Friday, April 09, 2010
Reflections On Tea Time
By Jason Johnson
Published on 04/23/2009
A week ago I ventured to one of the various “Tea Parties” that sprung up across America on Tax Day.
While I expected a great deal of justifiable anger and bashing of the new president, what I didn’t expect was such a dearth of knowledge about American history and politics. I applaud any Americans that want to peacefully but forcefully critique their government, but these Tea Parties aren’t about making change as much as they are about citizen anger being used to promote a corporate agenda.
The “Tea Party” concept had been ‘brewing’ in America for several weeks heading into the first tax day of the Obama administration, and literally boiled over across about 10 major cities from early morning till evening. Americans are justifiably and understandably angry. The nation is facing a long and potentially transformative economic crisis. The tea party I attended on a rainy and blustery day in downtown Cleveland was reflective of a wide swath of America. So long as that wide swath was mostly over the age of 45, Caucasian and didn’t vote for the sitting president. For an event that was advertised as a ‘non-partisan’ appeal to change the nature of tax laws in America, there were surprisingly few Democrats, or Green Party activists, although there were a number of Libertarians. There was not one bill mentioned; no specific tax pinpointed. In fact, there was very little in the way of actual policy being discussed by speakers or protesters. All of this under the guise of the “Boston Tea Party,” which makes one question the degree to which anyone there actually knew the historical facts behind the name they were appropriating.
Most of us who can remember grade school history classes know the basics of the “Boston Tea Party” story. On a cold day in November, American citizens, dressed up like Indians to hide their identities, broke onto ships in the Boston Harbor and dumped thousands of pounds of tea into the water as protest against the taxes levied upon them by the British Empire. This version of the story has a nice “Anti-Government Tax” spin to it, even though that is not the real motivation behind the Tea Party. The only eyewitness account of the event was by George Hewes, an unknown shoemaker from Boston, who’s story was discovered and recounted in several books in the two plus centuries since the event. To hear George tell it, this protest wasn’t so much about taxes on the people as it was about tax breaks for big corporations. Hewes clearly stated: “The (East India) Company received permission to transport tea, free of all duty, from Great Britain to America...” Basically, the East Indian company, one of the largest corporations in the world at the time, had been given huge tax breaks by the government and using those discounts to undersell small business people, putting folks out of work. In today’s world, a Boston Tea Party would be a group of laid off Circuit City employees dressing up like Mexican migrant workers, breaking into Wal-Mart and trashing the electronics section.
And therein lies the true problem with the Tea Party protests. I applaud and appreciate any American citizen who wants to criticize the government and hold elected officials accountable. Holding up signs critiquing the fact that Obama has appointed men and women to fix our economy who didn’t have the discipline to pay their own back taxes makes sense to any reasonable person. But you hope that the people out there protesting know for whom and what they are protesting. The Boston Tea Party originally was a group of disgruntled small businessmen who felt the government was selling them out to large corporations. The current Tea Parties are little more than a front for the very same large corporations that are abusing the common man today. The ‘spontaneous’ Tea Parties across America are funded by former Congressman and Lobbyist Dick Armey, Empower America, Fox News and Freedomworks, all organizations that lobby Congress against increasing the minimum wage, expanding healthcare benefits and a whole host of other programs that are essentially the only safety net left for the very people protesting at these rallies. This is not a people’s revolution; this is large corporate interests using the fears and passions of the common man to promote an agenda that ultimately will be their undoing.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor of political science and communications at Hiram College in Ohio, where he teaches courses in campaigns and elections, pop culture, and the politics of sports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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