Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tea Party Next Move? My Call For Civil Disobedience (Updated)

Note/Update, June 29, 2012: In light of yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the mandate in Obamacare, I feel that this post is more relevant than ever. I wrote it with Illinois in mind, but the idea applies to the whole nation.
Where was the Tea Party in January, 2011? In Illinois, they seemed to be asleep at the wheel in the days leading up to voting in the State Legislature for one of the worst tax hikes ever. UPDATE, Feb. 2, 2011: Is This Any Way To Revolt? April 15 March on Springfield Will Last Only Two Hours

During his campaign last year, Governor Pat Quinn warned voters that he would raise taxes. Don’t worry, he assured us, it will be a very small increase. He repeated that publicly during his campaign, and enough voters either didn’t hear him, didn’t understand the implications of what he said, or are so ignorant of basic economics that they did not realize that any rise in taxes - especially at this crucial time in this economic crisis - might just actually be good for Illinois.

Those of us who did not vote for Quinn, of course, knew better. Now, of course, even the fools who voted for him know better. We all know, too late, that Pat Quinn lied. Pundits are now calling him “Quinnochio.”

Quinn promised that he would raise personal income taxes, but only by one percent. Instead, he backed a package that increased it by 66 percent (from 3 percent to 5 percent). The corporate income tax rose by 45 percent (from from 4.8 percent to 7 percent). The lawmakers in Springfield voted on these increases in the wee hours of the morning.

Judy Baar Topinka, the newly elected State Comptroller, pointed out that the combination of all taxes that businesses will now suffer makes Illinois the highest taxing state in the industrialized world. Combined with the rise in personal income tax, residents of Illinois will soon realize that employers will be even less reluctant to hire than they were last year. They will realize that some employers will have to go out of business, while others move operations out of Illinois, thus further increasing unemployment.

To add insult to injury, Quinn and his accomplices in the Legislature not only increased taxes massively, they even increased spending by two percent. All of this hurts not only taxpayers. Even the unemployed are badly affected by tax hikes, because it will mean high retail prices, higher rents, and so on.

We saw a lot of Tea Party speeches and rallies against Obamacare in the past two years, much of it here in Chicago where the Tea Party movement got its start. They argued, rightly, that Obamacare would be devastating to businesses, raise unemployment, and so on. The Quinn tax hikes will do the same thing, but with an important difference: The harmful effects will directly affect every employer and employee, every retailer and wholesaler, every retired and the unemployed person in Illinois.

Unlike Obamacare, some of the effects of which will not be felt for years, the Quinn tax hikes are a boot placed on our throats immediately. The people of Illinois are the victims of fiscal and economic gang rape. The Tea Party, coming off a two-year lather over national politics, has been virtually silent about Quinn’s taxes.

Surely, one would have thought, the Tea Party movement would have been in a fury in the days leading up to the vote to raise taxes. Certainly, one would have expected, Tea Party movement groups from around Illinois would have bused thousands of concerned sympathizers to Springfield to march and speak and peacefully protest. Undoubtedly, one may have hoped, the Tea Party movement would not sit idly by while Pat Quinn and Company were about to kick the living hell out of us. It didn’t happen.

Some Tea Party groups did call on their followers to make phone calls and send emails. That’s all well and good, and it’s a needed part of the overall strategy. It’s not enough, however.

The Tea Party movement’s magnificent efforts had an historic effect on the November 2010 elections, but in Illinois they seem to have missed the forest for the trees. Granted, the movement toppled many of those who violated their oath to uphold the Constitution and misrepresented their constituents. It successfully installed many who profess sympathy to conservative values and loyalty to the Constitution. Still, while all that was being done, elections within Illinois were given secondary attention.

Change came to Washington, D.C., but less change came to Springfield, Illinois. The “lame duck” Congress passed a few monstrosities before the 111th dissolved. The “lame duck” Illinois legislature did the same, including the obscene tax increase package championed by Governor Quinn. What’s next? Last November is history. Since then, we have heard loud vocal warnings from Tea Party groups nationwide to the new crop of freshman members of Congress. “You better not disappoint us,” was the cry, “because we’ll be watching and taking notes.” That carried the implied threat of unseating those who don’t perform to the Tea Party’s expectations come the next election. But that’s about all we saw. When a Tea Party rally was needed more than ever in Springfield, it didn’t happen.

In Illinois, the Tea Party movement missed a huge opportunity in January. Satisfied with their nationwide effect on Congressional races, the movement has reclined and fallen into a kind of self-satisfied nap.

The rallies in public parks, on farms and in rented halls that we’ve seen over the past two years have served us well. They served to fire up the movement and to help recruit new membership. They will remain important for those purposes, but they are no longer enough. Rallies far and away from the centers of power and authority are now seen by the governing elite as mildly annoying events. They’ve gotten used to them, and they understand that a bunch of people politely listening to speeches in a park pose no challenge to their physical space.

This is where civil disobedience comes into play, and even becomes a necessary next step. Imagine a rally of a thousand Tea Party people covering the steps of the State Capitol, a couple of hundred who overflow into the building itself. Imagine those thousand people chanting loudly and in unison while the legislators are in session. Think about their reaction as they are forced to shoulder their way through the people to get in or out of the building.

Think of the 1960s, when “sit ins” were a non-violent way of “occupying” university administration buildings, city halls, state capitols, and so on. Suppose those protesters then had, instead, merely gathered in parks on the edge of town and uneventfully preached to themselves. How effective would they have been? What if Martin Luther King, Jr. had suddenly stopped organizing huge rallies, and had become content with merely sending out telegrams and making phone calls? That’s where the Tea Party movement is today. The politicians, Democrats and Republicans, have become used to the idea that Tea Party events are distant. That is why we need to “get in their faces.” To be blunt, we need to make them nervous. We need to make them sleep less comfortably. They must be apprehensive every morning that they get up to go vote on higher taxes, increased regulation and more violations of our Constitutional and God-given rights.

Let me be clear: This is not a call to violence. To the contrary, it is a call to civil disobedience. Peaceful resistance is a respectable way to demonstrate displeasure with the government. A thousand people on the steps of the Capitol must be willing to resist requests and orders to disperse. Tea Party people must be willing to remain seated when told to move on, and even willing to accept the risk of being arrested. Imagine the headlines and videos as hundreds of peaceful Tea Partiers are arrested on the steps of the State Capitol, carried off in handcuffs for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Some Republicans in Springfield have hinted that they might try to overturn or repeal the Quinn Tax Hikes. They may or may not succeed. Should they fail, we can only hope that their failure is not due to a lack of effort on their part - or on the part of the Tea Party movement.

The Tea Party’s role in this is destined to be one of two things, whether it acts or not. If the Quinn tax hikes are not overturned, and the Tea Party did not stage a massive rally on the capitol steps in Springfield, we will always wonder how the outcome might have been different had a rally taken place.

On the other hand, what if the Republicans do manage to overturn the tax hikes without any Tea Party occupation of the capitol steps? There would be many who would then regard the Tea Party movement in Illinois as nothing more than a bunch of talkers, even as quitters. The Democrats would merely laugh us off.

Worse, however, the Illinois Republican Party would do the same. The leadership of the Illinois GOP, after all, views the Tea Party as a threat to its own power, sapping its membership and working against some of the GOP’s own anointed candidates. If the Tea Party movement in Illinois does not act, in a big, loud, physically present way, and do it before mid-February, it risks being written off by both political parties as a flash in the pan.

The Tea Party has no choice but to act and to act in a big way. The two most important reasons for this should be obvious: (1) to undo the suicidal Quinn tax hikes, and (2) to save the credibility and recover the momentum of a sputtering Illinois Tea Party movement.

The Tea Party must not let the politicians feel at ease just because the last election is over. It cannot let them get away with that which it has worked so hard to defeat. Tea Partiers must decide if they are armchair warriors or the real deal.

Here's a direct message to Tea Party people: I love you, and have stood by your side at rallies from the beginning. I've supported your efforts through many, many hours of blogging and editing of photos and videos. I am one of you.

But I must tell you this: You love to quote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Some of you call yourselves freedom fighters. Some of you even dress up like Revolutionary War heroes. That’s cute, but ask yourself this: Are you content to merely parrot the Founders and Framers and to perform impromptu street theater and ultimately meaningless imitations of them with your fake powdered wigs while you listen to speeches in a park? Do you think your digital rants shared with “friends” on Facebook, made from the comfort of your desk or the convenience of your iPhone, are accomplishing even one percent of what any one of the Founders did?

Are you ready to get off overtaxed duff and act as the real freedom fighters did in 1776? They did more than talk. They did not fear arrest. They marched, often into battle. They bled. They sacrificed. Many died.

I’m only asking you to march to Springfield to sit on the Capitol steps.

Are you in?

  • The time for passionate talk is past
  • The time for your polite rallies in safe, distant parks has gone by
  • The time for your frantic Facebook posts and titillating tweets is over
  • The time to get real, the time to truly engage is here
  • It is time to get out of your swivel chairs, off of your couches, away from your keyboards and onto your feet
  • It is time to march and time to take to the steps of government offices - and into the halls of the ruling elite
  • It is time to step over the line and into the comfort zones of those who were elected to be our representatives but act instead as our overlords
  • It is time to make the politicians feel uncomfortable in their own space
  • It is time to replace digital rants and quiet meetings with physical action
  • It is time to employ civil disobedience