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Tom Pattantyus: From red boxers to tea partiers

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: August 5, 2010 4:50 p.m.
Updated: August 6, 2010 4:55 a.m.

I started my political demonstrations when I was not yet 15 years old. In 1948, Hungary’s Communist government nationalized (confiscated) all parochial schools, and I transferred to a state/municipal-run high school.

Early in the school year, we were ordered out to “demonstrate” and celebrate the 31st anniversary of the Soviet Bolshevik Revolution. After roll calls, we were given signs with approved slogans and red flags. If you were not lucky, you got stuck with one or the other. The demonstration was stop and go, and after a few hours the “enthusiastic crowd” started to melt.

When supervisors were not looking, we peeled off from the marching column. The signs and flags were just discarded on the sidewalk.

This was the modus operandi of my subsequent demonstrations until my junior year in college.

In those “happy” years, many basics were in short supply, including money, food and clothing. Some demonstrators took home the red flags for wives or mothers to use as cloth to fashion boxer briefs. In the summer of 1951, I worked in a foundry as a summer laborer. When a worker was spotted in the locker room wearing a pair of red briefs, he was sure to be ridiculed. It is important to note that while all steelworkers were automatically made Communist Party members regardless of their wishes, only a few were really communist. In those years, refusal of a party-membership card was very hazardous to one’s health.

The cynical observation in the wonderful communist democracy at that time was: “Almost everything is forbidden, but that which is allowed is compulsory.”

During my undergraduate years, I was able to dodge most of the demonstrations with the excuse that my parents lived in another city, and I went home on the communist holidays usually associated with “spontaneous” demonstrations. I pretended to go home even when I did not.

There was, however, one demonstration I was most glad to attend. Fortunately, it was arranged on short notice so there was no time to prepare signs or take the red flags out of storage. That demonstration took place in early March 1953, when “the dear leader of the international camp of peace-loving peoples, our respected and beloved(?) father,” the guiding light of the international proletariat, etc., etc., Josef Stalin, died. All afternoon classes were canceled, and the students ordered out to the street to demonstrate and mourn the deceased leader.

Fast forward to 2009. Stalin had been dead for 56 years, and the U.S. started a dangerous slide toward a one-party dictatorship. In February, Rick Santelli of CNBC called on U.S. citizens to push back, similar to the Boston Tea Party. Tea parties were quickly organized in many states, and the first nationwide protest took place on tax day, April 15, 2009. That also marked the first day of my renewed political demonstrating.

I went to a small industrial city near my home and was very pleasantly surprised. The demonstrators were regular Americans, including many seniors and veterans, many unemployed younger people and hourly paid workers who got off work early enough to attend.

The crowd was polite, considerate, orderly and patriotic. The signs protested the poor economy, unemployment, the anticipated tax increases and the enormous U.S. debts. There were no incidents of any sort, no litter, in spite of the 500 to 750 participants crowding a comparatively small area.

The next two tea party gatherings were even larger, with one at least 5,000 people strong. There was no factual reporting, only slanted, antagonistic news items in the “mainstream media.”

I am very disturbed by the name-calling coming from leading politicians: “Astro-turfers” by Nancy Pelosi, implying tea partiers are rootless individuals, “tea baggers” by President Barack Obama (is he is aware of the original obscene meaning of the phrase?) and recently, “racists” by the chairman of the NAACP.

Those and similar terms are very disrespectful to seniors who spent a lifetime in honest work, veterans and everyone else who dares to worry about the future of our country.

May I respectfully refer our leaders to the First Amendment of the Constitution?

Tom Pattantyus is a retired electronic engineer and can be reached at His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Right Here, Right Now” appears Fridays in The Signal and rotates among local Republican writers.


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