Recall once upon a time, a long time ago, when the Right thought it was laudable to show up at Congressional town hall meetings and shout down and disrupt Democrats.You know, civil disobedience, protests, Joe the Plummer, and showing up with guns. The year was 2009 and the ‘masses” according to FOX News were in revolt over the national debt and deficit created of course by the Black guy who’d been in office barely 5 months, and probably wasn’t completely unpacked yet. Think back, you remember the outraged citizens who’d somehow missed the wars paid for on credit, tax cuts for the wealthy, the squandered surplus of the Clinton years or the economic collapse of October 2008, 4 months before the Black guy was sworn in as President? Recall how they all woke up the moment the Black guy said “so help me God.” You remember?
It took a bit, but after a spell, the Democrats began showing up in support of their bullied and threatened representatives and senators. August of ’09 I attended one of these town hall extravaganzas at Niles Township high school just outside Chicago. It was a warm night, the street busy with rush-hour traffic. As I pulled into the already full parking lot the sun was just setting in a clear clean sky.
There was something in the neighborhood of 2000 people, with Dems easily two thirds of the crowd. Most were gathered in the school’s front lawn, in clusters around a scattering of Tea Partiers and Libertarians with Obama as Hitler signs. That scattering had waded into the Dems to debate, argue and provoke.
Many of the Tea Partiers looked as if they were storing Snickers bars, Keystone beer in cans and S&M magazines for the feared apocalyptic race wars now that a colored was in the White House. Most of the Tea Party folks were gathered beside the Gym, across a small drive loosely separating the two sides. More had forced their way into the school’s auditorium to berate and disrupt Representative Jan Shakowsky with useful and productive suggestions like “Move back to Russia!” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAkQaUVC84w
I, as usual, wandered among both sides, hoping to find reasonable souls on both sides, which I did, but also to get the full spectrum of opinions and characters. Next to the gym, securely behind the bulk of the Tea Partiers decrying Socialism, Second amendment rights(forgetting that Second amendment rights were tacit threats to extinguish First amendment for Dems) and the Obama Healthcare program was a tall guy in his late twenties. His wavy black hair was cut close on the sides and back. He wore old black jeans and a faded black tee shirt, with a pair of badly worn tennis shoes, in which one of the soles was coming loose. He was pale and thin, almost to the point of being malnourished. Snickers and Keystone diets will do that. He was red-faced, shouting “Capitalism not Communism!”
I stood there for a moment listening to his rants and charges directed fully at the backs of fellow supporters. At first I was fascinated and then I just couldn’t hold back.
“I see capitalism has worked for you,” I commented. He let fly a string of epithets. I moved on.
Among the crowd I could find no industrialists or hedge-fund managers, no CEOs, trust-fund babies or bankers. There were no real-estate moguls, power brokers or uber-wealthy. There were middle class and working poor folks selling themselves fully into right-wing agendas that were fully at odds with the realities of these people’s lives. Some no doubt harbored individual bigotries, others afraid of inevitable change. Most were scared in some way, buying propaganda that left them feeling under siege or endangered. Many no doubt felt crushed, and just holding onto the lives they’d forged through back-breaking labor, and believing in the illusion of crafted ideologies that appeared monolithic and uniquely and patriotically American.
Sad that while they were heckling at town halls, their rich and powerful patrons were sending their jobs overseas, slashing their benefits, pitting working folks against one another, race and gender bating, provoking distractive issues, devaluing their homes through corrupt speculation, looting the government and revoking their pensions. Sad that when millions stepped forward to protest corporate greed and their stranglehold over American politics by occupying public spaces, Tea Partiers who became victims of their own blind faith turned against those millions with the same tired old insults. Through all that they still maintained unquestioning allegiance to the national trauma of unrestrained capitalism. But how’s it working for you?