photo credit: Captive Light

Yes, it’s true. I’m not attending one of the many tea parties being organized on this, the day of legalized American thievery. Upset citizens across the country are rallying in various locations to voice their concerns, hold up their signs, and maybe get on the news.

But I have several concerns with the movement, leading me to decline participation in what otherwise might be a great opportunity to apply some pressure and fight for real change. A few of them are as follows:

Listen up, politicians! Um, will you please come speak at our rally?

In what might otherwise be a move of solidarity by “we the people” against the government they feel does not represent them well (or at all), some tea parties have decided to court and invite the very leeches they so (allegedly) criticize. In Salt Lake City, for example, three government officials have been invited to speak: Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, US Representative Rob Bishop, and US Representative Jason Chaffetz. Other locations have likewise invited government officials to be their voice.

What’s wrong with this? Well, it seems rather ironic that a protest against government intervention into the marketplace (through taxation, bailouts, stimuli, and the rest) would be headlined by those who officially represent that government. Leaving aside any personal virtues of the individual government officials themselves, stacking the event with so many of them cannot be ignored as a symbolic gesture. If this event portends to be the people organizing to demand that the government listen to them, it’s ineffective to instead ask the government to come and speak so the people can instead be on the listening end.

To further illustrate this absurdity, consider the original Boston Tea Party. Most would agree (I hope) that the colonials’ active protest would have lost its symbolism and force had they instead chosen to invite His Majesty’s royal tax collectors to share their thoughts. Citizen protests are diluted when they give the floor primarily to those who represent the government to the people, not vice versa.

Signs, shouting, and spinning wheels

In my observation of the tea party movement, I have seen few proposals of action items. Sending tea bags in the mail and holding up signs in front of a government building may make the individual feel good about their political involvement, but pray tell, what does it really accomplish? At the end of the day, will any minds have been changed? Will real pressure have been applied to the congresscritters passing all these bailouts?

Again, let’s go back to Boston. What sparked the revolutionary fever—the catalyst produced from the protest—was not mere words. Eloquent and impassioned essays had been circulated previously, and many (colonial) minds had indeed been persuaded. But true change came to fruition as a result of physically dumping the target of Britain’s taxes into the harbor. Simple protesting on the sidelines would not have sufficed, as this would only have caused some noise while the ships were unloaded and the product distributed.

Obviously, civil disobedience need not be violent to be effective. Nobody is calling for another “shot heard ’round the world,” nor campaigning for chaos and coercion. Instead, what I’m trying to illustrate is that until our elected officials (and their appointed cohorts) are threatened with loss of power, they will not respond. From what I’ve observed thus far, I seriously doubt that any of them feel their positions are jeopardized by some angry, shouting groups of people who make clever signs and send bags of tea in the mail.

Far more effective would be galvanizing the public immediately prior to elections, or during other events where change can be made. If frustration is not channeled into action, it is nothing more than hot air. Harnessed, its steam might be made powerful; left alone, it disperses and quickly cools. As the emcee of one tea party has said:

If these events are to evolve into genuine ballot box revolt, it will be up to Tea Party attendees to catch this lightning in a bottle and keep it glowing until we can rein in this pernicious wave of panic spending by electing people of both parties who want no part of it.

Protest together, get taxed alone

While the main focus of the tea parties is our heavy tax burden and government bailouts of failing companies, there are plenty of other issues being brought to the forefront by participants. Radio shows, online forums, and blog posts offer up all sorts of ideas for inclusion in the tea party protests. Most notable is the ease with which such a protest is generalizing into an anti-Obama crusade, with upset “conservatives” angry at Democrat spending and government largess. (That such partisans ignore the fact that George Bush taxed, grew government, and bailed out with the rest of ‘em is, apparently, left to the historians.)

This partisan focus is not only hypocritical, but detrimental to the fight for liberty and freedom from government intervention. If the end goal is to restore the federal throne to so-called conservatives, then it is a lost cause; Republicans and Democrats alike have been taxing and spending for decades, each trying to outpace the other. If the tea parties are to be successful, they must lose all partisan interest and accuse both parties of the same cycle of intervention, taxation, and inflation. All sides of the political spectrum must unite together to demand that their "representatives" take heed and obey the Constitution—not only when they are the “loyal opposition,” but (more importantly) when their party is in control. If this remains a largely Republican cause, it will fail.

Good luck, I’ll be watching from the sidelines

All this being said, I understand the need that some people have to do something. Frustrated both with their government and with their own apathy, many feel that getting out and shouting at a government building will be an effective use of their time. Frankly, I sincerely hope that I am proven wrong with the issues I’ve listed above (and others I have, but don’t have time to expound upon), and that these tea parties can serve as a catalyst for actual change.

And that’s what it’s about—real change. Not just the change of guard who enforces the same policy; not just the change of parties which carries out the same philosophy, differing only in speed and methodology; not reducing bailouts by a few hundred million dollars to placate the vocal minority; not lessening one tax, only to increase another. As just one example, Congressman Rob Bishop (speaking at today’s SLC tea party) was on the radio this morning discussing his participation in today’s events. During the conversation, he talked about Obama’s proposal of health care policies as a way of “fixing the economy”, suggesting that he and other Republicans have proposed an “alternative”—namely, a “market-based” approach to health care. This is not change! Real change is making our federal officials understand that they have no Constitutional authority to do anything about it in the first place!

Bailouts, excessive taxes, and the other numerous interventions into the marketplace do not need to be lessened or made market-friendly. They need to be eliminated entirely. That is what the protesters in Boston were all about when they hurled the taxed product into the cold waters of the harbor. That is what we need to be about if our protests and activism is to be effective.

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