The Tea Party as Shock Troops for Those in Power

By Kevin Gosztola 

Down on Daley Plaza in Chicago, around one thousand people gathered for the Tea Party Tax Day Protest at noon. Groups like Americans for Prosperity, Campaign for Liberty, and the Illinois Policy Institute had individuals at the Tax Day protest. There also were a handful of people from gun's rights groups, the military, and from white nationalist groups.
 
The focus of the rally was November 2nd. Much of the crowd talked about and held signs indicating they couldn't wait for the midterm elections. In fact, the Tea Party Chicago protest slogan was "Repeal it. Replace Congress."
 
A good contingent of progressives, liberals, and leftists showed up with signs promoting LGBT liberation, immigrant rights, an end to U.S. wars, and cuts in military spending. The groups directly challenged the fact that the Tea Party hates taxes but yet more than fifty-percent of an American's taxes go toward the military.
 
The ethnic and racial makeup of the Tea Party rally was predominantly white. Many of the people were middle-aged. There were a few hundred people dressed in work clothes who presumably work for small businesses or downtown firms in Chicago, a group of twenty Log Cabin Republicans with rainbow colored flags, and around thirty or forty people in camouflage carrying flags that read "Don't Tread on Me."
There was at least a handful that showed up in American revolutionary costumes. And, there was a guy in a Bolshevik costume and an older woman in a Wonder Woman costume.
 
The rally featured signs that said "Marxism, Yes He Can!", "Barry Nobama Hates the USA and He Hates YOU Too", "Robbin' Hood", "Re-Load and Repeal", "Tyranny Elimination Army", and one claiming Obama's favorite White Sox player was "Marx Berkeley."
 
The rally at noon was actually one of two Tea Party events. It was the official event. At 3 pm, according to a thread on Free Republic, a rogue event took place with "Chicago Tea Patriots" that were once part of the Illinois Tea Party Patriots. This faction was "excommunicated for (very bad) behavior." They were also behind the ugliness on display at a town hall meeting by Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) on Nov. 14, 2009, when "a mob of teabaggers, blinded by hate and anger laughed at and heckled a grieving couple [that] lost both their daughter-in-law and unborn grandchild."
 
I spoke to a middle-aged white male in an Uncle Sam hat who addressed the idea that the Tea Party was dividing America, "We are dividing it. We're trying to get all the free people together and throw all the people who want us to be Marxists out of here. So, yeah, we're dividing the country. We're dividing it to put it back the way our forefathers wanted it where everybody's free. He's free. We're all free."
 
This male was convinced that the SEIU and other liberal groups had planted people in the rally to disrupt the protest and make people look like people they weren't. In fact, throughout the course of the protest many of the Tea Partiers were suspicious of the motives of anyone with a camera who was filming or conducting interviews.
 
Police kept a close watch on progressives, liberals, and leftists who were on the plaza with Tea Partiers. A few individuals from World Can't Wait which had an "End U.S. Illegal Wars Stop Biggest Government Spending" sign were moved to the edge of the plaza. Officers consistently halted exchanges between left-wing and right-wing individuals.
 
Now, what does the presence of a thousand people at this rally really mean? What does the existence of a Tea Party in America mean for the future of America? How can one contextualize the Tax Day protest in Chicago (and in other parts of the country) and gain something more than just cheap entertainment?
 
Start with polling data from a recent New York Times/CBS News Poll.
 
In terms of gender, the poll showed 59% of the Tea Party was male, 89% was White (with 8% being non-white), 46% was 45-64 and 29% was older than 64, which mean the majority of respondents who declared themselves to be Tea Party members are people who would have been in their twenties or thirties under Reagan.
 
Fifty percent from the Tea Party claimed to be middle class. Twenty-six percent categorized themselves as working class while 15% called themselves upper-middle class. This means a majority of respondents came from the middle and working class and, since Americans typically classify themselves on the class ladder a rung higher than they actually are, most of these folks are probably experiencing the same economic pressures that drive many progressives or liberals to take political action.
 
Oddly, 70% of Tea Party respondents think their household's financial situation is fairly good. In fact, 8% think it's very good so one could say 78% think the financial situation is at least fairly good. This figure begs the question: What is driving the fear? If these respondents aren't struggling to get by now, why are they protesting a so-called tyranny of taxes? Does this indicate the anti-tax fervor comes purely from ideology and not experience?
 
Even stranger might be the fact that 55% believe the recession has been difficult on them and their family. Fourteen percent believe the recession has brought hardship. So, nearly 70% think the recession is responsible for their economic woes. How does one claim to be doing fairly good and very god when the recession has brought hardship and difficulties? Is this more of a political answer than an answer that reflect reality? Are Tea Partiers saying they have experienced problems under a recession because Obama has presided over much of the recession since January 2009?
 
When asked about social issues, 78% were concerned with economic issues and only 14% about social issues. Perhaps surprisingly, 16% think gay and lesbians should be allowed to legally marry while 41% support civil unions. And, this indicates that at least 57% support civil unions, which means a majority of Tea Party respondents essentially support Obama's position on gay and lesbian couples.
 
Their racial attitudes are probably the most indicative of the nature of the Tea Party. They do not want anyone to get a leg up or handout from the government and this would be why 73% of Tea Party respondents said black and white people have an equal chance of getting ahead in today's society. Fifty-two percent think too much has been made of problems facing black people. Yet, despite the fact that Obama is African-American, 65% regard him as having policies that treat blacks and whites the same.
 
As far as Social Security and Medicare go, a majority of the Tea Party supports these programs. In fact, much of the Tea Party is probably relying on Social Security or Medicare right now. But, they do not want government to expand its social services to create a bigger social safety net for members of American society.
 
Ninety-two percent responded that Obama was moving the country toward socialism. And, when ask where they get information they trust from, 37% responded television or newspapers and 45% responded other supporters. Most likely, this indicates that the Tea Party is tuned in to radio, specific sites or blogs on the Internet, and FOX News. (Interestingly, whether one trusted information from radio was not a selection one could make when asked about where they got trusted information from).
 
All of this analysis leads me to believe that these angry and afraid Americans are much more confused, misled and bewildered than they would lead one to believe. I don't think they know where the Tea Party Express is going. And, that is frightening.
 
With people in places of power--in corporations, government, media organizations, think tanks and policy institutes--willing to tap into the fear and anxiety, these individuals become the shock troops for free market thugs and the corporate oligarchy that currently rules society. And, if these people in places of power can make those in the Tea Party seem like they are the ones responsible for dismantling government, even if it is the corporations and government leaders who are responsible the Tea Party will take credit and use "victories" to empower their movement.
 
And, to a certain extent, they will rightfully be taking credit. Their actions help create the propaganda or media messages that feed people who are increasingly angry with how government responds to the needs of people who live in American society.
 
The Tea Partiers are the ones on television putting forth an alternative vision. The progressives, socialists, communists, Marxists, anarchists, etc. are not receiving attention. None are considered to viable strategies for solving society's most pressing problems.
 
Those in power stoke the flames of anti-communism and anti-socialism in the hearts and minds of the Tea Party and conservatives and defame and disinform people claiming that this policy could move the country toward socialism and this policy might indicate Obama leans toward Marxism. No one in power offers any indication that they know what they are talking about when they cite these "-isms." These "-isms" are not uttered because they wish to get into a debate about them; they are pejoratives aimed at discrediting any movement away from preserving corporate and special interests in society.
 
Meanwhile, those on the left righteously resent the sentiments of Tea Party people. This is understandable but there are contradictions within the statements of the Tea Party. Those on the left should not dismiss the fact that much of the Tea Party rejects the bailouts that were given to banks. They should not ignore the growing dismay with corporate power and welfare among Tea Partiers. And, they should not ignore the presence of the Ron Paul faction, which subscribes to Paul's antiwar or anti-imperialist views.
 
This does not mean lefties should expect these individuals to organize as part of their coalitions. What it means is that this is an in for engaging Tea Partiers in much-needed conversation.
 
In Chicago, I witnessed several who worked to engage the Tea Party as they came up to confront their presence at the rally. Each progressive, liberal, or leftist tried to have a reasonable conversation. Much of the time they failed, but there were a few times that valuable conversation occurs and one must wonder how much intelligence was gained by having such a conversation.
 
Tune into the Daily Show with John Stewart or blog postings on Huffington Post or Talking Points Memo and you will see what's on the surface.
You will see the supremely reactionary.
 
Look beneath the surface and you might be surprised. These people are impossible to talk and organize with. But, they would probably say the same about you. And, in the end, we all share this land; we all are fighting for a future that allows one to live with dignity.
 
As hard as it must be, we need to engage Tea Partiers. Or else, they will just be a media-supported special interest-manufactured free market grassroots force for the further erosion of democratic society.
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