On One Hand

April 21, 2009

Anti-Tax Tea Parties in Perspective

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:14 pm

This year on Tax Day, hundreds of thousands of people from across the country gathered at state capitol buildings, city halls, busy street corners and parking lots to protest government and Barack Obama’s policies.

The “Tea Party Movement” draws inspiration from the Boston Tea Party of 1773, when American protesters dumped boxes of tea off a trade ship to protest British taxes on American goods, levied without American representation and without American benefit. The Boston Tea Party is known as a major political incident leading up to the American Revloution.

The modern tea party movement also draws inspiration from Conservative pundits and the Fox News Channel, who pose the vaguely directed protests as powerful movement sweeping the nation, attracting young and old.

The Denver Post published an estimate of 5,000 people gathered at the Colorado State Capitol building on April 15, drawing from the entire Denver Metro Area and representing one of the largest groups in the United States. Fivethirtyeight.com estimated that 300,000+ people attended Tea Parties across the United States on April 15.

Any movement that inspires nationwide protests has far more supporters than are present during protests, as one could easily argue that far more than 300,000 Americans oppose taxes, Barack Obama or corporate bailouts.

But I still say that the numbers are hardly significant, in light of another kind of gathering that occured just 5 days later on April 20.

Remember that the Denver Metro Area drew just 5,000 protesters on April 15. Then on April 20, over 10,000 people gathered on the University of Colorado campus to smoke pot publicly at 4:20 pm. I love big gatherings of people so I had to be there, and captured these photos (click to enlarge):

Looking East:

Looking West:

At 4:21PM:

This is a crowd drawn to a movement as obscure as marijuana usage, just as vague and undirected as the tea party protests. One could argue that it is more geared toward the legalization of cannabis, and could also argue that it’s just a party. But in any case, this is the kind of spontanneous energy that is available drawing from a single community. My guess is that the campus police are also intentionally understating the size of the crowd, since they judged last year’s to be 10,000 people and this one was noticeably bigger.

As a more direct contrast to tea parties, on November 04, 2008, I watched about two thousand people spontanneously erupt with joy and pour onto the 16th Street Mall in Denver when CNN announced Barack Obama had won the election. There were other crowds in other parts of Denver, because it was unplanned and people just ran out into the street wherever they happened to be at that moment. My roommate who was at home in Boulder told me about an even bigger mob that erupted there, and pointed me to videos on youtube.

My generation is the Obama generation, and as they mature and vote in increasing numbers – bringing along people who are now too young to vote – they support liberal policies in huge numbers. It’s not just social conservatism that turns young people off to the Republican party, it’s their seeming insistance on choosing, again and again, ideology over pragmatism.

There are surely a lot of young urban hipsters who hate the idea of “big government” and would love to let the big banks fail. They’ll complain that a 35% tax rate is awfully high even if it’s just the richest bracket. But if you get into the details and ask exactly WHICH programs they want to get rid of, they don’t know. They like trains. They like public schools and universities. They think universal healthcare is a moral responsibility. They want the federal government to expand national parks.

All these things requre taxes to take place, and despite vocal protestations, the “don’t tax me” crowd is at a long-time low in energy level.

This also tells us a little bit about how news coverage works, since the tea party protests were all over and 4:20 – despite its huge gatherings – are still esoteric to college students. Maybe the news organizations are compassonate to the stoners and don’t want to incite public outrage and mass-arrests – knowing what kind of habits Journalism majors have makes me beleive this is possible – but in any case, it means that 4:20 drew twice as many people as the tea parties even as its basically a secret.



  1. We are in the same generation but I certainly don’t identify myself with Obama 😛

    Comment by sirithkai — April 22, 2009 @ 4:23 pm | Reply

    • There were 5,000 people at the Tea Party, several times that dancing in the streets on Election Night.

      So it still leaves room for people of my generation to be tea partying. They’re just in the minority, is all.

      Comment by ononehand — April 22, 2009 @ 5:13 pm | Reply

      • I agree that they are in a minority, which i find to be shame. I honestly believe that this was a terrible president to put our generation behind.

        Comment by sirithkai — April 22, 2009 @ 5:35 pm

      • I’m sure you do. But nobody “put” our generation there, and nobody dared to speak for our generation – as individuals we chose for ourselves and happened to agree. We synthesized what our parents taught us with our own observations on race, inequality, the environment, the market, education and taxes, and the overwhelming majority of us found Barack Obama’s policies to be pragmatic and un-ideological. I’m very optimistic about America right now.

        Comment by ononehand — April 22, 2009 @ 7:58 pm

      • I don’t see what is so pragmatic or “un-idealogical” with what Barack Obama is doing. If anything what I see is actually quite the opposite, but it is what it is I guess.

        Comment by Anonymous — April 22, 2009 @ 8:17 pm

      • Sorry, I guess I was not logged in when i replied lol.

        Comment by sirithkai — April 22, 2009 @ 8:27 pm

      • His policies are about producing an effect: stimulating the economy, bringing jobs to low-income communities, improving eduation, protecting the environment, closing the achievement gap.

        Verses, the polocies of the last 8 years: regulation is bad, taxes are immoral, spread freedom to the world, etc.

        We (the people rallying behind Obama) are not trying to create an ideological world where nobody owns guns and everybody makes the same amount of money. We’re not trying to abolish “the evils of capitalism” like the Right is trying to abolish “the evils of social programs.” We’re not trying to re-make the world, we’re simply trying to be sure that America is being proactive about problems.

        I don’t see any need to raise the highest income tax bracket to higher than 40% and I don’t beleive in “redistributing” wealth to the poor. I don’t beleive in taxes for the sake of bringing rich people “to our level” and I don’t beleive that military force is wrong.

        I see that we have problems to solve: greenhouse gas emissions, a hostile world, and cross-generational poverty. I’m for solving those problems: improve urban education, increase access to higher education, curb CO2 emissions by investing in techonologies that do not pollute. Those are all proagmatic goals, not vague ideological ones like SHRINK THE SIZE OF GOVERNMENT (with no specific sense on what could be cut), CUT TAXES (with no direction on how to pay for a tax cut), FIGHT TERROR (but only through means that make us appear masculine and strong; if something would be effective but requires working with allies, fuck it), AMERICA FOR AMERICANS ONLY (even if deporting all undocumented workers would fracture families and cause small businesses to collapse in a time when the economy is already bad), KILL ISLAMOFASCISTS (without learning to distinguish them from ordinary Muslims), PROTECT FREEDOM (which means, um…. oh nevermind).

        Comment by ononehand — April 22, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

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