Dear Idaho Tea Party,
Congratulations on your April 15 demonstration at the statehouse. As a former radical from back in the bad old days of the Vietnam War, I have to congratulate you for proving that protest and patriotism are not mutually exclusive.
In my day, people had a hard time understanding that love of country does not imply the blind acceptance of your government’s every action. Thanks to you, I feel a sense of vindication … and you have to admit, it’s pretty cool to have people calling you a patriot instead of yelling “America, love it or leave it” at you.
As one who marched in the streets nearly four decades ago, I’d like to offer you some advice that may serve you well as you storm the barricades of Big Government.
1) Declare an end to the culture wars. The politics of division only serve the interests of those who are trying to build a power base. Remember, we’re all Americans. So if Sarah Palin shows up in Boise and starts in about “real Americans”, politely point out to her that creating fear and distrust of “the other” in our midst is a tactic straight out of the Totalitarian Playbook. Promoting the idea that (choose one or more of the following) intellectuals, homosexuals, gypsies, immigrants, liberals and/or Jews are not really “one of us” is also the first critical step toward genocide. Remind her that however they do things in Alaska, Idaho is “too great to hate”.
2) It don’t take a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows. My generation of protesters talked a good talk when it came to non-violence, but we weren’t always quick enough to roundly condemn the lunatic fringe in our midst. It’s not enough to say that you don’t “condone” the actions of extremists. Tepid responses such as “we don’t support murdering a doctor in the narthex of his church/flying a plane into a Federal building/planning the assassination of police officers followed by the massacre of their mourners at the funeral/etc., but we understand the passions that led someone to do such a thing” can be seen as a form of tacit approval by the crazies out there. There is no room for violence of any sort, for any reason short of self-defense, in our political interactions.
3) Cool it with the “ism’s” already. Hey, back in my day we also flung epithets like “facism” and “Nazism” at the government. Our parents, many of who actually fought against real fascists and Nazis, told us we had no idea what we were talking about. Guess what? They were right. I know, putting Hitler mustaches on presidents we dislike makes for edgy visuals, but regardless of how you feel about Obama, show some respect for the thousands of patriots who died to protect us from the horrors of the Axis. Like my dad used to tell me, “if America was really a fascist state, you and your other long-haired radical pals would be rounded up and stuck in a concentration camp – or worse.” I hated it when my parents were right.
4) Revolution is NOT a tea party. Boy, that Chairman Mao knew what was what, didn’t he? I know from experience that there is a real rush to “taking it to the streets”, but every true revolutionary understands that meaningful change only comes from the hard work of creating new models of government. I’m sure it was a lot more fun dumping those crates of English tea into the Boston Harbor than it was for our Founding Fathers to draft the Constitution – not to mention freezing their keisters off in Valley Forge, but if the Tea Party really stands for changing the role of government in our lives, ya’ll are going to have to create a platform, nominate some candidates, and decide what you stand for, not just what you stand against.
5) Watch your backs. Which leads us to the next piece of advice. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is not just a good piece of political advice, it begs the question of whether or not the Tea Party can distinguish between the two. Sure, a lot of Congressmen love you for your populist outrage, and they’ll channel it to win votes. But what’s going to happen if you become a legitimate third party and show some potential for actually limiting the power of government? There are a lot of people in Washington who have spent a lot of lobbyist dollars for the right to pull the levers of power, and they’re not going to surrender that power gladly, regardless of which side of the Congressional aisle they sit. As for the media, they may embrace you for the bafo buzz you’re generating, but they also value Beltway access, and they may sour on you if you bite the hands that feed that access.
6) The revolution WILL be televised. Back in my day we chanted, “the whole world is watching” during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. In the case of your demonstrations, thanks to social media and the 24/7 news cycle, this is more than hyperbole, so you’d best model the type of political and social discourse you want our country to stand for. In the words of those arch hippies and radical instigators, Crosby, Stills and Nash, “teach your children well.” Or as Gandhi would say, “be the change you want to see.”
Thanks for letting this old radical rant, comrades. I’ll see you on the barricades. Let’s just make sure that when it all goes down, “we won’t get fooled again”.