Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, shown here, leads FreedomWorks, a nonprofit Washington-based advocacy group. (Photo: Louie Psihoyos / CORBIS)
As all working people know, April 15 is Tax Day, when we have to pay our annual financial tributes to the Powers That Be. Naturally, we resent this, because we know that the rich and powerful hire expensive tax attorneys to make sure they get out of paying taxes, leaving us to foot most of the bill for running the government.
And we also know that most of our hard-earned tax dollars aren't used to provide jobs, schools, housing, health care or taking care of the disadvantaged. No, they're used primarily to support the very wealthy and to pay for past, present and future wars.
As the economy worsens, it's inevitable that working people will get more and more angry about this state of affairs. We might even want to come together and do something about it. Now, the rich and powerful can't have that, can they?
So it should come as no surprise that right-wing organizations would try to pre-empt our justified anger by organizing phony anti-tax protests that claim to represent the "grassroots," but actually promote the interests of the rich and powerful.
Welcome to the Tax Day Tea Party Rallies.
On April 15, a collection of neoconservatives, self-proclaimed "free-marketers" and right-wing libertarians held hundreds of rallies involving many thousands of people across the country. Drawing on the symbolism of the anti-tax Boston Tea Party of 1773, the organizers called for Tax Day Tea Parties in cities across the country. The sheer size of the turn-out suggests the rallies weren't the result of the work of just a few fringe groups, but neither were they simply spontaneous outpourings of disgust at a "tax-and-spend" federal administration, as many commercial media pundits suggested.
So who was behind these "Tax Parties?"
According to the organizers, the call for the rallies originated with local talk show hosts and was then spread through online social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. But the movement also got a lot of help from exposure on Fox News - not exactly a "grassroots" outfit - and, according to The Associated Press, was heavily promoted by FreedomWorks, a nonprofit Washington-based advocacy group led by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, "a lobbyist whose corporate clients include Verizon, Raytheon, liquor maker Diageo, CarMax and drug company Sanofi Pasteur." In 2007, the last year for which returns are available, the AP reported, FreedomWorks' educational and charitable arms received more than $6 million in donations.
According to its own web site, the Tea Party Movement is sponsored by four organizations: The New American Tea Party, the ReTeaParty, the Tea Party Revolution and the Free Pocket Constitution.
The New American Tea Party describes itself as "a coalition of citizens and organizations concerned about the recent trend of fiscal recklessness in government." This group promoted the April 15 rally in Washington, DC, sponsored by the American Spectator, Heartland Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Prosperity and the Young Conservatives Coalition, all well-known right-wing organizations.
ReTeaParty is affiliated with something called the Political Exploration and Awareness Committee PAC, which says it "campaigns on behalf of issues, candidates, and potential candidates that promote honesty and Constitutional leadership."
And, presumably, apple pie, motherhood and heart-warming baseball games on hot summer evenings.
The Tea Party Revolution's web site says "We are just like you: a group of citizens concerned about the growing size of our government."
But the fourth, the Free Pocket Constitution, which offers free, pocket-sized copies of the US Constitution, is sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, this country's leading - and very well-funded - right-wing think tank.
Here in Virginia, 19 rallies were scheduled in cities and towns across the state. One of the largest was held in downtown Richmond, the state capital, in a public park next to the regional Federal Reserve Building. The local media reported a crowd of 3,000 people. But in this majority African-American city, observers reported seeing virtually no people of color.
The event's MCs were local WRVA radio personalities and noted immigrant bashers Doc Thompson and Jimmy Barrett. (WRVA, by the way, is owned by Clear Channel Communications, Inc., a private Texas-based behemoth that owns more than 800 high-power US AM and FM radio stations, plus more media outlets in other countries.)
The featured speaker was John Taylor, president of both the Virginia Institute for Public Policy (VIPP) and an outfit with the arcane name "Tertium Quids."
Although not well-known outside political circles, VIPP is a statewide neoconservative think tank that plays a leading role in promoting right-wing policies in the Virginia General Assembly. Besides pumping out heavily slanted (to the right) policy papers, it also promotes something called the Tuesday Morning Group, hosted by Tertium Quids.
The Group is a coalition of conservative political activists that meets on the second Tuesday of every month at the tony Bull & Bear Club in downtown Richmond. The discussions focus on three main policy areas: taxes, property rights and "education reform." (You can read that last item as "weakening public education by promoting charter schools and school vouchers.") The Tuesday Morning Group claims to have hundreds of members, including "representatives from more than 200 organizations, 44 members of the General Assembly or congressional staffers, and 26 members of the media."
And you wonder why the right-wingers in government seem so organized. It's because they are organized.
And, as the author F. Scott Fitzgerald once put it, "The rich are not like you and me."
Far from it. We true grassroots activists like to form tiny little groups that pick one or two issues to concentrate on, completely divorced from other areas of struggle. The rich, on the other hand, build organizations and coalitions that bring together activists addressing a wide variety of issues. Somehow they are much more conscious of their own common class interests. They realize that, at bottom, there are just two sides: the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, the bosses and the workers, those who own the means of production and those who spend their lives working for those who own them.
Fortunately, there is an effort to unite the progressive movements of all poor and working people here in Virginia.
On January 10, nearly 90 representatives from the black and Latino communities; labor unions; prisoner rights advocates; students; women; the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities; and the antiwar movement gathered in Richmond - in a church basement, not the Cock & Bull Club - and founded the Virginia People's Assembly.
The VPA has the potential to become a framework to unite all these various struggles. Already it's been successful in putting people in touch with each other across racial lines and geographic distances. On March 7 it helped bring people to a statewide march in Farmville organized by People United and Mexicanos Sin Fronteras to oppose construction of a 1,000-bed immigrant detention center. On March 29 it brought people from the immigrant, prisoner and antiwar movements to a mass march against racism in rural Powhatan County organized by the NAACP. It supported the pro-Employee Free Choice Act demonstration held April 14 in downtown Richmond, a protest called by the Virginia AFL-CIO and Richmond Jobs with Justice. It's working to ensure that the prisoner advocacy group R.I.H.D. can continue its not-for-profit van service that enables low-income families to visit their loved ones in Virginia's far-away prisons.
Right now we are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930's. The banks and big corporations will get their bail-outs, but working people are in line for more job cuts, deeper cutbacks, more evictions and foreclosures. People are not going to put up with this situation forever. Already we are seeing signs of motion, from both the left and the right.
As the crisis deepens, there will be two ways to go: dividing up by race, gender and income levels in a right-wing movement to maintain the dominance of the wealthy - an effort represented by the April 15 Tax Day rallies - or uniting the multiracial working class in formations like the Virginia People's Assembly.
Which side will you be on?