I don't have any problem with people protesting the status quo. I serve as an agent provocateur myself here at Brown Man Thinking Hard, so the idea of the taxpayer "Tea Parties" that will be held next week on April 15th is the kind of thing that would initially appeal to me. I can even see some merit in the reasoning behind some of their issues with the Obama administration, even after allowing for the highly partisan slant of their platform.
The thing I don't like about it is the kind of people it has attracted. They are the same insufferable types as the dissatisfied Democrats who formed P.U.M.A. after Hillary Clinton lost her mojo late last spring when it became clear that she had been out hustled, out organized, and out fundraised by Barack Obama's crackerjack campaign managers. In fact, if you look closely at the people standing in the crowds at these "Tea Parties", you will see a common denominator, uniquely American smugness that can only be achieved by angry white people with an incomplete command of two or three catchphrases, the kind who are always suspicious that their birthrights are being stolen right from under their noses.
I thought about the things I protested in my life as I mulled over the details behind this latest partisan assault masquerading as a populist movement against the American government. Years ago when I was in college, the only black English professor I ever took a class from was a part of the journeyman teaching circuit, taking short term jobs wherever she could find them. The good doctor's PhD, as far as I knew, was a real one. Her passion for her chosen field of study, African American literature, seemed genuine. The quality of her research appeared to be solid. I have no real recollection, though, of how much she had published.
My alma mater, one of the most venerated institutions of higher learning in the south, had been spending the income from their enlarged endowment like water in an effort to recruit the best academic talent to our campus. The good doctor liked what she saw, so she applied for tenure. I don't know the mechanics behind tenure, so all I can tell you is that she was denied tenure, although I would imagine that she may have been denied the right to even apply for tenure, or was possibly even turned down for a teaching position with immediate tenure.
So the good doctor fought back. She filed grievances through the proper channels. She lobbied the department chair. And she went outside the university, enlisting the aid of Atlanta's civil rights and protest community. Now that I think about it, I don't know how I ended up involved in the good doctor's struggle to gain a permanent position on the faculty. She had a way of putting things in terms that made it seem like you were letting yourself down if you didn't at least listen to what she had to say.
A determined band of students from her classes started meeting at the good doctor's house to do what we could for her cause. Inside her home, she took the gloves off. She spoke freely of the horrors she had suffered at the hands of college administrators across the country. She condemned the idea of so much authority resting in the hands of white men, who she felt were already predisposed to discount her scholarship because she was black and because she was a woman. To impressionable college students, her anti-authority rhetoric spoke to that thing in all people that age who were still largely dependents of their parents, their original authority figures.
We got to meet C.T. Vivian. We were supposed to meet the celebrated writer James Baldwin, in town to do research on the Atlanta child murders, who had ostensibly enlisted in the good doctor's cause to put outside pressure on the university to reconsider her application, but he never materialized. And there was a hodgepodge of old line civil rights protesters who milled around the good doctor's house on Saturday and Sunday nights as she plotted strategy.
But black college students, especially at a top flight mainstream university, are more conservative than College Republicans. Those descended from parents who had gotten along to get ahead knew instinctively to shy away from the limelight and refuse to sign protest petitions. Those who were less fortunate depended so heavily on the college for aid that they wouldn’t do anything that might jeopardize their ability to earn a degree. Which only left the hard headed and the adventurous among us who agreed to stand up at a press conference for the good doctor and denounce the college administration. Being both hard headed and adventurous, I ended up being one of the key spokespeople for the good doctor's cause.
By the time we got to the press conference at the old Paschal's Restaurant and Hotel near downtown Atlanta, I'd learned a lot about protesting. From the dozens of us who gathered weekly at the good doctor's house, only three or four of us were actually willing to stand in front of the TV cameras in our mod "power to the people" black clothing and read our prepared statements. My mind was more on the silky haired, mocha colored goddess who stood beside me, a fine young woman from Michigan who hadn't given me more than the time of day before I became a protester than it was on the intent of my short speech.
Protesting became addictive. That spring semester, we protested something or another in front of the student center along with reinforcements from the Atlanta University schools. I sat in the ornate office of my university's president with a gonzo, balls to the wall partner-in-crime to present to the preternaturally cool president a set of demands for funding a new kind of African American organization on campus, since the Student Government Association seemed to have a stranglehold on the student activity fees we paid every year. I sat on a panel that spring at a symposium that pitted HBCU minority student concerns against mainstream university minority student concerns, where I proceeded to excoriate the status quo mindset among black college students.
When our protest for the good doctor didn’t elicit a response from the university through any channels, public or private, she began to become desperate and bitter. Some of Atlanta’s old line families, ones with connections to the university itself, she told us one evening a couple of weeks after the protest, were implicated in the Atlanta child murders, which was why the police were having a hard time making a case against anyone. And why the university was out to get her.
The balls to the wall guy who sat next to me in the president's office to help present our new black student organization proposals turned out to be some random black guy who had never been enrolled at the university. It turned out that he wasn't just always over at his girlfriend’s dorm room – he was living there illegally, at least until the school kicked him out of the dorm and banned him from campus.
Everybody at the helm of these things had ulterior motives. But it was easy, if you didn't know what to look for, to get caught up in the emotion of group action. To feel empowered by the kind of leaders who understood your pain and suffering better than anybody else.
In a down market, as members of an out of favor political party, Glen Beck and Michelle Malkin seem to be making as much of a play for increased influence and a higher "Q" rating as they are making a push for economic justice. I just wish they would point their troops in the right direction - the abuse of corporate governance that has allowed CEO's to become financial rapists.
Hating the president is pointless if you are not RAISING MONEY and ORGANIZING NEW VOTERS for your own candidate, or grooming somebody other than Sarah Palin for president, or learning to get over your aversion to Mitt Romney's religion because he is the best chance you've got. Money and votes, not outrage and protest, are what will facilitate an administration change.
I actually realized halfway through this little rant that isn't fair, but the irony, at least in my mind, is that neither are these crazed fanatics, the kind of people who will get together to beat your brains out to protect "the sanctity of life" and then drive home past real live human beings in need that they could care less about.
The principles in most protests are based on basic core human values and good intentions. But it is the extreme rhetoric that is most revealing, whether it is an angry looking young black man standing in front of a TV camera denouncing a "paternalistic administration that treat professors like sharecroppers" or these legions of Americans, almost all of whom are white, who are angrily denouncing "the liberal media", "Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the new Obama Administration" or "socialists".
How do I know they are white? Go see for yourself:
I tried the same thing on Google, since I'm apt to be biased in the links I provide. Try it yourself – type in "tea party taxpayer revolt" and select "images" from the Google toolbar, and you'll see that these protesters look suspiciously like the same white people in the Pelosi daughter's documentary who hated "that Muslim" running for president.
Maybe it's the way I look at the United States in the context of world history, but I've always thought of this country, at less than two hundred and fifty years old, as a nation entering its adolescence. Which means we are entering that awkward phase that all teenagers go through before they finally begin to come into their own as young adults. America's greatest days, I believe, are ahead of us.
The only advice I have for the protesters is the same advice my mother gave me the summer after my "semester of protest", when she learned about these activities for the first time during the break between my junior and senior year. "I think you need to remember," she said, with her patented left eye cocked open stare, the same kind that the actress Pearl Bailey used to use when she meant business, "why we sent you there."
My mother didn't want another Malcolm X - she wanted a college graduate.
And I assume that the Tea Baggers want more at the end of the day than a sore throat, so I suggest to my angry friends that you check your leader's ulterior motivations out to make sure their game plans can translate your ire into something that pays off for you as much as it is going to pay off for them.