April 16, 2010

Founders Needed: Seattle Tea-Party Lukewarm in 2010


I was prepared for many things but underwhelmed was not one of them. When it comes to Thursday’s events in Seattle the short word would be “tepid;” the long, “anticlimactic.” Sadly, there’s no way around that impression of Tax Day 2020's Tea Party in Seattle. In numbers, I’d estimate the crowd at, generously, two-thirds of the crowd last year at the same event in the same place. That alone would not have mattered so much if the program itself had had any spark to it, but it did not.

Seattle Tea Party, 2009

Seattle Tea Party, 2010

I don’t know what the feeling was at other Tea Party events across the nation today. This was the only one that I could attend and I deliberately avoided reading about the others. I hope they were more inspiring that this assembly. Admittedly a small, contained stone canyon in the heart of downtown Seattle is a tough venue, but "never let a good crisis go to waste."

What is clear is that if other Tax-Day rallies were only the equal of the Seattle assembly the Tea Party needs to either get serious about being a voice and a rally point or just drift away. To quote the American Communist martyr Joe Hill, "Don't mourn. Organize."

There’s a great deal of “don’t follow leaders, watch the Founding Fathers” being bandied about, and while that feels good to say there’s no valid political party that can long endure without leaders, manifestos and much more. Resisting definition has been what the Tea Party has been about for over a year. That's got to change. You have to say what you stand for very, very simply. Even the Anarchist Party of the 19th and early 20th century knew that. Of course their primary claim to fame was igniting the World War I, so they're not the precise model to emulate.

In the beginning it's not enough for a Party to find itself in “the times that try men’s souls.” A Party, to thrive and grow, must continually find a way “to inspire men’s souls.” What the Tea Party Movement needs if it is to endure as a force in American politics are five (5) things that are (in Seattle at least) in very short supply. These five things are:

1) Leaders: Sarah Palin can’t do it all. She doesn’t want to and it would be a waste of her as a resource if she were to take up that role. The Tea Party needs professional leaders and organizers on a local, state, and national level. I think it can develop them and it must, but it will take time and a dependable funding stream.

2) Speakers: By speakers I mean those that have the necessary rhetorical skills and insight to, through words spoken, move and inspire the listeners to loftier goals than “we are taxed too much and are about to be taxed more.” We are and we will, but a succession of people at the podium whose message is primarily money does not stir the blood and cause the heart and soul to rise. It is that rise that people are really looking for, not just a chance to vent.

It is not bragging to say I have some modest speaking skills. I do. Given ten minutes to prepare remarks I could have delivered a better speech today than those I heard. Time and again today I was listening closely to the speakers and found their remarks were either formulaic or rambling. If people are going to speak for the people they not only need to have a story, but also get some media training -- or at least learn the orator's rule of three. At Gettysberg Lincoln wrote an address. It was brief and it had pith and perfect pitch. Study it. Once more, Sarah Palin cannot do it all – but she’s a great mode for contemporary pith and pitch. Imitate but do not duplicate. Speaking and speeches are not often found in the same person. Locally, find your speakers and, if they are weak on content, put them together with your writers.

3) **Slogans: Political positions that cannot fit on a bumper sticker are not powerful enough. That sounds facile and it is, but it is also true. What was Obama’s mantra? Right. That was it. What was McCain’s mantra? You have no idea. Neither do I. The Tea Party, inchoate as it is, has to settle on a sheaf of core ideas expressed in a concise manner and repeat, repeat, rinse, and repeat. Endlessly coming up with clever signs is good at the beginning, but it doesn’t make for a campaign. This is a massive post-industrial, proto-information age society and homespun, interesting at the beginning, quickly becomes only quaint. Professional propaganda will be needed. Keeping it true propaganda will be the challenge.

3) Stars: Sarah Palin can't... (see above). And Andrew Breitbart's dance card is also full. We need more known names to show up and lend support. By stars I mean local and/or national celebrities or, at the very least, people who can play a guitar and sing into a microphone at a rally. Just speeches and brief appearances by local pols and organizers do not raise the heart rate. If your Party can't raise the collective heart rate, it can't win. (And while we’re at it let’s get some sound techs on the job so that amplification actually works. Loud is not always lucid. Whenever possible, eschew amplification. It creates intimacy and commands attention. It's also novel.)

4) Songs: We need them and, as noted above, people who can sing them and do. If one is going to have a revolution you have 1) be ready to do revolting things (in all senses of that old phrase from Jerry Rubin) and 2) be entertaining. Especially on Tax Day when people are looking for boosts and not bitches. Types of songs? Folk works. Classic rock works better. Warm up music. Rocking music in the middle. Anthems at the end. Agitprop and comedy routines would be nice but not completley necessary. After welcoming remarks, sing the Star Spangled Banner. Always. It's hard but it unifies.

5) Timing and Location: When you have a rally is as important as where you have a rally. Next year I would hope the movement is mature enough to realize that a party composed of people who primarily pay taxes and work doesn’t get maximum turnout on the afternoon of a weekday at the end of a week when tax payers are already feeling tired. Nor should that meeting be called for a concrete island in the center of a downtown in which parking is always problematic. Weekends and parks work much better. Toss in a few picnic tables and it gets even better.

All of this is, of course, just Student Radical Rally 101 from the ‘60s. Worked then and the Left has been perfecting it since. To paraphrase Abbie Hoffman, “Steal this look.”

A few photos from the scene and a short section of slogans...

Sign Time: Someone should be collecting these for an exhibit.

Counter-Demonstration: This year we had one. A small one. One that did not so much represent "the other side" as "the far side."

The very far side.

Provocateur as an advertisement of what he was against. This guy would be right at home in a Breaking Bad meth-lab.

Long ago issues with Fathers of all kinds.

Even the advocates of alternative, green transportation lurked around the fringes.

**The Rule of Slogans: Short is good. Shorter is better. They're fun to make and cheap to print at Kinkos. Here, for worse and better, is the fruit of 15 minutes worth of free-association:
















Let a thousand slogans bloom. The right ones will stick. You won't know what those are until they stick.

Posted by Vanderleun at April 16, 2010 3:25 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I don't have time to read the whole post right now (getting ready for work). I'll check it out later.

I just wanted to mention that I haven't heard of a Tea Party in my area yesterday or this weekend. So I just wore my Gadsden T-shirt to work yesterday.

Posted by: rickl at April 16, 2010 5:12 AM

Buck 0fama

WW0ND? - What Would 0bama Not Do?
(Featuring the Hammersickle logo)

WWLDD? - What Would Lenin Do Differently?
(Featuring the 0bama logo)

Socialism Sucks!

A simple image of a smiling Fidel with a stethoscope.

An American flag within a circle. A field of Red Stars replaces the white ones and a big fat line through it to underscore what we the people don't want.

Got Milked?

Got Unicorns?
Under an image of a behorned Donkey.

Jackass (featuring the Democrat's bucking Donkey logo)

Workers of the World Finite!

An image of Uncle 0bama pointing: Uncle 0bama Wants You...To give him all your cash!

A road sign style generic everyman bent over and mounted by a silhouette of a Democratic donkey with an elephant patiently waiting for the donkey to finish what he's doing.

Posted by: monkeyfan at April 16, 2010 5:14 AM

"Next year I would hope the movement is mature enough to realize that a party composed of people who primarily pay taxes... "


I'm flabbergasted that they haven't figured this out yet.

Posted by: tim at April 16, 2010 5:15 AM

Dunno which "Rule of Three" you're referring to, but I've done a lot of speaking and seminar-leading myself, and the best I ever heard was from a preacher:

1. Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em,

2. Tell 'em,

3. And then tell 'em what you told 'em.

And of course the implied

4. Then shut up and sit down.

Posted by: Robert De Witt at April 16, 2010 5:19 AM

I'm really torn about the whole tea party movement. I don't know exactly what it is, or why I feel this way, but it seems to me, that there must be some deeper, more seismic shift in the American psyche for any real change to happen in our government. It might have to be more substantive than the angry/happy gatherings we see. It all depends on what the tipping point is. Protest gatherings and speechifying don't carry things on toward the higher goal. For me, Sarah Palin is shrill. I have developed an intolerance for all politics. Maybe it's the bunker mentality setting in on my part.
I guess it depends on what will get the vast majority of us motivated to be angry enough to do something more than show up with a clever sign and a megaphone.
The left lives for the protest. They're really good at it. It is the end and not the means to an end. That is their church and what drives them. They always play the part of the outcast, even when they have all the power. It's what they do.
Maybe we need to protest differently. I fantasize about angry truckers surrounding Washington D.C. and not letting anything in or out. The unions aren't the only ones who can strike. And what's a union strike, anyway? A friggin' protest march with prefab signs and all the same t-shirts....just like any lefty protest march.
Nope, I think if you want to be inspired, you have to do something shockingly quiet....like Rosa Parks.

Posted by: Jewe at April 16, 2010 9:57 AM

Government is not reason, it
is not eloquence--it is force.

The chief cause of problems
are solutions.

A society of sheep begets
a government of wolves.

A state that dwarfs its men
will produce small men.

Clear thinking requires
courage, not intelligence.

A nations life is as long
as its reverential memory.

Socialism is the end, not the
beginning, of helpfulness.

The socialist society forbids capitalist
acts between consenting adults.

The urge to save humanity
is usually the urge to rule it.

When we argue for our limitations,
we get to keep them.

A socialist is a
Marxist without a gun.

A liberal is a man with his
mind open at both ends.

The two sticker solution:

The mystery of government is
not how Washington works.

The mystery of government is
how to make it stop.
We are learning to do
a great many clever things.

The next great task will be
to learn not to do them.
When the government fears the people,
it is liberty.

When the people fear the government,
it is tyranny.

Posted by: james wilson at April 16, 2010 10:18 AM

Making me work to pay your way is SLAVERY.



Redistribute LIBERTY !

Posted by: Hangtown Bob at April 16, 2010 10:24 AM

"Redistribute LIBERTY !"

Excellent. Ditto Wilson. Monkeyfan too. And Jewel's got a clue, more than a clue...

Posted by: vanderleun at April 16, 2010 11:18 AM

Sing God Bless America and bug them twice. Praise America and mention God. It's a winner.

Posted by: Kate Rafferty at April 16, 2010 4:44 PM

got liberty?

got tyranny?

Sorry, that's all I "got" right now.

I've also seen an excellent variation of the Gadsden flag, showing the rattlesnake striking with mouth wide open and the words "TIME'S UP" instead of "DON'T TREAD ON ME".

Posted by: rickl at April 16, 2010 5:45 PM

Heh. Heh.

I wandered by Thursday and saw the tiny turnout at Westlake.

On the other hand we had a very nice turnout down here in P.Square last weekend for the Oneamerica rally for immigration reform.

Terrific music and food as well.

There are times I really enjoy Seattle.

Posted by: Arthurstone at April 17, 2010 1:55 PM

Gerard. And you a poet. A slogan must have *rhythm*. You must be able to chant it. (This doesn't mean you have to actually stand around chanting it - but if it doesn't have a compelling internal rhythm, it won't be memorable.)


"Uncle Sam Wants YOU!" - which I don't think anyone has ever chanted, but which you can hear in your head when you see it.

"Yes We Can" - simple three-beat rhythm. Very popular and generally applicable:


"Redistribute LIBERTY!" is very good. It fits on a sticker or t-shirt, but more to the point you can make an energetic chant of it. Which means when people read it, they'll hear it that way in their heads, and it will stick in the memory.

A good slogan also must carry its own context; it should have meaning even if the person reading it has never seen it before. "Change UP!" is chantable, particularly with the emphasis on the last syllable - but it could mean anything at all. "U.S.A.!" is too short to carry a lot of meaning, but the fact that it's the name of the country carries meaning in itself. Etc.

Posted by: jaed at April 18, 2010 6:48 AM
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