Tea Party vs. US Uncut: A San Francisco Tax Day Showdown
Compare and contrast. That's how my seventh-grade English teacher introduced us to the concept of "the essay." Write a "compare and contrast essay" about two different members of your family, she used to say.
I never had much use for the "compare and contrast" essay -- until now. Because in San Francisco on April 15 I noticed that there were two different protests coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum happening at the same time just a few blocks away from each other -- and neither seemed aware that there was a competing event nearby.
Aha! Time to resurrect my old seventh grade comparing-and-contrasting skills.
The first event was what you'd expect on Tax Day, April 15 -- which has in the space of just three years become the traditional day on which Tea Party rallies are held all over the country. The San Francisco Tea Party's themes were to be "Reduce spending and taxes; Reform public pensions; Revive the business climate."
When the Tea Party first emerged, the pro-big-government left at first tried to ignore it.
When that didn't work, they tried to discredit it.
When that didn't work, they tried insults.
When that didn't work, they tried mockery.
When that didn't work, they tried to undermine it.
When that didn't work, they tried to discredit it again.
But after the Tea Party swept the 2010 elections, the left realized that none of these strategies had any effect. So they adopted a new one:
The big-government advocates are now trying to co-opt the Tea Party. Which seems patently absurd. Yet the progressives are operating on the naive assumption that "populist anger" is itself a politically neutral energy, and that the Tea Party was just lucky to catch the wave and funnel that anger rightward. The big-government advocates now imagine they can seize the reins and funnel that exact same populist uprising toward the left side of the spectrum.
To that end, progressives recently launched US Uncut, an American version of the new British leftist movement which uses "street actions" to demand more funding for the Welfare State. This article in The Nation sums up how they seek to siphon off the Tea Party populist energy:
Imagine a parallel universe where the Great Crash of 2008 was followed by a Tea Party of a very different kind. Enraged citizens gather in every city, week after week—to demand the government finally regulate the behavior of corporations and the superrich, and force them to start paying taxes. The protesters shut down the shops and offices of the companies that have most aggressively ripped off the country. The swelling movement is made up of everyone from teenagers to pensioners. They surround branches of the banks that caused this crash and force them to close, with banners saying, You Caused This Crisis. Now YOU Pay.
As people see their fellow citizens acting in self-defense, these tax-the-rich protests spread to even the most conservative parts of the country. It becomes the most-discussed subject on Twitter. Even right-wing media outlets, sensing a startling effect on the public mood, begin to praise the uprising, and dig up damning facts on the tax dodgers.
Instead of the fake populism of the Tea Party, there is a movement based on real populism. It shows that there is an alternative to making the poor and the middle class pay for a crisis caused by the rich. It shifts the national conversation. Instead of letting the government cut our services and increase our taxes, the people demand that it cut the endless and lavish aid for the rich and make them pay the massive sums they dodge in taxes.
This may sound like a fantasy—but it has all happened. The name of this parallel universe is Britain. ...
Can this model be transferred to the United States? Remember that a few months ago, Brits were as pessimistic about the possibility of a left-wing rival to the Tea Party as Americans are now. ...
UK Uncut has just shown Americans how to express real hope—and build a left-wing Tea Party.
The mission statement of the S.F. Uncut protest was, "Let's tell corporate tax dodgers (who avoid up to $100 Billion in taxes every year) that we're not going to stand for these budget cuts. They caused this crisis, now THEY need to PAY UP." Positioning themselves as populists, they continue, "Bring friends, neighbors, grandparents, teachers, union workers, students, and all others who want to demand a halt to these cuts in the name of a fair and just society."
So we have the real Tea Party at the Embarcadero starting at 4pm, and the new anti-Tea Party, US Uncut, a few blocks away in the Financial District starting at 5pm.
Ready, class? Now compare and contrast.
The San Francisco April 15 Tea Party
I actually had low expectations for the 2011 Tax Day rally -- the mid-term elections were over, and this is an off year, so there was really nothing specific to protest for or against, except just a general re-affirmation of Tea Party principles.
Even so, I was pleasantly surprised -- the turnout was substantial, especially taking into account that this is the heartland of liberal America.
My favorite sign: "Serf's up!"
Reminds me of the old joke:
"Your Majesty -- the peasants are revolting!"
"I know -- and they smell awful too."
The Tea Party populist narrative is: We taxpayers have become like serfs, the workers who labor all day only to see the fruits of our labor confiscated to support the entitled and the idle.
The progressive big-government narrative is: The employed and the business owners have a moral responsibility to help the non-employed, with government taxation the mechanism through which your money is given to the needy.
This sign riffs effectively on the progressive narrative. "I am the parent." Precisely. If the left is going to frame the employed and the well-off as the breadwinners for a dependent national family, then along with that support comes the privilege accorded every parent: We get to make the financial decisions for the household. Clear enough?
In fact, the "parent/child" theme is growing in popularity at Tea Party events, including this one, a development I encourage. Grow up, the taxpayers are saying to their dependents.
Bay Area Patriots ringmistress Sally Zelikovsky knows how to turn the tables on Tea Party detractors. Here, she kicks off the rally by unveiling some Astroturf on stage, skewering the absurd and self-evidently false accusation that the entire Tea Party movement is fake, and that all the activists and voters are somehow paid shills of evil corporations and billionaires. Sally instead announced it was an open mike, and invited any and all citizens to come stand on the Astroturf and speak from the heart on any topic of their choosing. Several took her up on the offer.
This guy got it exactly right. The amount of federal spending will always expand to match (or, these days, exceed) the amount collected in taxes. So you can't solve the deficit problem by raising taxes; all that will do will give a green light to more spending. No, the only way to get us out of debt is to cut spending. So obvious, so simple. And I think the majority of the country now gets it.
This being the Bay Area, a few of the Tea Party signs had uniquely northern California sarcastic references. Cars around here, for example, often sport "Visualize World Peace" bumper stickers; this Tea Partier has her own recommendation.
Bay Areans of all orientations often rationalize their promiscuous escapades as an endless but invariably fruitless quest for "Mr. Right"; and suddenly, "Mr. Right Wing" appears as the ultimate forbidden fruit.
You can't go two steps around here without seeing one of those ubiquitous recycling symbols; but this Tea Party version makes more economic sense!
Hey lady -- stop making sense! Get back in the stereotype box the white liberals have built for you!
Oooooh, you called Obama a communist -- you must be a racist!
Warren Harding and James Buchanan are breathing a sigh of relief.
Concision is the soul of wit.
One of the things I like best about the Tea Party is that people are finally unafraid to be blunt in their truth-telling.
But not all messages were so grumpy.
The Tea Party was just getting started (I presumed correctly that people would come down and join the action at the end of the work day around 5pm -- the event was announced to run from 4pm to 7pm), but I needed to bail out at about 4:40pm and dash up to the US Uncut rally and see what they were up to.