As all working people know, April 15 is Tax Day, when we have to pay our annual financial tribute to the Powers That Be. Naturally, we resent this, because we know that the rich and powerful hire expensive tax attorneys to make sure they get out of paying taxes, leaving us to foot most of the bill for running the government.
And we also know that most of our hard-earned tax dollars aren’t used to provide jobs, schools, housing, health care, or taking care of the disadvantaged. No, they’re used primarily to support the very wealthy and to pay for past, present and future wars.
As the economy worsens, it’s inevitable that working people will get more and more angry about this state of affairs. We might even want to come together and do something about it. Now, the rich and powerful can’t have that, can they?
So it should come as no surprise that right-wing organizations would try and pre-empt our justified anger by organizing phony anti-tax protests — protests that claim to represent the “grassroots,” but that actually promote the interests of the rich and powerful.
Welcome to the Tax Day Tea Party Rallies.
On April 15, a motley collection of neoconservatives, self-proclaimed “free-marketers,” and right-wing libertarians will be holding “April 15th Nationwide Tax Day Tea Party Rallies” — including 19 here in Virginia.
Who’s behind these “protests?”
According to its Web site, this Tea Party Movement is sponsored by four organizations: the New American Tea Party, the ReTeaParty, the Tea Party Revolution, and the Free Pocket Constitution. The first three appear to be recently formed Web sites.
The New American Tea Party describes itself as “a coalition of citizens and organizations concerned about the recent trend of fiscal recklessness in government.” This group is promoting the April 15 rally in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the American Spectator, Heartland Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Prosperity, and the Young Conservatives Coalition, all well-known right-wing organizations.
ReTeaParty is affiliated with something called the Political Exploration and Awareness Committee PAC, which says it “campaigns on behalf of issues, candidates, and potential candidates that promote honesty and Constitutional leadership.”
And presumably, apple pie, motherhood, and heart-warming baseball games on hot summer evenings.
The Tea Party Revolution’s Web site says “We are just like you: a group of citizens concerned about the growing size of our government.”
But the fourth, the Free Pocket Constitution, is sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, this country’s leading — and very well-funded — right-wing think tank.
Here in Richmond, we’re in for a Tax Day Rally to be held at Kanawha Plaza, a public park next door to the Federal Reserve Building.
Now, let’s see who’s involved in this “grassroots” effort:
The event’s MCs are local WRVA radio “personalities” and noted immigrant bashers Doc Thompson & Jimmy Barrett. A great start. (WRVA, by the way, is owned by Clear Channel Communications, Inc., a private Texas-based behemoth that owns more than 800 high-power U.S. AM and FM radio stations, plus more media outlets in other countries. It used to own 30 TV stations, but sold those in 2007.)
Among the scheduled speakers are representatives from the Virginia Patriots, Independence Caucus, Powhatan Taxpayers Alliance, American Majority, and Restoring the Founders’ Vision.
Don’t recognize these organizations? Gee, maybe you’re not in touch with the “grassroots.”
But the first scheduled speaker is well known, at least in Virginia policy-making circles: John Taylor, the president of both the Virginia Institute for Public Policy and an outfit with the arcane name “Tertium Quids.”
The VIPP is a statewide neoconservative think tank that plays a leading role in promoting right-wing policies in the Virginia General Assembly. Besides pumping out heavily slanted (to the right) policy papers, it also promotes something called the Tuesday Morning Group, hosted by Tertium Quids.
Never heard of the Tuesday Morning Group? Maybe you’re too grassroots.
The Group is a coalition of conservative political activists that meets on the second Tuesday of every month at the tony Bull & Bear Club in downtown Richmond. The discussions focus on three main policy areas: taxes, property rights, and “education reform.” (You can read that last item as “weakening public education by promoting charter schools and school vouchers.”) The Tuesday Morning Group claims to have hundreds of members, including “representatives from more than 200 organizations, 44 members of the General Assembly or congressional staffers, and 26 members of the media.”
And you wonder why the right-wingers in the General Assembly seem so organized. It’s because they are organized.
As the noted author F. Scott Fitzgerald once put it, “The rich are not like you and me.”
Far from it. We true grassroots activists like to form tiny little groups that pick one or two issues to concentrate on, completely divorced from other areas of struggle. The rich, on the other hand, build organizations and coalitions that bring together activists addressing a wide variety of issues. Somehow they are much more conscious of their own common class interests. They realize that, at bottom, there are just two sides: the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, the bosses and the workers, those who own the means of production and those who spend their lives working for those who own them.
Fortunately, there is an effort to unite the progressive movements of all poor and working people here in Virginia.
On Jan. 10, nearly 90 representatives from the Black and Latino communities; labor unions; prisoner rights advocates; students; women; the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered communities; and the anti-war movement gathered in Richmond — in a church basement, not the Cock & Bull Club — and founded the Virginia People’s Assembly. (See www.RichmondJwJ.org.)
The VPA has the potential to become a framework to unite all these various struggles. Already it’s been successful in putting people in touch with each other across racial lines and geographic distances. On March 7 it helped bring people to the statewide march in Farmville organized by People United and Mexicanos Sin Fronteras to oppose construction of a 1,000-bed immigrant detention center. On March 29 it brought people from the immigrant, prisoner and anti-war movements to the mass march against racism organized by the NAACP in Powhatan County. It supported the pro-Employee Free Choice Act demonstration held April 14 in downtown Richmond, a protest called by the Virginia AFL-CIO and Richmond Jobs with Justice. It’s working to ensure that the prisoner advocacy group R.I.H.D. can continue its not-for-profit van service that enables low-income families to visit their loved ones in Virginia’s far-away prisons.
Right now we are in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The banks and big corporations will get their bailouts, but working people are in line for more job cuts, deeper cutbacks, more evictions and foreclosures.
People are not going to put up with this situation forever. Already we are seeing signs of motion, from both the left and the right.
As the crisis deepens, there will be two ways to go: dividing up by race, gender, and income levels in a right-wing movement to maintain the dominance of the wealthy — an effort represented by the April 15 Tax Day rallies — or uniting the multi-racial working class in formations like the Virginia People’s Assembly.
Which side will you be on?
Phil Wilayto is the editor of The Richmond Defender newspaper and a co-founder of the Virginia People’s Assembly. He can be reached at <DefendersFJE@hotmail.com>.