OF TEA PARTIES AND PATRIOTS
As town hall meetings on health care become the targets for disruptive protest and a growing “pro-liberty” movement gains traction and headlines, a full analysis of the situations we are facing as white working class people and an analysis of the strategies of the new “pro-liberty” movement is necessary.
I am authoring this piece as a white working class male that comes from a military family background, and identifies to some extent as being a libertarian. This description of myself is important as it helps color the perspective I am writing from, as any differences in my background, race, or socio-economic status would ultimately change the entire nature of this essay.
This piece is also mainly directed at working class people that are active within the Tea Party and other liberty movements.
The Liberty Movement resembles the broader Libertarian Movement in a myriad of ways. One of these ways is in racial composition. To be plain and up front, the U.S. Right is mostly comprised of white people. These giant Tea Parties, our demonstrations and meetings are seas of white faces, with small sprinklings of nonwhite faces.
Whiteness is defined in many different ways by many different people. To many, Jews are not white. Up until the mid 1900’s, white skinned people of Irish and Italian descent were not considered white. Some folks still think this way.
I identify, for the benefit of this essay, a white person as any person with pale skin pigmentation that would commonly pass as white in this society. We don’t need to break this down any further. We know whether we’re white or not.
Most whites immediately become defensive when the word race is even brought up. We don’t want to admit we think in these terms. We don’t want to admit that race has anything to do with our lives or what’s going on in this country. We’d rather pretend it doesn’t exist and not talk about it.
We can act like ostriches all we want. It doesn’t change that our movement is nearly completely white. Let’s admit that, understand that, and move on to understanding what that means for us.
When people bring up the term “class”, many working people start to snicker. The calls of “leftist” or “socialist” or “pinko” come to the lips of many at the mere indication that someone may be conscious of class in America. Despite this tendency, especially within the ranks of the poor, most working people naturally view the world in terms of class, whether they’d admit it or not.
Our realities are shaped by where we stand socially, economically, and politically. The vast majority of white people, like people of all other races, live in precarious social, political, and economic realities. We live paycheck to paycheck. We live off over-extended credit. We live in debt. We don’t own much, if at all, in real estate. We live in stressful situations, where if one part of the chain breaks, we lose everything. Our very existence is one of insecurity and economic disaster.
Most people in the middle and upper classes of society try to stifle this talk amongst us in the working or lower classes. Political, social, and church leaders try to erase the class line. But for those of us going home at night to trailers, slumlord owned apartments, or dilapidated houses, we tend to not forget the large suburban homes and mansions that these leaders sleep in.
Class exists. Just like race, we can’t make it go away by ignoring it. But why would we even want to ignore it? Our situation as working people boils down directly to the idea of class.
OUR CLASS INTERESTS
Let's start with the idea that most working class people want similar things. We, as most people do, want security, freedom, prosperity, comfort, and safety. We don’t want to have to worry about where our next meal is coming from, how we’re going to be able to afford school supplies for our children, or whether or not we will fall victims to a “terrorist” attack. We don’t want to constantly fear losing our jobs or living the rest of our lives in precarious economic situations.
We now live in a country with a huge division between rich and poor. We live with a failed economy. We live in a nearly failed state. The government of the United States has systemically become a monstrous giant of bureaucrats and neo-tyrants. The whole government, every single politician, is part of this corrupt system.
Back home, in our communities, both rural and urban, we are losing our jobs. We are watching our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, dying in deserts and mountains halfway across the world. Our police forces are growing larger, just as our prison populations. We, as working people, are losing everything.
But, there may still be hope for us. Working class people are starting to organize on a national level for what we believe are our interests as a class, as physically manifested with the wave of “Tea Parties” and protests against what many feel to be an impending socialist nightmare in Washington, D.C.
Thousands have mobilized in past months to send clear messages to the politicians in charge of this mess that we won’t take it anymore. And now, we’re mobilizing to shut down what many see as a socialist attempt to take away our health care options and build even more government power.
But what do these mobilizations really mean? And what have we gained by disruptively protesting these town hall meetings on health care reform? Are we gaining ground? Or are we merely paving the way for further future losses?
Typically, political scientists have defined the concept of liberty as a political idea that identifies that a person has the right to act according to their own will and desires. This is how many Americans would like to think about liberty.
At Tea Parties, political meetings, and other gatherings, most working people keep this image of liberty, of true freedom, deep in their hearts. It tends to motivate how we view the rest of the world and our relationship to it. We see liberty manifested here in the U.S., and the founders of this country dying to ensure it existed.
THE OTHER LIBERTY
Let’s be clear, however about the concept of liberty. We’ve all been duped, plainly and simply. On this land, the concept of liberty as defined in the previous context has never existed. In fact, we’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes so tightly, that we can’t even see how the word has changed meaning and been used against us.
Historically, because of the conditions in the United States, the concept of liberty in this country has taken on a much different connotation than the one previously stated. Liberty, in the United States, has become synonymous with the protection of rights to own property.
To many within the working class, this doesn’t seem like a contradiction. Part of being able to determine our own wills and act in true freedom is being able to own property. We define freedom by the ability to own objects, to own land, to own cars, to own firearms. And we defend this right to own private property to the death.
However, the right to own property is the right that allows for the rich and elites to own everything that we produce. The right to property has become the legal and social basis for the rise in power of those that directly exploit us. Because it’s a protected right to own water resources, because it’s a protected right to own land that you will never live on or work on your own, because it’s a protected right to own a house and price gouge your tenants for rent, because it’s a protected right to own a business and pay your workers next to nothing, because we as working people have helped protect these rights, we’ve laid the foundation for our own misery.
The concepts of freedom and private property, then, are at direct odds with each other. How can we be free when a corporation owns the rights to our water? How can we be free when a bank owns the land that our houses sit on? How can we be free when all of our food is owned by a field boss? How can freedom exist when a small minority own the very means of our survival?
We’ve become casualties of this way of thinking for centuries. The idea that property protection and liberty are one and the same has allowed for the rich, the political and economic elite, to swindle the rest of us.
In the name of freedom and liberty, we protect the right of 5% of the residents of this country to maintain ownership over 90% of the property and means of survival in this country. Modern liberty has become the freedom to starve, the freedom to lose our jobs without notice, and the freedom to have a bank take back its property from underneath us.
While the rich in this country pillage our paychecks, destroy our retirement funds, and take away our livelihoods, we gladly hand our resources to them. After all, liberty doesn’t exist without the protection of these rich people to own that property. They have the right to even own us, in fact.
By its very nature, the concept of private property has destroyed us and allowed the rich to ride all over us. And it’s this thinking that has created and shaped our current “Liberty” Movement.
THE LIBERTY MOVEMENT
The Liberty Movement, this new manifestation of centuries old U.S. patriotism, has spread across the country like a wild fire. Tea Parties, large mobilizations denouncing a rising “socialism” in this country, were held in cities across the U.S. in the Spring and early Summer.
New organizations on college campuses and within communities have sprung up to continue the organizing efforts. The main enemy is President Barack Obama. His policies resemble a socialist attack on the American way of life, and they must be stopped.
Led mostly by rich politically ambitious organizers these rallies have brought together thousands of mostly white working class participants to start to fight back against this onslaught from the left.
However, many contradictions appear within this framework. Thousands of white working people, people who rely on foodstamps, unemployment payments, and even welfare checks, fill the ranks at demonstrations calling for an end to social services. White working people, full of fear about socialism and an attack on “liberty” (in this case, an attack on the property rights of the rich) turn against their own interests and sell out their own needs to fight the new socialism.
The unpleasant reality for working class and poor people who have participated and still participate in this new movement, is that we’re being used by these rich leaders within the movement to protect their interests, not ours. But that’s nothing new.
A HISTORY OF PLAYING FOR THE WRONG TEAM
The history of the working class has been a history of being an exploited people. However, the white working class have been an exploited people that further exploits other people. While we’ve been living in tenements and slums for centuries, we’ve also been used by the rich to attack our neighbors, co-workers, and friends of different colors, religions, and nationalities.
Since the colonization of the Americas in the late 1400’s, white working people have been the foot soldiers of political and economic elites seeking to dominate and control land, resources, and wealth, all at our own expense.
We have enlisted in armies to slaughter indigenous peoples. We’ve been slave catchers to trap and enslave Africans. We’ve been police officers to terrorize communities of color. We’ve been prison guards to keep other working people locked up. We’ve been settlers, occupiers, colonizers, and conquerors. These roles have done very little to benefit us, on the whole. We’ve been used to benefit a small minority of politicians, bosses, and aristocrats.
The blunt reality is that for the last five hundred years on this continent, white working class people have been used by mostly white rich people to colonize for, kill for, work for, and then better the living standards of those same white rich people, all the while sacrificing our own needs, wants, aspirations, and even lives. It really is as simple as that. No one denies the history of what has happened at working people’s expenses. Wars, poverty, homelessness, wage slavery… these are all ills created by someone, and perpetuated by us… the same workers who suffer these ills.