More on Tea Party Protests and Populism

tax-anti-crusaders1.jpg picture by adam_freedom

  Specializing in election results and polling, political analysis blog FiveThirtyEight estimates that the Tea Party protests only brought out around 300,000 participants to their rallies nation-wide, which is a far cry from organizers claims of over 1.2 million. Read their take on the numbers here. The blog also published a brief commentary speculating that the protests were strongest in states and regions that showed stronger support for Libertarianism ideas, using campaign contributions towards presidential candidate Ron Paul as an indicator.

  This analysis tends to lend a deal of weight to that of local Bay Area leftist blogger James Tracy of Partisan Blockhead and his commentary on the protests focusing on the role of populism in “Understanding the Tax Revolt of 2009.” 

  Tracy seeks to refocus how much of the left frames the Tea Party protests.

Just like the Left, who seem to be totally happy with the war when Obama promotes it, the Right only hates runaway government spending when America’s first Black President is doing it. However, it’s time for the Left to wipe away it’s smug condescending attitude towards this revolt and dig deep and understand it for what it is—the resurgence of populism—rooted in real economic hardship. Populism is simply a revolt against elites, without a clear political trajectory. In times of populist upsurge, the movement will evolve both fascist and progressive faces.

  Looking historically Tracy points out that populism manifests in both right-leaning and reactionary forms as well as left-leaning varieties such as the Bonus Army of veterans marching and occupying Washington DC after WW I or in the demands of unemployed workers in the 1930’s. The need to take these movements seriously and above all organize and put forward our own program from the left is paramount: 

Whether the populist moment gives way to reaction or progress will depend on who is ready to organize, to explain the crisis, and point to real ways out of it. Dismissing the rank-and-file Tax Protester as a “racist” or a “redneck” signifies the fact that some in the Left have given up on reaching one of the largest parts of the US working-class. This doesn’t mean not confronting the forces of white and male supremacy who are salivating to gain control of this upsurge. In fact it is a call to confront it through the type of organizing that cedes nothing to the right.

We would be wise to head these words.

The Right Raises an Ugly Face with Nationwide Tea Party Protests

 

counterproest2.jpg picture by adam_freedom

Counter-protests draw out the racist and anti-immigrant themes of the San Jose Tea Party protest. (Photo credit: Debug)

  As part of a nationwide day of protest on April 15 Tax Day, various right groups mobilized their supporters through conservative talk radio and FOX News, holding a rally in downtown San Jose’s Cesar Chavez Park. With between 500-1,000 attendees waving American flags and signs denouncing Obama’s tax and bailout policy, as well as a vague notion of “socialism,” organizers whipped their base into a frenzy. It was mostly a predictable mostly middle aged, suburban, and middle-class white crowd, though a few people of color were present as well. An impromptu coalition of San Jose community and left groups, who previously came together to oppose a small grouping of anti-immigration activists rallying in a nearby white suburb, brought together about 30 or so folks who marched from San Jose State and clustered to the side of the rally stage.

  Amid chants of “USA! USA!” the counter protesters managed to draw out the racism of the crowd with their pro-immigrant rights themed signs as Tea Party participants yelled a standard barrage of comments, such as the ever original “go home!” This was despite Tea Party organizers asking attendees to not bring in signs or messages relating to social issues such as immigration and abortion.

 Crowd1.jpg picture by adam_freedom

The face of the Right: San Jose Tea Party attendees. Absent from the picture are some of the more extreme signs of participants on “socialism,” Obama, and with clearly racist themes. (Photo credit: Tea Party organizers blog, link below)

 It helps to “know thy enemy” as they say. The organizers were far right conservative activists, but the tiny San Jose Minute Men wannabe group that counter organizers expected to find were actually just hangers on to the event. The main group organizing the nationwide movement (the idea that this was some type of ‘spontaneous’ and ‘grassroots’ upwelling is simply spin from the organizers) is well the funded conservative foundation FreedomWorks led by people like wealthy, conservative magazine editor Steve Forbes, and racist/sexist/homophobic former Republican House of Representative leader Dick Armey, who is now a lobbyist. As part of a broad mobilization strategy, organizers attempted to downplay any association with social issues such as race or immigration, while billing the event as “non-partisan” and focused on the issues of debt, taxes and pro-America themes.

 

  These folks are clearly whipping up their base with age old strategies of trying to play on the racism and scapegoating of largely white middle class individuals angered by the economic downturn and the political shift in the White House following the election of Obama. Opposition to taxes has become the right-wing’s code phrase for public services such as education and social services like public health and public assistance- that in the public’s mind they have worked hard to associate with people of color and immigrants. Also, using a strategy of right-wing populism, I feel that these forces are wisely attempting to strategically focus their message and outreach in an attempt to tap a very genuine vein of anger about the bailouts from regular people that I think would be equally open to a critique of Obama’s bailout from the left (Read a critique of the bailout here and of the complicity of the Democrats here). Of course the irony could not be thicker here as federal spending and the national deficit dramatically increased with the Bush administration’s military quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq, which were largly supported by these same forces. Still though, the better folks on the left can offer an analysis and response directed towards regular folks to these issues, the less ground these extreme conservatives have to maneuver with their messages. I hope we can call them out for who they really are next time.

 

  These Tea Party protests raise important questions, such as whether a new movement of the far right will emerge in response to not just Obama but largely in reaction to the effects of the economic crisis?

 

  As the Republicans loose more elected offices at the national and state wide levels and the far right-wing and more hard line segments feel further politically marginalized, it seems a turn to their version of “the politics of opposition” might be a strategy they are willing to undertake. This of course opens the field for a dangerous situation- one where Republican Party officials, whom usually shy away or at least publicly hide their association with farther right and openly racist elements, begin to encourage and support these right wing populist mobilizations in order up their political capital. In some ways this has already happened with the likes of conservative figures such as Newt Gingrich. But this combination is dangerous indeed. I do not think we are anywhere close at the present, but this could be the first step towards the emergence of a widespread New Right, or neo-fascist movement. Let’s hope not.

 

 

counterproest3.jpg picture by adam_freedom

(Photo credit: Debug)

 

Links and related media:

Photo essay and commentary by DeBug members Tiburon F.B. and G. Melesaine (check her blog G$ in the links) describes their experience with the racism and stereotypes of participants.

San Jose activist Diane Solomon gives an in depth account of the rally with quotes from the attendees and photos on local political blog San Jose Inside.

Indymedia commentary and pictures

San Jose Mercury News article on the event, which belittled the counter protest efforts as  “banging drums, shouting epithets, screaming about immigrant rights and promoting anarchy.”

Blog set up by organizers of the event:    www [dot] sanjoseteaparty [dot] blogspot [dot] com (cut and paste this into your browser and add the dots, this makes it harder for these folks to find this page)

Wallerstein on the fears of the elites about the conflict that the economic crisis might brew, “Civil War in the United States?”

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