Yesterday, Anne and I swung by the San Jose Tea Party protest.  We didn’t have time to prepare anything, so we simply wandered around taking pictures and chatting with people.  I was fairly impressed with the turnout, considering that San Jose is a fairly liberal city in a very liberal state.  I know nothing about estimating crowd sizes, but the San Jose Mercury News reports the turnout at 1000.  (I’ve been told that the local talk radio station estimated 2000, but since they helped organize they’re likely to skew high.  So I’d guess somewhere in the middle.)  We don’t have a decent panoramic shot, but here’s a couple of the crowd:

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There were a lot of signs, ranging from the clearly home-made to the professionally printed.  The overall theme was, sadly, political, with objections to taxation, excessive government spending and rapidly increasing debt.  There was a lot of talk about what people were against, but much less about what people were for.  That’s a problem, which I’ll talk about a bit more towards the end of this post.

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Congress took some well-deserved hits for passing the so-called stimulus bill without actually reading it first.

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There were some people with a more positive message.  Nice to see a good word for capitalism.

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I didn’t see any giant puppets, but large revolutionary-era flags are always a winner.

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These guys probably win the award for “Longest Trip To The Protest”.  It must be scary to flee socialist oppression in one’s homeland only to witness the same thing rising in your new country, aided and abetted by people who should damn well know better.

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In spite of the attempts by the port side to present the Tea Party movement as a purely partisan affair, it isn’t.  George W. Bush and profligate Republicans took a fair amount of smacking right along with Obama and the Democrats.  There’s discontent brewing here, but it isn’t going to automatically turn into votes for the GOP on election day unless they take steps to earn them.

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Not everything was serious.  This guy wanted Obama to help him.  Well, sort of.

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Get a group of a thousand people together and there’s always going to be a few people who are off-message.

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(For those who don’t follow sports, the Sharks are San Jose’s NHL team.)

Speaking of folks who were off-message, we had a small group of left-wing counter-protesters show up.  Oddly enough, their focus was on amnesty for illegal aliens, which is just weird given that the Tea Party was about fiscal policy.  I don’t know if they were hoping to provoke a fight with the racist right-wingers who turned out for the Tea Party in their minds, or what, but the people I talked to were mostly bemused.  There was some back-and-forth chanting, but for the most part we ignored them.  This guy pretty much sums up my reaction.

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The Mercury News writes that:

the protest turned tense when a competing group of about 40 people began circling the tax protesters, banging drums, shouting epithets, screaming about immigrant rights and promoting anarchy. At one point, the smaller group stormed the stage of the tax protesters, and more than a dozen San Jose riot police separated the groups. Meanwhile, dozens more officers stood guard on mounted patrol, in police cars and on foot to maintain peace. No arrests were made.

I didn’t see the charge on the stage, but that does sound like the kind of behavior I expect from leftists.  There was a point later in the rally when the police were separating the lefties from the rest of us, but both groups were just standing there.

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The Tea Party people I spoke to were almost uniformly calm, friendly, smiling and open to discussion.  (I did chat with one hard-core religious nut who was, frankly, scary.  I’ve got an invitation to a class on Biblical Prophecy.  I won’t be going.)

Here’s me in black next to the woman with the pro-capitalism sign.  I want one of those tri-corn hats.

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There were a couple of other Objectivists around who had taken the time to put together signs.  Here they are in Q&A format.

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No literature, though.  I understand that the Golden Gate Objectivists had something a bit better prepared for the San Francisco Tea Party.

Overall impression: the people I saw and spoke to are very unhappy with where they see the country going, but they lack ideas to explain why the country is going that way.  Lots of outrage, little reasoning.  This is a serious problem, because ultimately it is ideas that drive cultural and political change.  If you can’t explain why you’re outraged, what would be a better alternative to the status quo, and why, you’re dead in the water.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that people are looking for the answers they need.  This suggests that bringing literature to these protests for free distribution should be a high priority for the next wave.  Literature at multiple levels of information density would be even better, ranging from simple one-page fliers at the low end, to pamphlets and article collections in the middle, all the way up to copies of Atlas Shrugged at the high end.  On this note the Ohio Objectivist Society did something brilliant, collecting together a number of excellent articles on aspects of the current crisis, its roots and Ayn Rand’s relevance to the solution into a reprint booklet called The Portable Objectivist.  (They also have a web version.  And yes, they got permission from the copyright holders — Objectivists respect property rights, and try to practice what we preach.)  Something I’m hoping will emerge from the various write-ups I’m seeing is a set of ‘best practices’ for working future protests.  There’s a learning curve here and we need to move up it, fast.

I was very pleased to read that a number of Objectivists spoke at various Tea Parties.  Rational Jenn had a short recorded video which was played before the 16,000 people at the Atlanta Tea Party.  Greg Perkins of Noodlefood was the kickoff speaker at the Boise Tea Party, and on short notice at that.  John Lewis gave a good speech focused on moral fundamentals at the Charlotte Tea Party, and there’s YouTube video of that that I can’t resist using to wrap things up.  More like this in Boston on the 4th of July, please.

Ok, I lied… there’s also a post-speech interview with Dr. Lewis, and I’m going to wrap up with that instead. He’s bang-on… we need a moral change if we’re going to get a sustainable political change. The American people are divided in spirit, and we send inconsistent signals to our elected officials — we want free stuff, but we don’t want to pay for it ourselves and we don’t want to go into debt for it either. Something there has to give, and if we want to avoid a total loss of freedom it had better be the desire for free stuff.

11 Responses to “San Jose Tea Party”
  1. OscarC says:

    Eight years of out-of-control government spending, and this is the first year of protests? If they were truly bipartisan, I would have expected the protests to have started at least two years ago.

    And if they are so concerned about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, where were they when Bush was declaring that presidential powers trump all? Warrantless eavesdropping, unlimited detention of US citizens without due process, and the PATRIOT Act are much bigger threats to liberty than the recent stimulus bill.

  2. Brian says:

    Kyle,

    Excellent write-up, and thanks for the mention! With enough of these summaries we should definitely be able to compile a list of the best practices for future events.

    Brian

    http://reality.ohio.newintellectuals.org

  3. Ken Barclay says:

    Kyle,
    This is the best report of the Tax Day protests that I have seen (and I’ve seen a bunch). I especially like the proactive emphasis you give the occasion. Without a bit more long-range thinking, these protests are just pissing into the wind.

    –Ken Barclay (Kenb in the Objectivism Seminar)

  4. More Great Tea Party Speeches « AisA Academy says:

    […] (HT Haight Speech) […]

  5. Kyle Haight says:

    Oscar, I can always count on you to provide the standard liberal response line. A few points in response.

    Arguably, the protests did start a couple of years ago — under the Porkbusters rubric, which has significant crossover with the Tea Party stuff. It’s not like there was no organized pushback against excessive government spending during the Bush administration; pretending otherwise is just attempting to rewrite history. I think the massive government bailouts were another turning point, and those only started about six months ago. Another reason why people might be more likely to protest excessive spending now is because, well, the spending has gotten a lot more excessive. Consider this CBO chart of deficts and deficit projections:

    During the latter half of the Bush administration, the excessive spending curve was at least trending in the right direction, up to 2008. Contrast that with the projections for the Obama administration, where the deficit starts at roughly four times the worst year of the Bush administration, never drops below the worst year of the Bush administration, and, after 2012 trends in the wrong direction. Might that provide grounds for people to react negatively? I’d think so.

    I could note that if the left were concerned with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights they should stop trying to pretend the Second Amendment isn’t part of it, and they shouldn’t have raped the First Amendment with an astroturfed campaign for campaign finance reform, but I won’t bother. I might also note that if the Obama administration were that concerned about habeas, they probably wouldn’t be doing this. And finally, I’d note that if you don’t think the Obama administration’s economic policies pose a threat to liberty that just shows that you don’t understand the link between economic freedom and political freedom. Over the long run you can’t have one without the other. Property rights are the necessary condition for the implementation of other rights; without them, the others will go away.

  6. SarahG says:

    Hi Kyle,

    I drove by the protest (it’s on the way home from my work). When the traffic slowed down, I rolled down my windows to try to get a sense of what was going on at the protest. I was trying to decide whether to stop and join in or not but I heard a lot of people shouting “Build a wall!” and decided to drive on. Sounds like that wasn’t representative of the overall event. Darn. I would have liked to have seen you guys there and add my voice. I had also previously heard that the event was sponsored by the Constitution Party, which is wildly misnamed, so that basically made up my mind. Any thoughts?

  7. Kyle Haight says:

    I hadn’t heard that the Constitution Party was involved, but it’s certainly possible. These things seem to be put together by whoever cares enough, which means you get a mixture of better and worse elements. (And the Constitution Party, from what I know about them, definitely qualifies as ‘worse’.) My own experience was that the worse elements, while present, were muted. The counter-protesters were focused on immigration issues — pushing amnesty, for example — which I think was designed to try to provoke exactly the kind of reaction you saw. That attitude was by no means universal, though — I spoke to a number of people who were pretty pro-immigrant.

    Because the Tea Party movement is a grass-roots phenomenon united more by sense-of-life than by a coherent intellectual position, it’s easy to find isolated examples of people coming from a variety of viewpoints. I view them less as an expression of an ideology than as a mass audience seeking an ideology to give expression to an incohate sense of ‘wrongness’ about the nation’s course. That’s why I think it’s important for Objectivists to be involved — the only way people seeking the answers we can provide will find us is if we’re there to talk to. If we stay away, the answers on offer will be a stale mixture of the same mush that got us into this mess in the first place.

  8. SarahG says:

    Hmm, all of what you’re saying definitely makes sense. It also sounds to me like these protests are not going to go away as long as Obama and co continue their attempts at “ginormous”-scale govt. looting. I’m definitely going to take a closer look at the next protest, whenever/if that happens. The event you (and other O’ist bloggers) describe definitely sounds like the kind of thing I want to be part of. FWIW, I celebrated the day by buying a new paperback copy of Atlas Shrugged–my old one fell apart from so many readings, I figured it was a good occasion to help sales move along. 🙂

  9. Kyle Haight says:

    Good plan.

    I think the next big wave of tea parties is likely to be the 4th of July. I’m going to be in Boston, attending OCON. Hopefully the schedule will permit attending the tea party there. It shouldn’t be too hard to find other Objectivists to come along!

  10. James says:

    “If you can’t explain why you’re outraged, what would be a better alternative to the status quo, and why, you’re dead in the water. ”

    Unfortunately that is what they’re upset with… Obama has changed the status quo and spent the country into a downward spiral while the unemployment rises. Socialism is on everyone’s lips and all internal threats to my way of life coming courtesy of a soft and slow moving tyranny. It simply took the lazy American a bit of time to realise what was happening which is why there were no protests 2 yrs ago. Simple. And it’s almost a universal thought. People will start to re-embrace the principals on which this country was founded. The same principals which many young men and NOW women have fought and died to preserve. A way of life which all others envy. Through the awakening and a few basic areas of common ground such as the constitution, home-land defense and infrastructure rehabilitation this party or whatever it will evolve into will be able to continue growing. Call me crazy but I think Americans are going to take their country back and by doing so with revolutionary attitudes we will reach new heights on the global scale of greatness. Even exceeding the times of prosperity which we often look back to as the “hay day.” If this weren’t the greatest nation and system in the world people wouldn’t flock to it by the millions. So my thoughts are don’t fix something if it’s not broken. Drop the european, one world global ideology. I don’t want government health care or government run anything for that matter. The exceptions being defense and infrastructure. And, of course, serious funding to a well staffed VA to care for the soldiers who answered their nations call and did only what they were told, right or wrong in your eyes. I happen to be one of these individuals and I want my country back and I also want better care for myself and every veteran whose sacrafices are an alien thought to most. Obama needs to get out of my day to day life. Who’s with me on this one?

  11. Samantha Atkins says:

    It is broken. If it was not broken it would not have been able to deteriorate to the state it is in today. The majority doesn’t understand freedom. They do not understand free markets. They do not understand that profit is not a dirty word – that profit, real profit, is creating more value in the world than was consumed in the effort to create it. The problem is that most Americans have never understood these things well. And now, now they understand far far less. The challenge is not just to react with a variety of different allegiances from yesteryear. The challenge is to recover from the rot and build something far stronger than was built before.

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