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My Tea Party vs. The Oligarchs

The story of hamantaschen-hatted hecklers and rooftop solar panels

Here’s some good news. A recent piece in The Nation begins with an untypically upbeat quote from a former Greenpeace bigwig now working in the solar industry, who reports that, unbeknownst to most folks, we’re winning the fight against climate change, being well on our way toward phasing out fossil and nuclear fuels much earlier than the most optimistic futurists predicted.

Home solar installations in Australia, for example, have increased a thousand-fold over the past seven years. Rooftop solar installations in Germany now generate as many gigawatts of energy as 30 nuclear power plants. Coal-choked China is on target to get half its power from wind and solar within 15 years. The Nation cites global banking giant, Deutsche Bank, as reporting that globally the cost of solar technology has dropped to the point where it can now compete head-to-head with carbon fuels, without needing any subsidy, in three quarters of the world’s countries. This is especially true in remote areas of developing countries that are unreached by power grids. As with the rapid growth of cell phone technology in countries where most of the population did not have landlines, populations are skipping massive electrification projects that typically relied on fossil-fuel-fired centralized power plants, instead adopting more cost-efficient, off-the-grid solar and wind energy.

Electrifying the zombie apocalypse

From an anti-corporate, anarchist, libertarian, or zombie apocalypse survivalist point of view, this decentralized energy system is laudable. Factor in that it’s fueled by wind and sun, rather than climate-changing fossil energy, and it’s downright utopian.

As is often the case, however, one person’s utopia is another’s hell. In this instance, a decentralized wind- and sun-fueled energy system presents the end of the line for those who build and own centralized monopoly energy grids, the nuclear and fossil fuel industries that typically fire them, and the investment houses that are vested in these obsolete technologies.

The ability of renewable energy to compete with fossil fuels in the global capitalist marketplace marks a major turning point for the environmental movement as well. The fact that a conversion to solar and wind technology was a last chance to avert climate doom never got traction with the Wall Street crowd, who couldn’t look beyond the next morning’s stock market openings. The reality that it’s now cost-effective, that energy-consuming industries can both save money and insulate themselves from fluctuating energy costs by going green, poses an unprecedented threat for the energy monopolies.

What keeps these dinosaur fuel industries competitive—at least in the US, where we lag behind most of the developed world in harvesting solar and wind energy—is the reality that the playing field has been tilted in favor of big oil and coal for the past century. The oil industry in particular is awash in tax-payer-subsidized corporate welfare handouts, while generally remaining immune to financial claims stemming from their role in climate destruction—two facts that give them an artificial market advantage. Factor in quantifiable costs to human health from burning fossil fuels and the unpaid-for destruction to the commons by the fossil and nuclear industries, not to mention the almost incalculable liability from which the nuclear industry is legally excused, and legacy energy industries could never compete with today’s solar and wind technologies.

Hamantaschen-hatted idiots

This is where the so-called Tea Party comes into play, essentially playing the role of what political commentators call “useful idiots.”

The current Tea Party phenomenon dates back to the 2008 financial collapse and outrage at the government bailouts of the mega-banks who created the crisis. With the working-class population suffering depression-like economic conditions while the richest one or two percent of the population continued (and continues) to grow increasingly richer, two populist movements emerged: Occupy Wall Street on the left, and the Tea Party on the right. Initially both movements were ardently independent of the two major parties, seeing them both as cronies of big business and the financial industries, and there was ideological crossover between the two leaderless movements.

The key to the staying power of Occupy’s “one percent” meme and related activism, even after the destruction of the Occupy camps, is that the movement was leaderless and could not be co-opted—especially as long as the conditions of social inequality that birthed it continued to exist. Theoretically, the Tea Party, which also began as a leaderless movement, would be equally resistant to co-optation. Recalling the energy of the original 1773 Boston Tea Party, its hamantaschen-hatted hecklers popped up around the country as spontaneously as did Occupy camps.

One difference between the movements was this: While the corporate media did its best to marginalize the more threatening Occupy movement, it amplified small Tea Party events, recognizing corporate-friendly libertarian aspects of that movement. The media marginalization of the Occupy phenomenon turned into a sort of blessing, giving the incubating movement some breathing space to gestate an identity and ethos. Political agents from the Democratic Party on the right to assorted communists on the left who tried to hijack the Occupy movement were thwarted by the movement’s stubbornly democratic ideas and its rather brilliant consensus to keep its focus narrowly on the predacious ravages of the one percent.

The Tea Party never had the cohesion or the luxury of time to coalesce into a strong unified movement with a coherent identity. Though its name stems from a colonial-era protest against both imperial government and the rapacious state-sanctioned corporate monopoly, the British East India Company, high-rolling Republican funders steered the contemporary Tea Party movement away from its anti-corporate roots, instead focusing on its anti-government roots. While the movement lost its ability to turn out bodies in mass protests, it suddenly and suspiciously became a king-maker in hard-right Republican politics.

Unlike the Occupy movement, which had bodies in camps across the nation and the world repeating the one percent meme, by the time this co-optation took root in the mediated perception of the Tea Party movement, there weren’t enough hamantaschen-hatted activists to keep their brand in tact.

Democracy on Koch

At this point, small Tea Party groups emerged with astronomical financial backing, making what began as a mass movement morph into more of a political action committee that wielded power not with bodies in the street but instead by lending their brand to corporate-funded libertarians. Their anti-government venom was no longer focused on corporate cronies, but instead on the newly elected “Kenyan” president. Fueled by the unlimited amounts of dirty election money that the 2011 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling allowed, Tea Party branded candidates defeated a slew of center-right Republicans in primaries, eventually winning about 50 House seats in gerrymandered Republican districts, while ironically costing the Republicans seats in US Senate races, where gerrymandering is impossible.

The biggest known financial backers of this so-called Tea Party revolution, or coup, are Charles and David Koch, brothers who together own the largest privately held energy corporation in the United States, Koch Industries, which produces over three quarters of a million barrels of oil every day. During the year before the Tea Party officially began, 2008, Koch Industries spent $15,130,000 lobbying solely for oil and gas industry interests. That’s pennies, considering that Forbes last year estimated the brothers’ worth at $62 billion. Given the changes in law brought about by the aforementioned Supreme Court decision, it’s difficult to estimate how much money they spent electing the Tea Party caucus to Congress in 2012. What we do know is that as long as they are in power, we’ll spend our energy debating whether or not to pay our debt or crash the global economy, while quietly, oil companies continue to dominate our arcane energy landscape.

What the Kochs paid for is a band of radical, pro-corporate Republicans who—when they’re not casting high-profile votes to defund the Affordable Care Act, outlaw birth control, roll back civil rights, and defund environmental and consumer protection agencies—are generally voting to decimate legislative and government safeguards protecting the world from corporate ravage. If this Tea Party was around during the American Revolution, they’d be more likely to oppose both the king and the Continental Congress, instead proposing to let the British East India Company run the continent. The difference, however, was that they’d also be relegated to obscurity, never achieving the success that Koch-financed high tech campaigns bought for today’s Tea Party.

The Scajaquada Creek Tea Party

Here’s where my Tea Party comes into place.

If the Koch Brothers can have a Tea Party, why can’t the rest of us? I’m calling mine the Scajaquada Creek Tea Party, after a creek that runs through my Buffalo neighborhood. The creek already has a Wikipedia page, so we start out on a roll. My Tea Party is conservative. We want to conserve the remnants of the New Deal and the Voter Rights Act, as well as the environment and fossil fuels. Like the original Tea Party, we’re anti corporate, hence we don’t think corporations should be running our healthcare system—or any other public service, for that matter. We want to end the Reagan Revolution once and for all and reverse the trend of corporate takeover of public services.

One major difference between my Tea Party and the Kochs’ is that, having started it, I’m now walking away from it, making it truly leaderless, and hence more legitimate, even without members, than the Koch’s Tea Party. Where the Kochs might be having a bit of buyer’s remorse, as Forbes puts it, for failing “to actually vet the quality of their candidates rather than just throwing huge sums of money” at anyone who seemed to tow their line, I’ll just sit back and watch their Tea Party brand collapse. This will be as certain as the sun rises and the winds blow.

Dr. Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism and media studies at SUNY Buffalo State. His previous columns are at artvoice.com, archived at www.mediastudy.com, and available globally through syndication.

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