Friday, January 21, 2011

Enjoying Tea at a Tea Party Meeting

Today I attended my first Tea Party meeting.  I didn't even know that there was a Tea Party in Ukiah Valley, but there certainly is.  I had heard that a social activist group met every 3rd Thursday at Jensen's truck stop restaurant.  Believing that all we activists need to stop being many little fractured groups but coalesce on the big issues in agreement, I set out to make advances toward coalition.  Much to my surprise and horror, I found myself at a Tea Party meeting. 

The first thing I encountered was a smiling Christian looking man welcoming me and handing me a sign in sheet.  The only other person in the room was a man with "Dirty Old Man" written on his cap.  I ordered my dinner, and decided to sit as far away from the dirty old man as possible.  They had glossy multi-color pamphlets calling themselves the "Ukiah Valley Patriots."  I consider myself a patriot because I am passionate about the Constitution.  I discovered that is one of the things we all had in common, a passion for the Constitution.  In fact, this week they started a weekly series of teaching the Constitution that was so well attended that they ran short of materials. 

I struck up a conversation with the first man, Duane, and asked about the history of this group.  They began about 10 months ago; their first action was to protest taxes.  I studiously asked what their issue was with taxes.  Do they want to eliminate them.  Duane said he can't talk for the Tea Party, but his personal belief is that there ought to be a flat tax, the same for everyone, and no loopholes.  As we chatted, more and more people filled the room.  I thoroughly agreed with Duane that the tax system is broken and a flat tax equal for everyone would be more fair.  Then I asked him about eliminating deductions for depreciation, mortgage interest, charity donations, etc., and I saw people looking at me like I had struck an irritating cord in them.  One man talked about corporate welfare and corporate loopholes, and I found I totally agreed with him. 

Another man stood up and talked about how home-schooled children go to public school and are turned into liberals there with notions like welfare, medicare for all, and free lunch.  He complained passionately that there was not a single Tea Party member in that assembly that was polluting the minds of our youth and turning them into liberals.  He later repeated his tale to the full group and added how we must shape the minds of our youth while they are still young. 

Considering that it was the eve of the 1-year anniversary of the anti-Constitutional Supreme Court decision called Citizen's United v. FEC, I went around asking people what they thought of that decision.  The only one who had ever heard of it was Ms. secretary, who declined to talk about it.  I think, by that point, she had already identified me as the enemy. 

Pretty soon, the room was packed.  I envied them because our little progressive group can barely get 5 people to attend.  The Democratic caucuses barely got 40 people to attend, and another 40 attended in Eureka, for a total of 88 Democratic voters in a 5 county region.  There were 41 people in this room, including myself.  On the whole, the majority were Caucasian.  I overheard people talking about their ancestors coming over on the Mayflower.  There was one Hispanic man who covered up his accent speaking a careful general American, but I heard the little inflections in his voice and pronunciation of certain consonants that revealed his roots.  There was one Hawaiian.  We pledged allegiance to the flag, and prayed to Jesus Christ to guide us in doing the right thing. 

I noted a fat, hardbound copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.  I had recently read the book to find out what all the conservative references were all about.  There was only one person in the room that had also read it, the secretary, who had the same name as me.  She said, "It is certainly a great book, isn't it?"  I replied that it was amazing.  I gazed around at the many blank faces in the room and realized that this was not a very literate crowd.  In fact, there were only 4 slim people in the room.  All the rest were obese.  Ms. secretary was one of the slim, literate ones. 

As they followed the agenda with the order of business, the key presenter was a man donating 100 conservative books up for grabs.  That's all he had to say.  So, in his place, a retired police chief got up and talked about listening to three days of Glenn Beck talking about George Soros.  He was inspired to Google George Soros and presented us with a 3-page summary of all of his connections.  He connected Soros with Goldman Sachs, which was a surprise.  I looked it up afterwards, and found that Soros had purchase up to 40% of Goldman Sachs in 2008, but dumped the stock later saying that the banking sector was insolvent.  After a good 10-minutes of badmouthing the EVIL George Soros, someone mentioned that he did all that totally out in the open!  The room was aghast!  I was also silently aghast that patriots that love free enterprise and the Constitution, would find it shocking that a philanthropic capitalist would operate in the open. 

After the former police chief mentioned Soros' history as a Jewish Nazi collaborator, he related a tale of a billionaire starting several investment and philanthropic organizations, as well as political action groups and think tanks.  Everyone was repeating how evil Soros is.  Then I asked the speaker if he had ever heard of the Koch brothers.  He hadn't.  Ms. secretary corrected my pronunciation of the name.  She obviously had heard of them.  I mentioned that, save the Nazi collaboration, all the rest sounded exactly like what the Koch brothers were doing, using their billions to open political action groups, investment groups, and think tanks.  Several people contested that there is nothing at all similar about Soros and the Koch's.  But Mr. former police chief later asked me to write down their name so he could look them up.  He thanked me for mentioning them.  With all the talk about Soros, some in the crowd mentioned the Committee on Unamerican Activies, and said that McCarthy was right and should have been allowed to continue his work.  A chill rose up my spine. 

Then they began talking about the Smart Meters that PG&E is planning to install on everyone's property.  They were incredulous that the hated liberals were actually on the same side as they were.  They proposed joining with the liberals on this issue.  Some people thought that was very humorous.  I shrunk down in my chair, because it was becoming very apparent that the liberals were their sworn enemies, and I could easily be considered a liberal.  One woman succinctlty summed up the whole issue for the Tea party: She's just tired of everyone telling her what to do.  I pondered this statement.  A whole political movement has been built up because people are tired of being told what to do.  It seemed ludicrously petty to me. 

Eventually, they asked for topics for future meetings.  I suggested two.  I suggested that they discuss the book Atlas Shrugged, which made everybody giggle.  Duane thought it was a good idea.  I also suggested that they hammer out an ideal model of what they would want the good government to look like.  Ms. secretary sneered that we already have that; its called the Constitution!  I contended that the government currently in place believes that they are abiding by the Constitution.  And that the Supreme Court justices that passed the Citizen's United decision believed that they were providing a correct interpretation of the Constitution.  Ms. secretary replied that the Supreme Court has nothing to do with the Constitution.  I tried to explain to her that it is the purview of the Supreme Court to interpret the gray areas of the Constitution.  I added for example that Ayn Rand said our founding fathers wrote Capitalism into the Constitution, but I can't find that reference.  I only see rights to freedom of speech, the pursuit of happiness, and ownership of land.  Ms. secretary exclaimed that those ARE capitalism; they just didn't have that word at the time.  My model idea fell on deaf ears.  The group that equates ownership of land with Capitalism is sure that they have the only right interpretation of the Constitution as opposed to liberals, socialists, Democrats, the Supreme Court, and all the current elected officials. 

Not everyone in the room were as adamant as Ms. secretary.  Those who felt their privacy invaded by Smart Meters and defended the right of free enterprise to lay off whatever workers whenever they want, move factories offshore whenever, and to pollute the air, water, and soil freely in the name of profit, might be receptive to the idea that pollution which involuntarily ends up in our bodies is another kind of invasion of privacy. 

I haven't decided if I will ever go back again.  We were in accord on many issues.  I wondered where they got all the money for the slick brochures and T-shirt/sweatshirt sales, and all the books on the Constitution.  I suspected that Ms. secretary knew their group had been funded by the Koch brothers, and the others didn't.  Several people said my presence made this one of the liveliest meetings yet.  I enjoy lively meetings and debate with folks who have different beliefs than mine.  We'll see....

In my goal to replace the current government with one more responsive to the Common Good, and in my notion to create a massive coalition of disparate groups in order to non-violently accomplish this goal, I wonder if it will be important for me to continue to attend their Tea Party meetings.  I might plant seeds of Peace in the more moderate Tea Party participants which will bear fruit in the future. 

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