Thursday, April 16, 2009

Teabagging Everyone in America

I've briefly mentioned my dissertation above. Another chapter I'm considering deals with the tea(bagger) protests that were much discussed and occurred yesterday across the US. As part of (I guess you could call it) quasi-ethnographic research, I attended the Atlanta tea(bag) party and took some pictures. I got there around 6:45 and just walked around. The crowd was pretty big (I'm terrible at numbers, but if I had to guess, I'd say maybe 5,000). It was at the State Capitol. There was a big stage where speaker after speaker went up and spoke their peace about how we're overtaxed and spending our children's future. There were also two big screens showing the people on stage (which seems a little expensive and intricate for an "entirely organic, grassroots" sort of thing, but maybe these grassroots must have a lot of money). I didn't join in any of the protesting or cheering when speakers made their fairly standard points. One speaker mentioned the three goals of the movement: property rights, lower taxes, and a Christian nation. Other than that, it was difficult to see the basic point of the protests other than to complain about the current administration. I come to this conclusion despite the idea that some of the protesters voiced to me that this was about implementing the so-called Fair Tax (and there were plenty of signs for that). Below I have a slideshow of pictures I took at the event. I tried mostly to get signs, and I noticed a few patterns in the rhetoric emerging as I was there. I'm not entirely sure what I think about this, but I feel like there is something interesting that I can say with the help of some of the folks I've been reading this semester. This protest seems like an attempt to constitute a certain type of economic citizen whose relationship to the government is minimal in the hopes that the unfettered free market will magically flourish and help everyone in the country (or at least everyone who matters).

This also feels like an entirely unoriginal hodgepodge of right-wing slogans and talking points with almost no sense of 1) what their sense of the world should look like (other than replace the income tax with the unconstitutional national sales tax) other words, it's just a negative reaction to the status quo; or 2) how to bring about that change other than through supporting conservatives running for office.

I think that part of the issue is that you have your standard, run-of-the-mill conservatives protesting against Obama and the "liberal" (scare quotes are, of course, intentional) policies Washington is putting in place to respond to the extraordinary economic crisis protesing alongside the more extreme (dare I say fringe?) elements of our political culture, calling for scrapping the income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax
(which would require a Constitutional Amendment to repeal another Constitutional Amendment) and abolishing the Federal Reserve. I even saw a rebel flag at this event, which could suggest, among other things, an openness to secession. As Rachel Maddow so correctly points out, tax day protests have been done inthe past. The difference this year seems to be the way that the Republican party has decided to co-opt this tradition in the hopes that it can reconstitute the GOP into a viable political force in the years to come. The problem seems to be, though, less that they are "astroturf" as opposed to "grassroots" as much as the fact that they're using these old arguments to deal with an economic environment that doesn't fit this perspective. That disconnect is what's so interesting to me, and I'm wondering both what the conditions of possibility are for the reactions to the crisis and the conditions of possibility for the drive to incorporate these protests into a larger political movement.