The closing evening of the Tea Party Convention in Nashville ended with as much, if not more, energy and enthusiasm that the opening hours. By the banquet Saturday evening, those who sat together eating and waiting for Governor Palin to address the crowd behaved as though they had known each other for years, not merely for a few days. Networking occurred at such a frenzied rate that by the final dinner, many had exhausted their supply of business cards and were resorting to scribbling contact information on scraps of paper and tapping emails into Blackberrys.
To kick off the event, singer/songwriter Jon David sang his love song to America, American Heart. The crowd’s response was one of unbridled appreciation and a thunderous standing ovation. One woman gushed, “We are so used to hearing the entertainment industry bash our country and bash us regular folks. It was amazing to hear someone put into words how so many of us feel about our Nation. It gave me chills.” In the song he declares,
"I won’t be made to ever feel ashamed…
that I’m American made I got American parts
Got American faith
In America’s heart
Go on raise the flag
I got stars in my eyes
I’m in love with her
And I won’t apologize"
American Heart was a fitting introduction to Governor Palin who, for many in the room, embodies the same sense of unapologetic love for America Jon expresses in his lyrics.
The Governor’s popularity drew people to the convention who did not even have tickets to hear her speech. Austin Ryan and his family are spending a year travelling the country. Each time the banquet doors opened, little Austin stood on tippy toe with his video camera to try to capture a glimpse of Palin before the doors closed again. Holding Austin’s baby sister, his mother Bridget said, “We are staying down the road from here. We didn’t even know this was going on but when we heard that Sarah Palin was going to be here, we just had to come over. We love her.”
That sentiment was clear from the moment Palin stepped onto the stage. The crowd cheered and Palin’s wide smile and relaxed demeanor suggested that she knew she was among friends. She told the crowd, “It is inspiring to see real people and not politicians.”
In discussing the power of the activist movement in this country, Palin noted, “If there is hope in Massachusetts, there is hope everywhere!”
Bridget Blanton, from "Smart Girl Politics", finds much to relate to in Governor Palin. “If you look around the convention you will see that there are many women here. Like Sarah, we are in she-bear mode to protect our Nation and our families. The women I am meeting in this movement are fearless, like Sarah. We know this is hard work but we are not going to quit.”
Not everyone, however, considered Palin a highlight of the convention. An attendee from New York felt that Palin’s speech fell short. “She has been in the spotlight for over a year now. I enjoyed the things she said, and agree with her about most of it, but she didn’t tell me anything about herself or how she feels. I feel like even after all the time she has been on the scene, we still don’t really know very much about her. I know that some folks are turning to her as a leader, and maybe that will happen, but for right now, I need to see more action and fewer sound bytes.”
Palin addressed some of the controversy regarding her perceived role as the face of the Tea Party movement. “I caution having this movement being defined by one leader.”
Blanton remained enthusiastic at the conclusion of the event. “The bottom line is that I am taking away from this the importance of political engagement. I will continue to work on voter registration and reaching out to those in my own community. The pamphlets I pass out, the tables I set up outside of stores to spread the word, it makes a difference.”