With Tazo tea bags taped to protest placards, and sacks of Lipton looped around pearl necklaces, they came by the hundreds, gathering first in front of San Francisco City Hall before marching to the Federal Building, the local home of the dread "Princess Pelosi."
San Francisco's Tax-Day protest made for odd tea fellows. There was the patrician Joan Leone, president of the "Nob Hill Republican Womens Club, Federated" standing next to a guy with a hand-lettered sign (typeface, Unibomber) who sought to repeal the 14th amendment to spite illegal immigrants and their "anchor babies."
Across the way stood Barnaby Conrad III -- author of a noted book about Martinis -- himself implausibly decked out in a tweed sports jacket and a coonskin cap, holding aloft a sign with a hand-painted revolver reading "Reload for the Revolution."
The specter of armed rebellion was hard to take seriously. I met landlords and lawyers, corporate real estate types and a guy in high finance wearing a beige "Welcome Back Carter" T-Shirt over his white starched, button-down shirt and tie. Well-heeled retirees from the city's tonier heights abounded -- with their bejeweled flag pins and sportswear from from the St. Francis Yacht Club. The few babies at the rally seemed cozied against the wind in their $700 bugaboo strollers. (Joan Walsh of Salon.com Twittered anonymously from the sidelines.)
The libertarians were in full effect, with one pretty Polish immigrant wearing a Ron Paul hat struggling to march with a giant poster of a Soviet Flag adorned with the letters "USSA." As were the Bay Area Minutemen, amply embodied by a bearded, angry white Vietnam Vet waving a Don't-Tread-on-Me flag. And then there were the Ayn Rand acolytes who inveighed against the evils of altruism and the joys of "Going Galt."
So here, at last, were the objectivists. But what was the objective?
A tax day protest of a president who has given 95 percent of working American families a tax cut. [Insert interrobang here.]
Facts didn't seem to matter. Folks I asked about Obama's tax cuts simply denied they were real. They bemoaned the impending socialist takeover of our health system. The fascist banking system. The "Spread the Poverty" ethos of Obamanomics. The most reasonable man I met -- an avuncular figure in a straw hat and an LL Bean shirt -- said he'd simply rather America "take its lumps now" than attempt to stimulate the economy with debts to be paid off by future generations.
But such reasonable sentiments didn't fit on today's protests signs. Many of those that did were not even those of the grassroots activists, rather their astroturf organizers. A silver-haired socialite -- decked out in a pink visor and her tennis warmups -- was leaving early. She pointed to her hand-painted sign -- "Overtaxation is Tyranny" on one side, "No Porkulus Bills" on the other -- and asked, "Anyone want to hold this? You can turn it in at the end."
What did she mean, "turn it in," I asked. "It's not yours?"
She pointed to the megaphone toting organizers on the stage with a shrug and said of her prop: "They furnished it."