Sunday, April 19, 2009

I've Never Cared for Tea

I took the time this past Wednesday April 15th (well, it was 'this past Wednesday' when I first started this post) to participate in a Tax Day Tea Party held on the pier in Santa Monica. Santa Monica, affectionately known as "The People's Republic of Santa Monica" in Conservative circles is not well-known for having a large population of small government fiscal conservatives. Really, it's not known for having many conservatives at all, due to the 'friendliness' of the local variety of 'progressive' that thinks that vandalism of your car is an appropriate response to a McCain/Palin bumper sticker and that getting you fired is the best way to deal with your support for something like Proposition 8 that they disagree with. Top that off with the unseasonably cold weather (only 68 degrees!) and the ridiculously strong wind (about 20 knots) I did not expect to see much of a turnout. Given the circumstances, I was pleasantly surprised that 300-400 folks showed up to protest the way our politicians (of all stripes) squander our money.This protest didn't seem to be as well organized as some of the other ones that people I know attended. There was no one scheduled to give a speech. Things certainly weren't being planned or directed from anyone on high. The main organizer was a guy whose big issue is getting rid of the Federal Reserve. His big organizational tool was the website I only found out about the Santa Monica protest by doing a specific Google search for "tax day tea party protest santa monica". Beyond the posting, there was no advertising or press regarding the protest. I'm sure this depressed the attendance a bit as only people already aware of the protests were going to do such a specific search to find one near them. The reality of the lack of organization involved makes it especially funny every time I read a writeup about the Tea Parties that mentions how they are centrally organized and funded by 'right-wing billionaires'. I've yet to figure out if the people saying those things truly believe what they are saying or if it is simply a tactic they are using to discredit the movement (small as it is) regardless of whether or not what they are saying is true.
I had trouble deciding which statement I most wanted to make, so, I ended up making three signs for the event. I figured that there would be people there that hadn't brought signs and I could give my other two to them. The first sign I made (and the one I carried during the event) said "Justice? 20% of Earners PAY 80% of Taxes". For quite some time, the people in this country that are for wealth redistribution have couched their rhetoric in terms of "Social Justice". Fiscal conservatives (yes, in spite of the GOP's out of control spending the past 8 years, fiscal conservatives do still exist), Libertarians and other people that believe in property rights have allowed them to make the 'higher moral ground' argument while we are stuck with less sexy (but, I believe, more well founded) arguments based around property rights and whether or not handouts have the effect that the people inacting them intended. I'd like to see Conservatives begin to fight back directly against that "high moral ground" argument as I don't think there's any justice in taking the fruits of one man's labor to give it to another man. Where I come from, that sort of thing is called stealing. Unfortunately, I don't think my sign did the best job of getting that message across, still, for a first attempt, I'm not too unhappy with it.

My other two signs were a bit more straight forward. One said, "My Congressman Went to DC and All I Got was Crushing Debt". It is meant to mimic those "Somebody who loves me went to [some fun place] and Got Me this Shirt" t-shirts that people are always buying for children. My other sign got a lot of comments (passed alo ng to me by the guy that ended up holding it). It said, "Congress I am NOT your ATM". I chose to focus on Congress quite simply because they are the ones that make tax laws as well as spending bills. While the President does submit a desired budget, it's Congress' duty to decide how tax money will and won't be spent and how that tax money will be collected (a flat tax for everyone, a nationwide sales tax, a graduated tax with a high rate of 10%, a graduated tax with a high rate of 39%, etc). Of course, a President can veto a spending bill, but it seems to be a rare thing for that to ever happen and I don't see the point in taking President Obama to task for something other Presidents rarely do. Would it be great to see him decide that deeper debt is not the solution to a problem created by debt? Absolutely! But, ultimately, it's Congress that makes the call and Congress that needs to be held accountable for the mess they've created.

We did have some party crashers show up. Four ladies from code pink arrived in a bubblegum pink PT Cruiser (sorry, Mom, your car is still cool). For all of you out there with that sick feeling in the pits of your stomachs, you (and your dinners) can rest easy - they kept their shirts on the whole time. They came and stood directly next to me with a sign made of a pink sheet with black electrical tape which said "Human Needs Not Corporate Greed". I'm not sure what it is about the fair children of the 60's, but, they seem to think that a slogan just isn't a slogan unless it rhymes. That's not entirely true, they do have 'Make Love, Not War". I suppose the formula is a slogan must either rhyme or promote sex in some fashion. In any case, they tried to crowd me out but I was in a fightin' mood so I stepped back in front of them (as did the other woman the were crowding). A man in a business suit attempted to engage them in a dialogue but it was fairly clear that he was too agitated at them because of who they were and they were too interested in yelling at him for money being spent on the wars for any actu al discussion to take place. Whether or not it was intentional, they had brought the 'seeds of discontent' with them and were turning an otherwise jovial atmosphere into a frustrated atmosphere. I was a bit annoyed at them for this and my cattiness got the best of me (being sweet is not something those who know me have ever accused me of) and I told the man, "Sir, I wouldn't worry about them too much. They're just feeling left out because no one comes to their protests anymore so now they've got to crash ours." It certainly wasn't a nice thing to say, but, it did seem to stop the argument and we went back to waving signs at the passing cars. The Code Pink ladies were no longer getting attention in our group, so they moved on. You can tell how serious they were about trying to get their message out there (as opposed to getting more air time) since they moved across the street and set up right in front of the TV crew vans....with their banners pointed AWAY from the street....towards the vans. *sigh* You can sort of make them out in the photo to the right of the white van....a little splash of pink. Well, we may not be as media savvy as them, but we certainly weren't going to give them free reign to frame our protest the way they chose, so, within minutes, that corner was also filled with Tea Partiers. For a while I was feeling a bit bad about that...I thought, if they're really interested in protesting taxes, regardless of their thoughts on other items, that's something we can agree on. Then I remembered that, on their own website, they called for Code Pink members to "crash" the Tea Party in Santa Monica because the parties were "all about getting less funding for government. Let’s show up with a better message: STOP funding wars and Wall Street, and start funding the needs of the people– health care, education, and a green economy. Join us as we crash their party." In other words, they weren't with us on this one either. They don't want lower taxes and less government spending...they want the same or more money to be spent, just on different things. I hope I'm not the only one that finds it at least a bit funny that one of the things they were upset abou t was spending on Defense considering that's one of the few things that the Federal government spends money on that is Constitutionally mandated to the Feds. I'm sure that a savvier Code Pink member would bust out the General Welfare clause and use it to justify government spending on pretty much any and every social program they can dream up. However, given that the Founders specifically rebutted that interpretation of the General Welfare clause in the Federalist Papers, I think it's safe to say that it was not intended for those purposes.

As for the rest of the protest, well, you can tell that we were an un ruly mob by looking at the photo of the concerned police officers. The main thing they had to do was remind people to stay on the sidewalk. Occasionally, someone would step off the sidewalk into the bus lane in order to take pictures, but, a friendly reminder from the cops and everything was once again on the up and up. As I mentioned above, my tea party was fairly easy going. Most of the people driving by either ignored us or honked in support. I know that there's a joke about people always thinking that folks honking are honking in support rather than honking because they think you're an idiot, and, I can't say for certain they were supporting us, but, they were also grinning, waving, and giving us thumbs up, so, I'm fairly certain most of them were on our side. Hopefully next time they'll be at our side rather than just on our side! Not everyone who drove by approved, of course. We did get flipped off by one old black woman and two middle aged white women. One chick in her mid-twenties, covered in peircings and wearing lots of black eye liner so you know she was emotional and 'deep' did feel the need to yell "F^#K all of you! I hope you all....." I don't know what the end of that thought was because the light turned green right as she started screaming and the guy driving took off asap. One thing I learned is that men (at least the men that were driving by) seemed to be much more tolerant (or at least able to stifle their anger) than the women driving by. Not a single man yelled or gestured in anger though I'm sure there were plenty that drove by that disagreed. Speaking of men, one Gary Busey drove by in a Lexus honking and giving us the thumbs up sign. I don't know if he hates taxes or loves parties (or both), but it was nice to see his big toothy grin flashing in our direction. If you've got Gary Busey on your've got the biggest teeth in show business on your side. And, in show business, that's all you need.

All in all, it was a good experience, but, I don't think it accomplished much. This is not to say that it doesn't have the potential to accomplish more, but, right now, I think the result has been more street theater than anything else. Here's what I'd like to see happen:

1) Unify around a single issue - I'm not saying the tax issue doesn't have multiple facets that you can bring out in the protest, but, I am saying that the side issues need to be left to a different forum for now. I get that you think the Federal Reserve was created by Satan. I agree with you that abortion is murder. I don't think a lot of Obama's decisions are that great either. Guess what?!? Tea Parties aren't the place for it. Focus on the amount of money Congress is spending, what they're spending it on and whether or not that is something the government should be spending money on in the first place. Everything else is just a distraction.

2) Have a plan - occasional protests are nice, but, they aren't going to affect any change. This may not have been the case at other Tea Parties, but, at least at the one in Santa Monica, no one really seemed to have a plan for what to do next. The people involved should focus on local issues and candidates as that's where you have the opportunity to have the greatest impact. We can't say that we believe in Federalism and then ignore every election except the one for President. Run for offices like City Council and School Board Member. Find and support candidates for State Legislatures that share your fiscal outlooks. These people serving in the local offices are gaining experience to serve in state/nationwide offices in the coming years. If we get fiscal conservatives elected locally, we'll have a larger group of experienced fiscal conservatives to run nationally.

3) I don't really have a three, but, I don't like lists of two.

1 comment:

  1. I love all three of your signs. I'm such a slacker. I should have made a sign. Your Gary Busey comments are hilarious.