Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tempest in a Teapot

My international network of Marxist socialists informs me of two protests at the Washington State Capitol yesterday, superficially for or against "raising taxes." In a nutshell: the first group were Teabaggers, those beloved right-populists who draw on the stock imagery of the Revolutionary War to make their stand against unfair taxation. The character of this group, which is getting national media coverage disproportionate to their numbers (as can be seen in the above article), appears to be mostly nationalists, conservatives from the working class, and supporters of small business. It's a movement backed, essentially, by politicians and the wealthy.

The second group in Olympia was a coalition of education workers, rank-and-file AFSCME (representing state, county, and municipal workers), and dozens of other unions and progressive organizations. While this group didn't have a strong slogan - something like "no more cuts" doesn't really challenge the "no more tax" slogan that strikes a reactionary chord in the red-white-and-blue heart - there were numerous signs showing a more piercing solution: "Tax the rich," "Money for jobs, not war."

Straining to move its money-oiled muscles, the Republican populists drummed up 3,000 people. Then AFSCME and other unions just peek up their head and the grass-roots progressive come out with minimum summons: over 5,000 strong. Chances are good that if a broader coalition of labor came out with a more progressive stance - pressuring the Democrats to raise taxes on the rich, for example - even more supports would fall in and join their voice to the movement. The Teabaggers are so bankrupt in ideology that they must round out their strength with cold hard cash. They rely on their novelty, their patriotism, their big names and their batshit crazy eccentricity to bag them media coverage. If CNN ignored them for two months, they and their numbskull mouthpieces would have gone the way of "the Macarena" after last April's Tea Party hissy-fits.

Speaking of Sarah Palin, her address to the "National Tea Party" this month seems like a good direction to take this analysis. What she said there in Nashville deserves to live on in history, because history will make sure she lives to regret her big fat mouth.

"America is ready for another revolution and you are a part of it."

When I saw that she said that, that those actual words came out of her actual face, I couldn't believe it. Revolution. That is a rather large word for Palin - and a dangerous one at that. The ruling class of politicians - Republican or Democrat, right or center right - doesn't want the working class waving signs in the streets unless it can be very carefully controlled. Olympia's progressives were given just enough media coverage that they could feel warm and fuzzy about their part in the political protest but they were by no means lauded in the newspaper. It isn't policy to encourage that sort of pro-active behavior. (Imagine if Democrat politicians had called for national strikes and walk-outs in favor of the President's public option - 'nuff said ... for now.) If you must have a march, you are given a permit and a police escort, a blurb and a pat on the back, and then sent right back into work, missy, and don't you worry, Washington has you covered.

The establishment doesn't want the masses out on the streets. It wants to keep public discourse wrapped up in bureaucratic channels so that policy in pursuit of profit can be very delicately managed. To them, a protest is a barometer. It's maybe a step above getting letters in the mail. Note where Washington state governor Gregoire says, "Let's have a good discussion, let's be respectful of each other." Using this parliamentary language with either side is an exercise in futility. Calling the people into the street is asking the djinn out of the bottle: something is going to be done. The cards are down. It is a measure of power, not the high school debate team. (During a labor strike it is yet more so a measure of power, but that is a discussion for another time.)

And that is, perhaps, the ironic thing about Palin's speech ... that is, perhaps, the ironic thing about the Teabagger movement in general. It isn't significant when a politician or a corprocrat comes to a rally. They have ulterior motives; they are playing the fame game, a popularity contest. And what a dangerous line it is to walk, because calling the people into the streets gives them a taste of agency. The working class by nature is revolutionary - nothing in this nation or any other runs, flies, ships, drives, or rolls off an assembly line without the hands and heads of the working class. I do not mean by this that every working class movement is a progressive movement, merely that if workers are called to the street and get a taste of power, they make or break a political movement.

Palin and her peers would be well served to remember this. Actual revolutions are not a sentimental thing. No true movement would think twice about throwing her to the wayside to realize its own character. And she, and her movement, are practical bereft of any but the most sentimental demands. In the coming months and years we will see how this plays out - and how, presumably, the Republicans will sell out what few confused grass-roots supporters they have.

1 comment:

comrade x said...

A good barometer of how dangerous a movement is to the Establishment is to note how many politicians support it. Quite a few Republicans have attempted, with varying degrees of success, the Tea Parties. Contrast this with Obama's very public rejection of the Seattle anti- capitalist protests or Barney franks's outright dismissal of the LGBT March On Washington last year.