Friday, May 20, 2011

My Second Visit to the Tea Party

The meeting began with a report from the Republican Party meeting.  Supervisor Pinches had been there and described the budget shortfall issue.  One way the county is reducing costs is by cutting jobs via attrition, which in turn reduces county services.   He reports even the unions have agreed to take 10% pay cuts. The reporter impassioned that we need to generate more business in the county to generate more government revenues.

At this point, one member pointed out that there was a “non-member” present.  He overlooked the fact that there were 5 non-members present.  He called out my name and said that I had written bad things about this group.  He asked the leader to call me out.  I asked if this was a members only group?  The leader said this group is open to the public and non-members were welcome.  I apologized to the man for saying anything that had slighted him.  He responded that he was not personally slighted, but the group had been.  I made a mental note to shake his hand and apologize directly after the meeting.  I sought a non-offensive approach to ask him what I had said that was untrue, harmful, or malicious. 

The next topic: how to contact your elected officials. The group leaders had been to a “Wright Online” seminar.  They had prepared a series of handouts to share from the seminar, the first of which was distributed tonight.  They were very well organized and made a lot of very good suggestions on communicating with one’s government representative. I love that they suggested starting each letter with “Honorable…” I start my letters like that, just as I was instructed in my school years long ago.  I haven’t seen anyone address a letter to a legislator like that for years, except for myself.  I often think, have we lost all respect for our elected representatives?  Then I respond to myself, Well, Yeah! There’s hardly a handful of elected representatives that haven’t sold out to the corporate industrial war profiteers! 

Someone said that letters in the post have to be inspected for anthrax and therefore take a long time.  I threw in that you could fax your letter.  The leader agreed that a letter could take 3 weeks to arrive on the desk of your elected representative.  It is better to call.  He gave an excellent instruction of whom to ask for and what to say about your point. 

Anyway, I made a suggestion about calling local numbers instead of calling Washington DC; local numbers are rarely closed or overloaded, and you still just talk to an aide.  The speaker took my suggestion as a hostile criticism although I thought I was agreeing and enhancing his point. He was giving the group a great grass-roots democratic lesson.  He mentioned that it is best to see your legislator face to face.  After respectfully speaking your mind, you then hand them a written statement of your issue.  Great suggestion! 

The next issue discussed was the Redistricting Plan of northern California.  The leader presented his original unique redistricting plan, which made a lot of sense.  Since I haven’t given redistricting much thought, I couldn’t take a stand for or against his plan.  It seemed to be logical to divide voting districts by county.  There was a big important meeting happening tomorrow in Santa Rosa.  At our last election, we voted that a citizen’s committee would carry out the redistricting rather than the majority party in the legislature.  Tomorrow will be the northern California public hearings of the Citizen’s Council and this Tea Party group leader asked for support to accompany him to submit his unique plan at the Santa Rosa City Council Chambers. 

The plan is to split Mendocino County from Sonoma County and not have to deal with Sonoma County environmentalists or big money interests of vineyards, and also to get rid of Mike Thompson. Then, the Secretary began using crude language while she was presenting the plan, and speaking in unsubstantiated generalizations. She even apologized for her language but justified it because she was so tired that she couldn’t think of the correct words to use.  I worked to maintain my equanimity and remain open and non-judgmental.

As the 2 leaders explained the plan, I gleaned that the Tea Party wants to split high population areas from rural areas, and not split counties.  By keeping whole counties as intact voting blocks, they could avoid “Voting Rights bullshit.” I was taken aback that anyone could think that a law to protect the right to vote would be considered bullshit.  The requirement for redistricting plan proposals was to keep "communities of interest" together. The Tea Party leader explained that the logging, ranching, and mineral interests in northern California were very different from the manufacturing and environmental interests of the high population areas like Santa Rosa and Sonoma County.  The plan had obviously taken a lot of work and had some logic and merit.  I really admired their excellent motivational force and organizing.

I further gleaned from the ensuing discussion that the members of the Tea Party consider themselves to be conservatives positioned against the leftists: progressives and socialists. The leader explained that he doesn't care about Democrats or Republicans. I thought that was an excellent declaration! 

An example of how his redistricting plan could benefit the county is the long advocated Willits Bypass of Highway 101. When a finite amount of money goes to a district, the legislature has to decide how to carve up the pie. They would normally allot the funds to a high population area instead of a rural area since, by force of population density, it would benefit more people. As such, the bypass has been delayed for a decade. This issue would be resolved with his simple redistricting plan. 

It is true that Mike Thompson has a very large and unusual district making up parts of several counties and widely diverse populations from liberal environmentalist to redneck, urban to rural, ranchers to lumberjacks, vineyards to pot growers.  Representative Thompson often sites the difficulty of balancing the needs of the many diverse groups that he represents.  The members of the Tea Party mentioned that they would be glad to see Thompson go.  Another person volunteered that Thompson could still run for office even if he didn’t live within the district.  The leader concurred. 

The final topic was the rising price of gasoline.  The Secretary emphasized that it was due totally because Obama has restricted offshore drilling and new drilling contracts. It was due to the unjust moratorium on drilling in the gulf.  They were planning a demonstration on Saturday to say, "drill baby drill.” Someone in the group said he doesn't want to demonstrate on the street corner like hippies.

A voice of reason among the group suggested that there were other factors influencing the rise of oil prices.  He mentioned several separate causes: not just the moratorium but also unrest in Middle East and more.  Yet, no one mentioned the utterly obscene profits of the oil companies, so I decided to mention it myself.  I raised my hand and the Secretary graciously called upon me.  I mentioned the fact from recent news that the oil companies has made such record profits in the first quarter of this year that they exceeded any other company in all of history.  I asked her if their record-breaking profits had anything to do with the rise in fuel prices? 

Well, suddenly the Secretary became unhinged.  She began her verbal assault with a severely cynical tone saying, “Oh we wouldn’t want to make profits, would we?  Profits are so evil, aren’t they?”  The pitch of her voice rose as she recounted how the oil companies made more profits than the whole American government, and continues to exceed their own records quarter after quarter.  I thought she had just justified my point exactly, but she went on upbraiding me. 

I felt the hackles rising on my spine.  My heart rate increased and my breathing became fast and shallow.  My fingers were tingling.  I noted all these bodily states and breathed.  After being married to a screamer that believed “he who screams loudest wins the fight,” I had a great deal of experience staying calm during an onslaught of verbal abuse.  I breathed and calmed myself.  I already knew not to scream back at abusers. 

In her frenzy, she mentioned how oil is the cheapest form of energy, which could never be replaced by windmills or solar cells.  I contended that the overflow costs of the health effects of pollution caused by petroleum need to be considered when you call oil “cheap.”  She talked over me, not listening or considering my points.  She proclaimed that petroleum is a natural product and we need it due to the other products made from it like plastic.  I mentioned that plastic can be made from cotton, i.e. Saran Wrap and Bakelite.  In response she declared that those products were obviously flawed since the better petroleum-based plastics have replaced them. 

She screamed that petroleum products do not cause pollution or any negative health effects.  I responded that that was the most preposterous thing I ever heard.  She then made a direct threat.  She proclaimed that she would fight me every step of the way, me and people like me with liberal values. She went on to be utterly disrespectful using exaggerated superlatives. Folks in the audience were shocked and told her " you're losing ground." Then her husband intervened, whereupon she rushed from the room in a humiliated rage. Her husband, the leader of the local Tea Party, commanded me to hold back, as well.

Folks in the audience were stunned to see her ragging on me like that. After the meeting adjourned, many rushed to me to apologize for her assault. I mentioned that I am not against profits. I, myself, am a capitalist and my livelihood depended upon profits.  Several mentioned that they agreed that profit is good, but obscene profits are bad.  I thought about how, after all the careful and excellent organizing the local Tea Party was doing, that the Secretary’s behavior had just discredited the whole group. 

I rushed over to Mike, the leader.  I praised his efforts to effect grass-roots democracy.  I said although we don’t see eye to eye on many points, we actually agree on a lot.  He was surprised to hear this.  I said we both agree on having a country where we are free to disagree.  I asserted that we can still be neighbors living beside each other in Peace yet disagree on politics.  That’s why I love America, and I admire his efforts.  I reiterated that I am not here to contend with the Tea Party, but rather to create a coalition.  I shook his hand and again praised his excellent organizing skills and lessons in democracy.  Then I looked for the other man to whom I wanted to apologize, but he was gone. 

I noticed some differences from the last meeting of the Ukiah Valley Patriots that I attended. There were no volumes of Ayn Rand visible.  There were no choruses from the audience shouting, “Evil, evil.” There was no talk about gun rights.  The leader was very careful to be completely neutral and democratic in his proposals and discussions. There were only half as many participants today as last time. I wonder if my Letters to the Editor have taken some of the wind from the sails of folks who realize that they don't want to effect change at the end of a gun barrel?

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