Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tea Party Crosses the Line With Threats & Attacks – April 1, 2010

   If you’ve been following recent events in national politics you know Tea Party currently refers to a unsettling anti-government movement, connected — in name only — to the American history event when colonists rebelled against British rule in 1773 by tossing tea into the harbor that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party.
Last Saturday’s Tea Party rally in Nevada, just days after the historic health care vote, drew a crowd estimated at 10,000. Some inappropriately called it the Conservative Woodstock, but I doubt anyone who was there would ever want to be associated with the 400,000 who attended the famous “music and peace festival” that took place 41 years ago over three days in upstate New York.
Activists from that generation were at the opposite end of the political spectrum from contemporary Tea Party supporters, yet the newer group reiterates similar complaints heard from their grass roots movement predecessors, such as excess government (anti-establishment back then) intrusion, excessive taxes, destroy the corrupt ruling authority and giving power back to the people, as well as tactics like rowdy mass rallies and protest marches.
Protesters back then were branded unpatriotic for opposing the Vietnam War. There were those who supported the war because they believed it was the patriotic thing to do, yet condemned opponents as ‘Commies’ and suggested they had two choices about their country — love it or leave it.
Agitated Tea Party radicals these days spew comparable anti-government venom, but it isn’t unpatriotic now and it wasn’t then because criticism of the government is one of the advantages of living in a democracy — unless the attacks are augmented with violence. There were, unfortunately, incidents of violence, including bombings of government buildings, connected with the demonstrations staged generations ago.
The modern Tea Party has become more — much more — than your basic clash of East and West coast cultures versus the rest of the country. At some recent rallies there were reports of racist, anti-gay and anti-Semitic epithets in threats directed at several legislators who voted for health care reform. Close to home, Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Queens office received a threatening letter that contained a white powder that turned out not to be hazardous.
At one demonstration protesters verbally abused a man with Parkinson’s disease, chiding him to get a job as they threw dollar bills at him for supporting health care reform.
Threats of physical violence cross the fine line between civility and criminality. At least 10 Democratic Congressmen were given extra security following threats linked to their votes on the Health Care Reform bill. It’s wholly acceptable — and lawful — to peaceably dissent, but it’s another to stand by as agitators engage in acts of vandalism or demonstrate while toting unconcealed loaded weapons.
Before wholly embracing the Tea Party movement, moralizing and responsible members of the Republican Party should condemn the goons and urge responsible citizens in the group that while protests and demonstrations are the American way, using harassment and threats of violence to convey their message is like playing with fire. And remind them that their anger should be expressed with ballots, not images of a weapon’s cross hair to identify Democrats targeted for removal.
These angry people taking unrestrained passion to the lowest level possible have every right to protest and express their utter dissatisfaction with the government in a law-abiding fashion, but with the hard-line reactionary faction making headlines, it seriously questions the movement’s credibility and direction – just as it did when the anti-Vietnam War movement and other protests at that time were sometimes overzealous and violent.
When the landmark Civil Rights Act was passed, there were those across the country who didn’t want to see equality given to blacks. Once again, in today’s heated political climate, the Tea Party refuses to recognize the impact that important legislation could have on the nation.
Political issues have divided the nation for more than a decade. It is unlikely to change as the Tea Party Movement’s influence grows and conservative Republicans follow. But if the bitterness is not reined in, someone’s gets hurt or killed if the vandalism and the threats of violence get out of hand.