The Alabama Moderate

Painting the Red State Purple.

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Why the Boston Tea Party was effective (and why yesterday’s weren’t)

Posted by ALmod on April 16, 2009

Imagine you had an issue with a restaurant.  Imagine you wanted to take action that would persuade that restaurant to change a policy that you didn’t like.  Now imagine that your idea is to get as many people as possible to eat at that restaurant.  That may get the restaurant owner’s attention, but it’s not exactly going to ruin his day.

Now imagine instead that the people angry with the restaurant decided to break into the restaurant and destroy all the food in the freezer and they threatened to keep doing it until the policy changed.

This is pretty much the difference between the original Boston Tea Party and yesterday’s teabag protests.  (Yes, it’s still making me giggle to say “teabag” but I’ll try to keep it serious.)  The original partiers were angry about a tax that British Parliament had passed on tea to be sold in the colonies.  It’s also important to mention that the tax was passed while colonists had no representation in Parliament.  That’s where the saying “taxation without representation” comes from.  It wasn’t like the situation we have now, where we vote on representatives every two years.  Unless you’re from Washington, D.C., you can hardly claim that you don’t have representation to oppose or support your ideas on taxes.

So they disguised themselves, trespassed onto private property, and destroyed the tea.  Nobody was going to buy the tea, and nobody was going to pay the taxes on it as a result.

Fast forward to 2009. Folks want to protest taxes, and that’s fine.  But the focus appears to be on showmanship, and that’s where things break down.  In an effort to replicate a part of our country’s history, folks completely missed the point of the event that they were replicating.  In protesting taxes, the protesters purchased a lot of tea bags, and in many cases, paid the sales tax that went with it.  Further, the protests were mostly held on public property (like parks) that is maintained through tax dollars AND they paid for permits.

So in the effort to protest taxes, folks used resources paid for with tax dollars and then gave the govenment more money in fees and taxes.  Let’s think about that for a second and contemplate the contrast between the original and the new and improved tea party.

So how exactly is this an effective protest of government action?  What about it would possibly encourage government officials to change their wasteful ways anymore than a letter-writing campaign, which is just as legal and shows just as many numbers.  What was the point?

While I do not condone illegal activity, you will seldom see an effective protest against government action that follows the letter of the law.  The very definition of a revolution is that people… well…  revolt.  That’s why civil rights protests and anti-war protests to the Vietnam War were so effective.  People were breaking the law by defying Jim Crow and burning draft cards.  And yes, they went to jail for it.  They also changed the world.

The drawback, of course, is that if your side loses you’re just a criminal.

Wouldn’t it have raised more eyebrows if millions of people just quit paying their taxes?  That would certainly send a message to Washington.  It would also land you in jail, but as anyone who’s ever read anything about our beginnings can tell you, signing the Declaration of Independance was high treason and carried the penalty of death.  Nothing worth having comes without a price.  So either you’re just not that fed up with your taxes, or you’re fed up enough to risk your neck to change things.

Quite frankly, I’m not THAT fed up just yet.  And read again, I am neither condoning nor recommending illegal activity.  I believe that I can write an email telling my representatives how I feel, and that if enough people join me, then we can use the power of the vote to convince.  And I don’t even have to buy a stamp to do it.


20 Responses to “Why the Boston Tea Party was effective (and why yesterday’s weren’t)”

  1. hey…tell me what you think about the 25 Legislators who declined the pay raise?

  2. Brian said

    You’re smart, but you really don’t get this, which baffles me. No one (well, a scant minority) were protesting government. Just government spending run amuk and the associated tax burden that is (and more importantly – will be) associated with it. Yes they were held in parks, with permits, and there was no illegal activity. The original Tea Party folks did not have the luxury of a government that was constitutionally required to allow them to peaceably assemble. They were forced to resort to criminal activity to be heard.

    I really fail to see your point, though. Are you suggesting that political rallies are ineffective unless people turn over cars? Should like minded people sit quietly in their homes writing polite letters to their elected officials on fine stationary?

    I’ll tell you one good reason why the Tea Parties were successful. I found out for the first time yesterday how many people I know actually feel the same way I do. I see them at work and around town, but don’t discuss politics. Now we have a connection that will break down barriers of communication that can lead to cooperative political efforts in the future.

  3. David said

    ALmod, you are right on.
    I personally think that the “tea parties” are a lame attempt to garner attention.
    Brian, your disassociation of “government” (currently voted in by the majority, of which you had your say) and “government spending” is what doesn’t make any sense.

  4. Brian said


    So by your logic I assume that you didn’t say a peep when the other party had control of the government, right? Not a word of discontent because that’s what the people wanted after all? Give me a break.

    The federal government has many defined roles: nat’l defense, just legal system, and international relations to name a few. Government operations cost money and taxes are the way to collect that money. I have no problem with that. But why should the federal government build a bridge for Microsoft, bail out failed private companies, or give prescription drug benefits to seniors – none of which it can pay for?! All that profligate spending has to be paid for one day through taxes.

  5. ALmod said

    Deb, I’m still a tad cynical on that one. I usually am when lawmakers appear to do any good. I’m giving it a couple more days to see if anything interesting pops up.

    Brian, also consider that you’re not a far right GOPer. I know better than that. Unfortunately, the event that was planned by Libertarians and originally supposed to be a message to both Republicans and Democrats was hijacked by the far right. And it’s a shame, too, because I thought that the Libertarians had it right. I do fully support the things they’re mad as hell about.

    And again, the idea that you’re opposed to government spending and taxation on any level and to show that you organize an event that ultimately sends them more money is more than a tad contradictory. You have to at least admit that much.

    I’m not saying that they’re COMPLETELY ineffective in EVERY way. If nothing else, it showed a number of people who were assembled together, and as you pointed out, you were able to meet new people with similar views. The problem is that there’s not a clear message of exactly WHAT issue was being protested. You seem to have your own issue, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But consider that not everyone was there protesting the same issues. When asked, there were as many different answers as there were people attending.

    And again, the fact that you DON’T have to turn over cars is one of the points that I made. I did in fact note that we do have elected representatives now. But the point I was trying to make is that if you’re going for a show of numbers, you can start a letter-writing campaign for the same effect. That has actually worked (see also Thanksgiving). The biggest factor is that, if you want your government to do something that they don’t want to do, you have to be able to answer the “or what” question.

    “I want you to quit spending my tax dollars frivolously.”
    “Or you’ll do what?”

    Well, you’d better have a good answer to that question because politicians aren’t easily swayed. If you can say with all confidence that you have the numbers and the influence to have that person removed from office, then I’d say you can answer that “or what” question. But if the polls are any indication, the tax day rallies don’t have the numbers. Thus, it was no more effective than a barbecue meet and greet– which actually would have been quite nice and might have lured me out of my house a lot better than throwing tea in a river.

    BBQ > Tea. Sorry Red Diamond, but that’s an established fact. And for Huntsville of all places to not recognize that… You should be ashamed.

    I’m not saying I disagree with you. Quite the contrary. I’m pretty peeved about the spending, and I have been for some time. I just don’t think that these tea parties will really change anything. Obama made a speech about how he wanted to simplify the tax code, and that would be wonderful if he could do that, but (like with the 25 mentioned above) he’s a politician, and I’m a cynic.

    When you are fighting the government, you are essentially fighting the law. Period. I know that there was violence regarding Jim Crow, but there were also peaceful protests where folks still had to be willing to break the law. Of all folks, we in Alabama should be familiar with Rosa Parks and those like her. Breaking the law doesn’t have to equate to violent behavior. Sometimes it’s as simple as sitting down. If you honestly believe that these things aren’t necessary at certain crossroads in our history, then you are by default stating that you think the government is always right. Think of the implications of that.

  6. Don said

    Why I think the TEA parties WERE effective, in a way:

    One reason for holding the Tax Day TEA Parties in all fifty states on the same day was to allow the movement to grow by, through media coverage, making more citizens aware of what’s going on in this country and what they can do about it by joining the movement and helping it grow into a size that has a voice so loud that can’t be ignored by government. I think that goal was largely reached.

  7. Brian said

    AL Mod & others wouldn’t be spending so much time talking about it, or should I say sanctimoniously dismissing it, if it was not effective Don.

  8. ALmod said

    Don, I would love to agree with you because I know what YOU were standing for, but the fact that not everyone was there for the same reasons is a major problem. And besides that, all those people put together, the numbers just don’t agree with you. The Congressional approval rating isn’t exactly high, but when you poll people about their own congressmen (which is the number that you should be looking at if you want them out), those numbers are actually quite high. The president is sitting on nearly a 70% approval rating right now, and that doesn’t mean that 30% of the county is mad as hell at him. It just means that 30% doesn’t approve. Even if that 30% was strongly opposed to the president, you’d STILL not have a majority.

    Brian, I talk about a lot of things. That doesn’t mean that they’re all effective. You seem to spend a lot of time talking about the U.S. Congress and “sanctimoniously dismissing it.” By your logic, that makes them effective, too, I suppose?

  9. Don said

    Almod, what you say about the ratings of individual members of congress holds true in our state legislature as well. A lot of Alabamians in general say “Throw the bums all out” but constituents of individual legislators (many of whom are considered to be bums by the general populace) return their “good guy or gal” to office time after time after time. This happens at both federal and state levels. I believe, because the incumbent takes our tax dollars to his district, sometimes in the form of pure pork, in order to buy votes and stay in office. It seems to work and we end up with the status quo of poor government at both levels.

  10. Yeah – I have to say, I disagree with the premise of the above post as well. The reference to buying tea bags and paying sales taxes along with holding these protests in parks paid for by local governments is beside the point. I don’t believe these people are anarchists. Without knowing the exact numbers, I would believe that 99.9% of Americans believe in the necessity of state, local and federal government, and agree that there are appropriate roles for that government (e.g. funding for parks, managed by local governments). I think they would agree that those governments need tax revenues to exist (e.g. sales taxes for state and local governments).

    I think what many of the protestors on Wednesday were advocating against were the vast overreaches by government that occurred last year under the Bush Administration (e.g. TARP, corporate bailouts, etc.) and that are continuing under Obama (e.g. controlling wages through TARP, firing the head of General Motors, etc.). They are protesting against the bloated stimulus bill that many noted economists agree missed the mark on actual “stimulation” and will likely will go down has having been a colossal waste. And they were protesting against the inevitable taxation that will be required in order to finance all of this- plus Obama’s $3.6 trillion budget. It is inevitable that there will be tax increases on the middle class after we are through passing massive, new entitlements.

    I also think this was effective the reasons Don and Brian gave. It continued and elevated the discussion over what is the proper role of government; what should the government be doing to address this crisis, etc. It clearly grabbed a lot of news attention and created quite a buzz. It may not lead to anything substantive in the immediate future, but it serves as a clear warning to Obama and the progressives that they had better not overreach too much.

    Anyway- just my thoughts. I appreciate your post, but I respectfully disagree.

  11. Chris said

    ALmod, I’m going to follow CNN, MSNBC and others lead. There’s no need for me to read your blog. Hey they didnt even have to report on the real story at the tea parties, they already knew what they were going to say. It was a GOP rally right? Sure…. So I’m going to assume that because of the blog post title that you’re a left wing nut job right? Why should CNN, MSNBC or I be concerned with facts? I think your blog has more views than MSNBC.

  12. ALmod said

    Chris, I wish I could agree or disagree with you, but I’m having trouble trying to figure out what you’re saying.

    Stephen, again I will say that the views expressed by both Brian and Don were the original intent of the tea parties, and they’ve got views very similar to my own. The problem is that these were not the views that were heard because they were drowned out by heavy right wing partisans who hijacked the event. In fact, I know that Brian in particular posted on his blog asking the nutjobs to stay away. Unfortunately, they don’t listen very well.

    Case in point, listen to some of the people who were interviewed. One guy said he was there protesting because Obama is a fascist, but he can’t seem to say what about Obama makes him a fascist. One person said she was there because Obama raised her taxes. (She actually qualified for a tax CUT under the new budget.) One person said he was there because he didn’t agree with “the socialism” and then failed to point out what socialist policies he opposed. People held signs asking where Obama was really born. And then there’s this guy:

    Now if you can watch that and seriously tell me that these events (regardless as to the original organizers and their intent) weren’t hijacked by right wing partisans with no clear message, then there’s a problem.

    But back to my point… Again, you have to answer the “or what” question. Okay, so you showed that you don’t approve of spending, and you got some folks together. Now what? Do these congressmen miraculously change their ways? Have a change of heart? Why should they? What exactly are you saying is going to happen unless they change? You’ll vote them out? I’m sorry, but the reality of the situation (as much as I hate to admit it) doesn’t make that outcome likely. Is that a sad thing to admit? Yes. Does it make the statement less true? No.

    I know I’m a bummer sometimes, but I do tell it the way I see it. I like to believe that everything is going to work out for the better of this world, but I’m too realistic to believe it completely.

  13. Don said

    Steve Gordon, in his “Alabama Tea Party Report” post @ (and later posts regarding TEA Parties on the same website) presents extensive coverage of what took place at some of the events. The most interesting thing to me was reading that SOS Beth Chapman showed up at one event in the Birmingham area and demanded to be allowed to speak and she was told “No” because they didn’t want politicians speaking. Maybe she should have attended the event in Montgomery where some invited politicians did speak……but of course, as I understand it, she doesn’t live in Montgomery as the state constitution requires.

    Another amusing thing I heard was that in Montgomery, someone had to go inside the State House just before the event started and saw numerous politicians standing inside looking out through the glass doors at the assembling crowd. One politician said maybe they needed to go outside and let the people see them as if they were supporting the event, so several did go out and stood behind the podium. Hypocrisy on parade! 🙂

  14. I hear you ALmond. There were some radicals at these things and I thought most of the interviews I saw on TV made the interviewees sound rather ill-informed. That Susan Roesgen meltdown on CNN made me angry- because I didn’t like how she treated those people: incredibly unprofessional and partisan. But I would have been pretty angry if I were interviewing those people as well, because what they ranted about made virtually no sense (and the guy with the fascist sign was way out of left field- Obama is a lot of things that I don’t like, but he’s no fascist). I’m not sure all of these things were “hijacked” though. There were some crazies, but on balance, from the pictures I’ve seen, most people seemed like pretty regular folks with on-point signs. They just weren’t the ones that were interviewed. 😉

    But I think we’re losing site of the forest for the trees. On a whole, the coverage seemed to present the overarching point of the protests- that lots of people in lots of states are pretty upset about the runaway government spending, etc. and they are willing to organize, get out in the streets and protest about it.

    I’ll also grant you the points on “or what.” We need some legitimate leadership that can muster these crowds into something substantive- that can focus this outrage into real, lasting change. Until a legitimate, credible leader steps forward and offers a practical alternative to Obama’s big-spending ways, I’m not sure much will happen. There are some guys I like, but right now, there’s no front-runner in my mind to take on this role.

    I’m not a pessimist though. I think the coming protracted economic stagnation is going to reflect fairly poorly on Congress and the White House, particulary if interest rates and inflation start going haywire in the next two years, in the way I’m afraid they will based on all this deficit spending and borrowing.

    I think it will anger enough people to take action at the voting booths. Again, the missing piece is that we need credible, alternative leadership.

    I really wish there were a viable, third party alternative. But once again, we’ll likely be left with the lesser of two evils for the foreseeable future.

  15. ALmod said

    Don, that’s a GREAT point, and I’m so glad that there were some events where politicians were not allowed to speak and push their agendas. If only that had been what made the news. That’s what upsets me more than anything.

    Stephen, you mentioned Susan Roesgen, which I didn’t get to see live but I did catch the YouTube version. Yes, I agree that that was completely out of line. And yes, the folks being interviewed were just as bad. And no, not everyone there was a loony, but again, these are the people who made the news, and unfortunately, that’s where most people get their information. The worst were the ones who suggested that it wouldn’t be so bad if President Obama ended up room temperature. Again, loosing sight of the forrest for the trees is part of my point, and I’m afraid that it might have even had the opposite of the desired effect on those in the middle as a result.

    Again, I’d like to suggest a barbecue meet and greet for the next Libertarian event.

    I wouldn’t call myself a “pessimist” though. I’m just not an unfaltering optimist. I tend to define myself as more of a “realist.” I think I mentioned this above, but Obama did say something the other day about simplifying the tax code. That’s not exactly what we’d want, but it is something. Of course, at the same time, we’ve heard this song and dance before, so I will believe it when I see it.

    I think there is a VERY good chance for a third party in the next 10 years, maybe sooner. I’m still registered Republican, but I find myself having less and less in common with the GOP, as do most moderates and fiscal conservatives. The Republican party as a whole seems to have been taken over by far right liberals (or “red-flavor liberals” as I call them) who justify big government and out of control spending as a valid means to push religious agendas and/or nation building. And there are those in the GOP who firmly believe that they didn’t go far enough in that direction. What I think you’ll probably see is a strengthening of the Libertarian party in the next decade or so as those who fit into the Goldwater segment of the political population strive to find a place to belong.

    But again, as I pointed out, there is nothing worth having that doesn’t require risk or sacrifice. That isn’t saying that you have to actually risk anything or sacrifice anything, but you do have to want something badly enough to be willing to risk or sacrifice if the need arises. And with the tea parties, my personal impression was that this wasn’t the case just yet.

  16. Brian said

    I thought you lived in Alabama? You don’t specify party affiliation when you register to vote in Alabama.

  17. Don said

    For Stephen VanNuys: We had a chance to elect a legitimate leader in the last presidential election, but the press either ignored or ridiculed him, his own party failed to give him any support or encouragement, and as a consequence voters had no opportunity to elect him other than to write in his name on the ballot, as I did. Now, I fear he is too old to throw his hat in the ring in 2012. Another potential legitimate leader that I think I could vote for at this time, is Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) who recently told Tulsa World that he is still definitely undecided about whether he will seek another term in 2010. Perhaps he may be planning on taking a sabbatical and then starting his campaign for the presidency…..or perhaps he can no longer stand the stench in the sewer of politics in WASHDC.

    For ALmod: For whatever reason or reasons (and I suspect I know what they are) mainstream media allows everyone to, for the most part, read and hear only their negative coverage of the TEA parties. At least that’s my experience, and that of others. Here in Alabama possibly, without exception, media has under-stated the size of the crowds (according to multiple people who were there on the scene) and taken a perverse pleasure in interviewing fringe extremists. Anything you read or hear from mainstream media must be taken with a huge dose of salt and looked at with jaundiced eyes. As Walter Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is………”.

  18. David said


    ::: BREAK :::

    There you go.
    What you do with that “Break” is up to you. Personally, I would probably take it and go for a walk around my neighborhood at night, or if I’m feeling ambitious I’d go on an extended vacation to the beach. Please take this and do something relaxing with it and come back refreshed and a bit more chilled out.


  19. Brian said

    David, you just let me know when graduate high school and we’ll have an adult conversation.

  20. David said

    You digress.

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