Gag me with a spoon. The Nation, having long ago turned into a dinosaur, urges to create yet another way to divide us. Perhaps its editors are jealous of the energy of the Tea Party, a loosely assembled resistance of middling sorts of people – mostly, but not all, conservative and libertarian — who finally yelled “enough.” For all their faults, they have been the only visible and ongoing U.S. grassroots effort to have done so. It is not surprising that the Left, whatever’s left of it, having failed to ridicule them out of existence, now wants to coopt the very idea. Perhaps they hope we will forget that the Progressives have long since lost the high moral ground over those ‘painted Indians who tossed the tea into the Boston Harbor’ of our latter day imagination. Trailing the foul stench of the 20th century behind them, these are the same Progressives who brought us the compulsory part of education along with Prohibition and the drug war, and who could not wait to translate their admiration for Mussolini’s fascism into the American setting under the Roosevelt administration. These benighted lefties are trying to grab a new life raft that would allow their largely bankrupt ideologies to survive. Not all their later efforts have misfired, but the impetus to push Progress “as they know best” down the gullets of the rest of us ‘the great unwashed’ richly deserves to be laid to rest.
Enough of this phony high-handed progression in the wrong direction. Enough of letting ourselves be divided into blues and reds, into lefties and righties, into Progressives and uh, Regressives. Aren’t we Americans? Aren’t we the descendants of people who said no to king, no to elitism, no to governance away from the eyes of the people, no to fleecing by 18th century English bullies? That revolution was won… and then set back, as new American elites eagerly stepped into the shoes of ousted British minions.
We do need a more encompassing Tea Party; one that is seeking neither to be a party nor to swagger into the ranks of the current power holders. How about a Tea Party that is inclusive of all Americans with good-will toward their fellow citizens, that builds bridges to common ground for the sake of all who want to live lives free of economic, governmental or memic repression? We could, you know, have a Tea Party that ignores the monkey tricks of the political parties, and instead seeks to grow the commonwealth from each community outward.
It may not take much to get going with the help of cyberorganizing. As the Nation article points out, a wave of protests is growing in England that targets wealthiest individuals and chain stores who pay hardly any taxes whatsoever via creative and “lawful” dodging, while pensioners and kids are losing access to affordable housing and education because of “unavoidable” benefit cuts. Begun by a bunch of angry “nobodies” in a pub, it is spreading fast, being joined by people from all walks of life who would normally not think at all of becoming activists.
But the problem with UKUncut is that it looks like another flash-in-the-pan single issue protest. It focuses solely on getting corporations and the rich to pay more taxes, an issue that is right/left polarized, and may well backfire (corporations and the rich have the best lawyers and the best buddies in the government; is it a good idea to push them to evolve to be yet cannier in their shenanigans?). I cannot deny my pleasure in seeing Britain’s high-level PR people mumbling defensively about the right and the responsibility(!) to taxdodge. But frankly, the rolling breakdown of our world will not be addressed by boycotting a few corporations. Fighting over the economic pie is an old lefty war, and that war has been won by the elites. No matter; the issues are far larger — larger than taxes, larger than corporate misconduct, larger than capitalism itself. The pillars of this civilization are cracking. Who among us ‘cooperative radicals’ will have the guts to put on warpaint and whoop it up for the big stuff? No more planetary plunder! No more destruction of the commons! No more support for brutal dictators the world over so we can keep on with this ridiculous shallow existence, not really a life but a lifeStyle™ that, we are told by public liars, is “not negotiable,” when in fact has been renegotiated downward for decades!
The Tea Party is not, nor should it be, a single issue protest, but a call for us all to say no to overweening power, a call to mobilize for the second installment of the American Revolution. Not a vehicle for yet another round of ideologue aggrandizement, but rather a coming together of all those wanting to make a difference in the lives of ordinary people and the wellbeing of the planet. It is chiefless, despite the efforts of some grasping climbers to usurp its mantle. It relies on local initiatives, and apart from its high regard for the Constitution, there is no single issue supported by all tea-baggers.
Consider Egypt. While a few old opposition personages are angling for a way into the new transitional government, prompted by the media’s steady drumbeat of “show me the leader,” the revolt’s real leadership has been among the grassroots, mostly humble and anonymous, largely acephalous, and better for it. As Scottish observers say:
The most distinguishing feature of the Egyptian revolt, which hasn’t ended or succeeded yet, is that this factor was dominant: a highly networked movement of focused, motivated young people had rapid success with relatively little violence. The role of leadership here is key. The uprising was marked by covert leaders rather than charismatic ones – a lesson the Scottish left might do well to reflect on after recent experiences.
The Tunisian and Egyptian people, loosely connected by internet and phones, each having brought down a corrupt regime within weeks, are learning to defend their neighborhoods against thugs, and will shortly begin inventing the next stage of their revolution. They are supported by an assorted medley of outsiders including Al Jazeera, wikileaks and “Anonymous.” (Don’t miss out on the evolving Guide to Protecting the North African Revolutions by Anon.) I have a feeling that the lesson to be learned by us Americans will be far greater than simply knowing, as distant witnesses, how easy it can be to bring down despots whose time had run out. When do we step up to the plate? Why should we sit on the sidelines while the rest of the world begins to throw off rusty old shackles?
Perhaps the Tea Party can be our next step, as we learn about “leaderless” politics and connect across old divisions, seeking allies among those who have been branded by the media as our enemies. Extending and enlarging the Tea Party makes eminent sense as long as we avoid the trap of turf-bound primadonna leaders eager to be feted and celebrated by the PTB or by those vested in dated left/right straightjackets. Such rebel groups could form the basis of local equivalents of the Committees of Safety, following the example of shrewd colonial insurgents of the 1770s. Nimble, practical, and addressing real everyday insults to our intelligence and well-being, they can be one of the vehicles moving us past this imperial domestic impasse. Let the grassroots send brand new shoots out in all parts of the world this spring. Let the dominoes fall… all the way home!