going to happen if the tea party is a uniform group of caucasian Americans. African Americans and Hispanics and, dare I say it, gay people, lesbians, everyone in this country has to understand that American principles have to be [rediscovered].”
Other speakers shared Breitbart’s hope. “We need to lovingly challenge our brothers and sisters in the inner city by asking, Why are you voting for people who are empowering themselves instead of creating an atmosphere where you can empower yourself?” asked Vanessa Jean Louis, a conservative blogger. “Are we ready and willing to fight to start brushfires in people’s minds, from the suburbs to the inner cities?”
Under a tent nearby, Portia Scholl, an African-American woman from Delaware County, nodded her head. “Nobody tells me what to think or how to vote,” she said to me, as the event wrapped up. “Just because I am a black woman does not mean I support this president.” Breitbart, she added, “was like a hero, because he is a whistleblower. I like people who stand out and tell the truth, no matter the consequences.” James Jones, a Navy retiree and former congressional candidate in suburban Bucks County, agreed. “The tea party is not racist,” he said. “If it was, that would be like me being a member of the KKK. So I take offense to those charges.”