So I don’t watch cable news, but the internet tells me that there is some sort of uproar going on over on the libertarian/right quadrant of the political map. Something about taxes, and tea? Maybe you’ve heard?
It’s interesting to see protest and even hints of radicalism coming from the right. On the one hand, it’s frightening as all hell; on the other hand, it’s a pleasant surprise to see people actually acting like they care about something. A month or so ago there was a hullabaloo about corporate power and AIG bonuses; now we have this inane “tea party” thing where some folks seem to be upset about paying taxes. I think those are fine things to be outraged about (albeit selfish when it comes to taxes). After all, I am at least halfway in favor of a revolution, though my version would be a whole lot different from a right-wing one.
I find the protests today ironic in a couple ways, though. It’s been pointed out elsewhere that, if anyone in this country deserves to have an anti-taxation tea party, it is DC citizens like me. I get taxed without representation as a matter of course. I don’t get terribly upset about it; taxes don’t bother me much (although how my taxes are spent does).
The other funny thing, though, is that these protests on April 15 come on the ninth (!!) anniversary of another little protest that happened in Washington, one that seems to be half-forgotten. Nine years ago today I spent the night in a police holding facility after getting swept up in a broadscale illegal arrest of protesters and bystanders (I was something in between) ahead of the A16 protests of the World Band and IMF meetings. Taxes were the last thing on my mind, though I was paying noticeable taxes for the first time, having just started my first real job, and I was just as disenfranchised then as now.
The A16 protests were the follow-up to the “Battle in Seattle” in the inchoate, non-hierarchical, anti-globalist, leftist protest movement that was mostly decapitated by the 9/11 attacks. For the record, I never was exactly opposed to the World Bank and I know that it really believes in its mission of ending poverty. Still, it was (and remains) part of a disastrous system; it’s a cog in the wheel. I still sympathize more with the protesters than I ever will with the WTO. The interesting thing is that a lot of the goals of that anti-globalization movement came true. Those protests were more effective than they seemed at the time. Look at how the Doha Round has failed to get anywhere. Look at how the balance of global economic power has shifted away from the U.S. Look at how development policies and strategies have shifted in the aftermath of the protests.
I don’t want the right-wingers to have even that level of success in changing the world, but I am pretty much in complete favor of populist movements and demonstrations. I’m not going to judge these tea parties by their looniest attendees: everyone that attends a political protest can be impacted by it, and maybe the experience will open up a few people’s eyes. That seems like something we can all rally behind. There is nobility in fighting for global justice, but there is also dignity in going out and trying to make a statement about political and corporate corruption. Maybe some of the populists can help seize control of the benumbed Republican Party from the miserable fat cats and CEOs who ran it into the ground. To all the rational conservatives who protested today, I had no interest in joining you — again, I don’t mind paying taxes — I’ll be happy to sip some tea in modest solidarity.
By the way there is a paucity of information about A16 on the web. It was all over the internet in 2000, I swear! I tracked down a NYT article detailing the arrests (note how the police lied about the incident). I also found this interesting set of youtube videos… they’re a little dumb at times but they do capture the spirit of the times. Part 2 is a little more interesting.
And here is a little treat: my receipt for paying my citation (the alternative to paying $50 was to stay in jail and wait to see a judge). I also still have a little piece of plastic somewhere in a box: a snippet of the plastic cuffs I wore that night.