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.
The San Francisco April 15 US Uncut rally
The group's own event listing for the rally said:
Location: meet at St. Mary's Square park - Quincy St. (just north of Grant Ave.) b/n California & Pine St. in SF. We'll be visiting infamous tax dodgers in this neighborhood
Time: 5pm - let's show the rush hour crowd how Uncutters like to make noise!
Who: All ages show - Bring friends, neighbors, grandparents, teachers, union workers, students, and all others
But I showed up at exactly 5:01pm and the picture above shows what St. Mary's Square looked like. Absolutely deserted.
Confused, I asked the guy in the blue shirt if there had been a rally or a group of people of any sort in the park recently. He said yes, in fact, a small group of people with a marching band had briefly been in the park but had left about ten minutes prior.
From the event description I guessed they were marching to the nearby Bank of America world headquarters, so I headed off to look for them. But halfway down the block I encountered this guy. Judging from his sign, I assumed he was also looking for the US Uncut event. We fell into a conversation and I told him that the park was completely deserted. He was like, WTF??? It's still five o'clock!" I said I was going off in search of the rally and invited him to join me, but he instead continued up to the park in a futile quest for the elusive rally.
I went to the Bank of America but I was too late -- they had already come and gone. A guard there confirmed that about 40 people had shown up and left after about five minutes. Although I missed all the action, I luckily was able to track down US Uncut's own video of their "flash mob" invading the B of A main branch:
As you can see, the entire event is highly rehearsed -- all the Uncutters have practiced their dance moves together ahead of time along with the marching band. At 1:55 into the video you can get an overview of all the protesters -- I counted around 45, to be generous.
US Uncut advertised this as the true populist uprising rally, as a contrast to the phony astroturfed Tea Party. But if you invite the public to a rally beginning at 5pm and running to 6:30pm, and the organizers show up as a group early at the assigned place and then depart ten minutes before the public even has a chance to join in; and then go on a flash-mob march that features rehearsed choreographed dances; then it becomes completely obvious that this isn't a mass movement, but rather just a small activist group doing political skits which they had practiced ahead of time, with no public involvement whatsoever.
But wait -- it gets much much worse. Another one of US Uncut's official in-house videographers was also filming the day's event, and put together a 13-minute video of the day's entire protest. You can watch the whole thing here if you're interested; but to save you time I took their own video and excerpted two crucial parts which reveal the utterly phony populism of the whole affair.
The two-minute video is presented below: the first minute shows the SF US Uncut troupe doing their rehearsed and choreographed dance routine. As you watch it, pay close attention and note one of their members wearing a light beige shirt, sunglasses hanging around his neck, with a balding pate and a five-o'clock shadow. You can't miss him in the crowd. But then keep watching. The second minute shows US Uncut about 15 minutes later after they have exited the bank and are now walking down the street. The videographer asks the exact same guy, "Are you here for this demonstration?", to which he replies, "No, I'm just wandering by, but I think all corporations should pay their taxes!" Not satisfied that the performance was believable, the videographer then asks him to repeat the lie so that she can get a better take. Busted!
Here's the transcription starting at 1:08:
US Uncut videographer: Why doesn't B of A pay their taxes? Do you agree?
US Uncut member: I agree completely.
US Uncut videographer: Are you here for this demonstration?
US Uncut member: Say that again?
US Uncut videographer: Are you here for this demonstration?
US Uncut member: No, I'm just wandering by, but I think all corporations should pay their taxes. All of us have to.
US Uncut videographer: Thank you for joining us! Great! That's great.
US Uncut videographer: Say that again -- I cut you off. Say it again.
US Uncut member: I said, I was just wandering by, but I couldn't agree more, all corporations should pay their taxes.
US Uncut videographer: And how about all the banks?
US Uncut member: Especially the banks. They make lots of money and they don't really do anything.
US Uncut videographer: They don't.
US Uncut member: They just hold it for us and give it back to us, and make a profit off of it. They should pay taxes. We pay taxes.
US Uncut videographer: And the Republicans want to steal all the money from the poor. They're not asking for the corporations or banks to pay taxes.
US Uncut member: I bet they wouldn't call it that. They wouldn't call it stealing.
US Uncut videographer: What would they call it, do you think?
US Uncut member: They call it budget cuts.
US Uncut videographer: Yeah! Alright! Very astute! Thank you for coming!
Now, if an organized Tea Party group got caught interviewing one of their own members who falsely claimed to be just a random passerby who joined the protest on the spur of the moment, the left-leaning blogs and media would make it front page news, proof positive that Tea Party populism is fake and that it's not really an authentic populist uprising.
What do you think the response will be to this evidence? (No need to reply -- we already know the answer.)
It seems the only two unrehearsed members of the public who wanted to join the UN Uncut rally were me and the guy with the bicycle. And at least one of us was only there to observe skeptically. Mass movement!
Anyway, I had missed their invasion of the B of A headquarters, but as I wandered around the financial district in search of the protest, I heard a ruckus in the distance and ran in the direction of the sound.
I caught the 45 or so protesters as they approached Market Street, and I snapped a few pictures.
They carried a huge banner condemning "Corporate Tax Cheats" and the US Uncut logo.
Their other slogan was "Chop from the top." Notice that by chance I captured the same faux-passerby among the marchers (right center of the photo).
We went to another Bank of America branch and repeated the same dance that had been done earlier.
How mainstream is US Uncut? Well, one of their members thought it was a good idea to wear a shirt honoring Assata Shakur, the convicted murderer, Marxist revolutionary and Black Liberation Army member who escaped from a life sentence in jail and managed to flee to Cuba where she remains a fugitive protected by the communist regime there. Mainstream populism, here we come!
I eventually bailed out on US Uncut and went back to the Embarcadero to see if I could catch the tail end of the Tea Party event.
Back at the Tea Party
Well, whaddya know, my buddy with the bicycle had discovered the Tea Party after giving up on US Uncut. But unfortunately he turned out to be a little more vituperative than I had first realized. I didn't take any videos that day, but luckily someone else at the rally emailed me a few short video clips of counter-protesters, and one of them featured my bicycle pal screaming "Tax the rich! Tax the rich! Tax the rich!" at the Tea Partiers:
Nearby, a couple more counter-protesters held up signs and yelled vitriol as well; the next video clip in the email showed one of the guys also yelling at the Tea Partiers:
"You gotta keep these taxes going so I can stay on welfare!" he yells. I can only assume he's being sarcastic -- right?
A close-up of his sign harps on the ol' "Medicare is welfare so all you senior Tea Partiers are welfare recipients!" trope.
His buddy was more thoroughly marinated in the leftist narrative: Yeah, the Tea Party is all just a put-up job by the Koch brothers!
It's hard to know if they actually believe their talking points, or if they just hammer away at them for rhetorical effect, despite knowing that they're not true.
What's this? A Tea Partier in a historical costume with a sign saying "Our cause is just and holy"?
Nope. Just another left-wing provocateur trying to discredit the Tea Party. Luckily, Sally Zelikovsky's legendary "Infiltrator Identification Squad" was all over her in an instant, pinpointing the charlatan as she tried to pose in front of the Tea Party banner.
A mainstream media reporter of course made a beeline for the fake Tea Partier and interviewed her, dutifully writing down her purposely offensive quotes.
Well, you might argue, maybe the reporter didn't know the lady in the costume was a phony. It's possible -- right?
Dream on. The MSM reporter interviewed the faker while standing directly under the "Infiltrator" sign.
This is how news is created. Sigh.
Eventually, inevitably, infiltrator and identifier came together and started having a discussion. Here, the real Tea Partier looks down at the fake sign.
They started having a heated discussion, which the interloper recorded for what I can only assume was her own left-leaning media outlet or blog. I particularly like the expression of the guy with the pipe: "We certainly have gotten ourselves into a pickle here, haven't we?" he seems to be saying.
The official capital-L Libertarian Party showed up at the rally...
...as did the Republican Party. But frankly, as you can see in these pictures, neither attracted much interest.
Meanwhile, I spotted some people filling out questionnaires. Curious. I zoomed in to find that...
...it was a questionnaire about attitudes toward various social issues, assessing where people stood on the laissez-faire/religious spectrum. I can only assume that the questionnaire was devised by the Libertarians, who are fond of such things.
The media and the left endlessly and falsely accuse the Tea Party of being race-obsessed, but the only sign at the rally which even mentioned that concept in any way was this one standing in opposition to racism. At this stage, the "racist!" accusation is so ridiculous that it's not even worth rebutting, so such signs end up looking defensive, but I can understand how the slander can get under some people's skins.
Let ask these Tea Party friends: Are you racist?
To round off the report, I present you with a few more captionless pictures for your amusement.
See you at the next Tea Party!
JammieWearingFool notes a US Uncut/Coffee Party combo-protest in Chicago that drew a whopping...(brace yourself)...20 people! Gee, maybe this 45-strong S.F. Uncut protest was more successful than I realized -- when measured against other Uncut protests.