Posted on 16 April 2010.
By The Alice in Not-So-Wonderland Collective
On April 15th, three of us anti-authoritarians from CT decided to mosey on down to the Tea Party and give it a look-see. We did our best to go over there with no preconceived notions and what follows are some of our thoughts—from Jabberwocky, Cheshire Cat, and Alice Volcano (who graciously took pics for us!). Remember, this is CT—a blue, blue state as the popular distinctions go, so we’re not sure how representative this is. Also, we each have our own takes on this. As we reflected on the Tea Party, we also reflected on how piss poor radicals have done at building a movement. So shout outs to student occupiers, West Coast anarchists showing killer cops what’s what, Hunter College hooligans scheming to liberate space, Chicago workers who decided to take their workplace a while back, and anyone everywhere doing what they can to fight capitalism and the state, create alternatives to them, or creating spaces where we’re safe from all of the bad shit we inherit by being born into a world organized by hierarchy, coercion, and control.
Cheshire Cat and I were just kind of quietly standing by when one Tea Party fella remarked to two of his friends, “Look over there. (He points over at the small group of counter-protesters). It’s the liberal, communist, fascists. I hear they’re members of the Working Families Party. (They weren’t. They were anarchists). Funny thing about them? None of ‘em work and none of ‘em have families!”
His friends looked pretty amused by this and they all had a laugh.
I guess all in all, I was pretty underwhelmed by the Tea Party protests. It has all the markers of the kind of right-wing populist movement that might frighten me, but it seemed pretty toothless on the lawn of the Capitol Building in Hartford. The people I talked to tried to be nice, but were almost completely incapable of any kind of intellectual honesty. They constantly referred to Obama as a “socialist” (he’s not), a “fascist” (he’s not), a “communist” (he’s not). For the record, I’m not a fan of Obama, or any politician really, but the discourse around these events are so hyper-alienating.
Now the same is true of the “other side” (reads: “mirror image of the tea partiers”). One man was carrying a sign that said “Teabaggers=KKK” (they’re not), for example. I likewise remember cries that Bush was a “Nazi” (he’s not), etc. at anti-war rallies in the past.
I guess what struck me the most was the ridiculous posturing and abuse of discourse on both sides. It just seems like any honest political disagreement is impossible under these circumstances. How can I make an appeal for socialism when folks have been led to believe that a health care policy that is more modest than Richard Nixon’s (!!!) is evidence of a communist conspiracy? There’s really no point. However, the demographic of the Tea Party, according to polls, is generally upper-middle class white folks—not exactly the constituency I typically try to reach out to. And, after all, at the same time as the Tea Party, nursing home workers in Connecticut were striking (it’s still happening, so get out and support!). The only conclusion I could really come to is this:
There are better ways for any of us to spend our time than going to Tea Parties—even people like me who are attracted to train wrecks and events that give us idiot shivers.
But, more importantly, perhaps we could have a return to civil discourse and a shred of honesty in political debate. These sorts of non-arguments are the stuff that leftist debates (especially on the internet) are almost entirely made of—particularly anarchists. One of my friends is constantly saying that we need to be more “generous” with each other. I think that’s true. Perhaps we CAN take a lesson from the Tea Partiers, then: We could resolve not to abuse the English language and do mental gymnastics in order to paint anyone we disagree with as an “enemy” instead of someone we just have a disagreement with. If we’re not careful, we might even start to sound human, compassionate, and like folks that people just might want to be in a movement with!
Now that would be something for American radicals!
By Cheshire Cat
I don’t know any Tea Party members and have never been to a Tea Party event, so I had to see for myself what all the commotion is about. Noam Chomsky has recently said that the Tea Party in its present form is a failure of the left and that they (the tea partiers) have some legitimate gripes, so a couple of friends and I decided to go and see if we could find some common ground.
Walking up the hill to the steps of the Capitol, slightly nervous and unsure of what to expect, I was relieved to find that nobody paid much attention to us even though I thought we clearly looked out of place (under 35, tattooed, wearing black tee shirts). The first thing I noticed was Holy crap, there were a lot of flags! They were mostly American and Gadsden flags (coiling snake on a yellow background), however the flags that most caught my attention were the ones on the main stage, a row of them that had the tops of the poles adorned with gold crucifixes- which was a little creepy IMHO. Also, there were less cops than I expected (around 6 that I counted) which, for an event that drew a few hundred people, was odd considering that an hour earlier I was at a workers strike with about fifty people and there were just as many cops.
Yes, the crowd was 99% white but the same could be said for most anti-war rallies I’ve been to at the Capitol. Throughout an hour of wading through the crowd, I had the chance to speak with three or four people. They were obviously right leaning and although many of them claim to be independents, they clearly focus their anger on Democrats. In general, there was a friendly tone to the conversations I had. We agreed where we could (yup, Democrats suck) and disagreed as well (no, immigrants are not ruining the country). Mostly, folks complained about taxes and there was a lot of talk about the Constitution (most admitted they hadn’t read it) and how Obama is a Socialist (again, he isn’t). The middle-aged small business owner I spoke with said he was not against welfare but against “people who abuse the welfare system.” I asked him why he thought electing these same crooked politicians from both sides would change anything and he sheepishly said “What else is there? I have to have faith”. During a conversation with an elderly couple who were explaining to me that “Obama was not what the founding fathers had in mind”, the crowd started bellowing the pledge of allegiance in unison which made it difficult to focus.
Basically, my final analysis of the event is that the Tea Party is MoveOn.org for the Right. Although I somewhat agree with Chomsky’s assessment that the Tea Party is a failure of the left to reach out and organize with them, at this point, I think the chance to redirect that anger has long since passed. Here were a bunch of angry people, angry at the government (at least the Democratic arm) and the Left was nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, Fox News, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin were more than happy to welcome them with open arms. So here we are.
By Alice Volcano
I visited the Tea Party protest at the state capitol this past Thursday—mainly to see what folks would show up, what signs they would be holding, what the speakers would be saying, what the counter-demos might look like.
The first thing I noticed were a bunch of white “middle-class” looking folk. I started running around looking at all the signs—taking photos of the most creative and/or inflammatory ones. While I was taking a photo of one particular sign (the one that displays Obama as a caricature with huge ears and money stuffed in them), the sign-holder and I realized we knew each other from back in the beginning of the millennium when we both worked in the same shopping complex. He was the groundskeeper and I worked in the coffee shop. We would exchange goods- I’d give him free coffee and he’d help me take out the trash and taught me how to sharpen my knife.
My friends (two men) and I stood up somewhere in the middle/front of the crowd listening to the speakers and just generally looking around, trying to get a sense of what the protesters are like—not wanting to rely on some liberal pundits who deem all the Tea Party protesters racists and Nazis.
Two men (and their wives, to an extent) turned around and took up conversations with my two male comrades (their stories are interwoven into this narrative). I stood there for a while, very used to feeling invisible or like an “accessory” at events such as these. Or I should say, to be more accurate, feeling like an accessory (or all together invisible) when there are older men talking about important things that I couldn’t possibly understand (ß sarcasm!).
I may have looked “blasé”—but I was listening to every word these folks were saying (I often find myself dealing with this type of sexism in this way. I’m not saying it’s helping anything, but hey—I do what I can). It was fun finding all the agreements I held with these folks. They want to have decision-making power over institutions and events that affect their communities—their lives. So do I! They don’t want “representatives” in Washington making decisions for them. Neither do I! They laugh at the US being considered a “democracy”—a better word for it is a “Republic.” I agree! Why filter money through Washington just to have it come back to your communities with hoops to jump through, not to mention missing about 20%? I don’t know! Hey, politicians are just money-hungry corporation lackeys! I think so, too!
Needless to say, our agreements ended there. The folks we were talking to (or I should say, the folks I was listening to) really (really) believe that Obama is a socialist. Even though socialism refers to the means of production being owned by the workers themselves, not just somewhat “socialized” health care or public schools and fire departments (libraries, etc…). They all love Ayn Rand—a woman who has written entire novels about her love affair with the “free” market. When we noted that most everyone was white (including ourselves), one of the protesters pointed to a man with a tan and said “He’s kind of colored!” Good grief.
I’ve talked to a slew of radicals and anti-authoritarians about the TPM and there are a bunch of different viewpoints. Some feel like we should be making common ground with these folks—this is, after all, a popular uprising that is critiquing our government. Some other arguments are that these folks are critiquing the same institutions that anarchists and other radicals are. I don’t agree that we are critiquing the same institutions such as: white-supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, nation-states, heterosexism, etc… These folks, from what I gathered, don’t really give a fuck about other folks’ plights. If they’re OK, then that’s all that matters. One thing I love about anarchism is the understanding that my freedom and happiness is bound up with everyone else’s. “No one is free until everyone is free.” I think the slogan the TPM may employ is something more like “I want my freedom at the cost of anything, even yours.” Anarchism is an ethic—a notion that we can live differently—we can live in ways that fulfill all of our needs and desires. This would include a free and participatory society—free of all institutionalized hierarchies—a world that would allow all of us to develop and live out our desires and lives in beautiful and joyous ways. None of that is possible within nation-states, under capitalism, nor under any other form of domination and control.
When there is a populist movement budding that critiques the power of our government—that is the time for the Left to organize and help provide an understanding of how all power is connected and to offer up alternative institutions free of domination. We missed our chance to provide a framework with which to understand how to connect the dots. I’m not sure if it’s too late or not—but I do believe that the TPM is leaning so far Right due to the fact that there is no organized Left to speak of in the US as of late. As anarchists, I think we should probably try to find the folks that do have genuine critiques of how our society is (dis)organized and we should be able to offer up alternatives. There will be no revolution by anarchists alone. We need a popular movement and we are failing miserably.