Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, knew the conservative group's "Running on Empty Tour" event at Bonner Park on Aug. 19 would receive a mixed welcome from liberal Missoula. "That's a good thing," Phillips told the Indy. "We wanted to come into some areas where, frankly, this message is not delivered."
The message is one of free market economics. The group was founded and is funded by billionaire Tea Party bankrollers David and Charles Koch. Its tour aims to highlight how Obama administration policies hinder domestic energy development and drive up gas prices.
"(Federal government regulators) come here and they shut down energy production on a routine basis," Philips told a crowd of several dozen supporters in Missoula, many wearing sun hats and T-shirts with American flags. "It's devastating for this country."
Phillips received nods from his audience. But on the other side of the park, the Missoula Area Central Labor Council, the Montana Organizing Project, and folks with MoveOn.org weren't buying it.
The groups launched a counter demonstration. Drawing from "Alice and Wonderland," they performed a skit called, "Not your Ordinary Tea Party." A dapper looking Mad Hatter, played by local thespian Reid Reimers, worked to persuade a naive Alice, played by local activist Molly Moody, that she should drink his tea and come around to his way of thinking.
"If you get more drilling permits, will the price of gas go down?" Alice asked the Mad Hatter. The Hatter responded, "Hee, hee, no," and explained that only a few already-wealthy people—like the Koch brothers—will profit from increasing domestic energy production. That explanation left Alice to ask, "Well, why do you call yourselves Americans for Prosperity?"
The Hatter's logic failed to woo Alice, emboldening the demonstrators to march north across the park, past children playing in the grass, to circle the Americans for Prosperity. The counter-demonstrators carried signs that said things such as "The Koch brothers are gross," and sang about kicking corporate ass as they circled.
One man with the Running on Empty Tour heckled the counter-demonstrators. Phillips just smiled, and took photos of Alice and the Mad Hatter.