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The G-20, Tea Parties, and the politics of outsiderism

Political protest has always been an outsider’s game, a struggle for attention from what tends to be a small group that believes it can win over more people with more visibility. Sometimes it’s a quixotic attempt, a determination simply to be heard, to register dissent on some official level even if largely ignored by the mainstream media and fenced off from the events being protested. Other times, as recently seen in Iran, it becomes a mass movement, drawing hundreds of thousands out into clogged streets despite the best attempts of the government to clamp down resistance.

Protests are fundamentally unruly things, cobbled together as they are from myriad groups who often have only the wispiest of connections aside from the object of protest. This week’s G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for example, will see protests from many different groups with many different agendas, from fighting climate change to opposition to global capitalism.

The two things they have in common, for the most part, are that they are from the political left, and that they will be largely ignored or even ridiculed by the major media outlets in the area.

Among the groups protesting at the G-20 will be the 3 Rivers Climate Convergence, Bail Out The People, the anti-war women’s group CodePink, and the interfaith group G-6 Billion. Yet aside from a few news articles noting the legal battles already being waged for permits to protest, there has been little to no coverage of the thousands who have converged on Pittsburgh to have their voices heard.

Contrast that with the reaction from media outlets left and right to the protests less than two weeks ago in Washington, D.C. spearheaded by FOX News’s Glenn Beck and well-funded conservative groups around the country. FOX heavily promoted these protests, as well as the “tax day tea parties” that hit in April and again this summer. Other cable news outlets, whether trying to keep up with FOX or in an attempt to mock the astroturf (fake grassroots) nature of the protests, also gave ample airtime to the crowds, as well as the protesters at this summer’s health care town hall meetings.

Independent programs GRITtv and Democracy Now! and left-leaning print and online publications have covered the G-20 protests but don’t have the budgets to put multiple reporters on the ground showing the size of the gathering, let alone have producers riling up the crowd to get better footage, as a FOX News producer was caught doing at the “9/12” protests.

The arrests and police harassment of protest groups even before the protests begin serve to remind people that the anti-G20 protesters are “violent,” while in some twisted way, the gun-toting protesters outside the President’s rallies are just expressing their 2nd Amendment rights. How pro-peace activists have become the dangerous ones in this equation can only be explained by years and years of media portrayals slanted a certain way.

Many media theorists have noted that media coverage of political protest tends to be negative and to turn viewers against the protesters. Stephen Cushion wrote:

I suggested that when the anti-war demonstrations involved citizens described as being from ‘Middle England’ relatively balanced media coverage ensued. By contrast, when youth became the dominant actors in the anti-war narrative, coverage was framed in a far more negative and undermining way.

Anti-war and anti-globalization activists are portrayed as young wild troublemakers, while the teabaggers are old, staid, and white. (If they were younger, after all, they might’ve known the vernacular use of “tea bag” and chosen a less unintentionally hilarious name.) The famed “Battle in Seattle,” the anti-World Trade Organization protests of 1999, brought together demonstrators from all over the world, and successfully disrupted the WTO’s meeting, but got very little mainstream media coverage other than of the most disruptive moments. It did, however, provide a guide to the way most large leftist protests are handled by the police.

At the WTO, the large political conventions of the Bush years and many other events that drew a protest crowd, “Free Speech Zones” were enacted that kept the protesters far away from the events, restricting their access. It came, therefore, as quite a shock to those who had been protesting for years that suddenly protests against Obama were front-page and prime-time news. While people were dragged out of Bush events for wearing offensive T-shirts, men stood outside of Obama’s functions with loaded guns—and got on the nightly news for it.

The inchoate demands of the teabaggers range from general race-based hatred of Obama to fanatic libertarian opposition to all taxes, from anger about health care dollars going to undocumented migrants to fear that Obama will take away those loaded guns. They are less a coherent movement than the protesters outside of the G-20, yet as Glenn Greenwald notes:

“But crucially, it is the Republican Party and its various appendages — the same people who presided over massive expansions of debt and federal government power — that are exploiting this citizen activism, and they’re harnessing it for their own petty, partisan ends. . . . Add to that the Democratic Party’s general distaste for citizen activism (especially street protests) as well as its servitude to Wall Street and corporate interests, and Democrats are straitjacketed into ceding this protest movement to GOP operatives, who are cynically exploiting it to promote goals that have nothing to do with — are even at odds with — the goals of many of the protesters themselves.”

Democrats flee their base, Republicans embrace all the strange parts of theirs. Granted, Republican embrace of this lunatic fringe is what has made them marginal in the first place, but there ARE legitimate complaints within the mess that is the teabag movement. People are angry over bailouts—so are Bail Out The People, protesting at the G-20. Libertarians are angry at what they consider expansion of government powers—so are those on the left, protesting the PATRIOT Act.

As Cushion noted in his study of youth activism and reaction to the Iraq war protests, those who are willing to get out in the street for their cause are engaged citizens. Sure, some of them might be engaged for all the wrong reasons, but we do them and ourselves a disservice when we write them off. Republicans and their corporate media allies have been able to co-opt the popular anger for now, while marginalizing other movements that might provide an alternative explanation, and it’s partly because the Democrats, even when they were the outsiders, were afraid to embrace the anger of the left.

Now the Democrats are on the inside, and are the easy target. But it’s the ultimate insiders—massive corporations accepting government bailouts, subsidies, and contracts—who are benefitting from the system as it is, and it is at them that the anger should be directed. They are the targets of the G-20 protests, the anti-globalization protests, and all the other actions that have been shoved aside, ignored, or denigrated in the mainstream media, and we should rightly be suspicious that the media is now promoting public protest of any kind.

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Sarah Jaffe

Sarah Jaffe is former deputy editor of GlobalComment. She's interested in politics and pop culture, and has a special place in her heart for comics.

18 thoughts on “The G-20, Tea Parties, and the politics of outsiderism

  1. Ms Jaffe:

    You are an idiot. Your reference to the “tea bag” title is moronic. You must be a public school system graduate. You don’t know your history obviously, which makes it scary that you can vote. Either do your research or be honest. It is only well known that our TEA PARTIES were in regards to the original Tea Party, where the people dissented against the govt and then revolted. Ring any bells yet? Probably not, you are obviously a liberal so intelligence need not apply.

  2. The difference between the two kinds of protests is that there is no need for riot police at the tea-bag protests. No property damage is taking place.

  3. You are an idiot. The G20 protests are hugely violent; just look at the ones that just happened in Pittsburgh where protesters went to war with the police and smashed up stores. The business district was so terrified that many shopkeeps stayed home. Where was this kind of violence at the anti-Obamacare rallies? Where was this violence at the tea parties?

    MSNBC, CNN, ABC and CBS followed the anti-Obamacare rallies because they wanted to ridicule them as “astroturf” and to promote their own left-wing agenda. As an aside, explain to me how millions of protesters marching on washington and other cities are “astroturf?” I suppose you thought the million-man-march was also “astroturf?”

    These same liberal networks ignore the G20 protests because they want to fool everyone into believeing that Right-wingers are dangerous with their “guns and religion” while Left-wing protests are peaceful. Of course, reality does not agree with that: ask anyone in Pittsburgh.

    Here’s the bottom line: in an age of Obama’s “transformative” presidency, Right-wing protests are peaceful while Left -wing groups attack the police, vandalize property and assault bystanders.

  4. First, we did not chose the name “Tea Bagger”. That is the creation of our critics. That’s OK. If we weren’t making a difference, there would be no criticism.

    Second, I think that the Angry Left and the Angry Right should come together in the middle that we agree on. No violence, though. Just have a massive march on Washington D.C. and shut the city right down. We have a lot in common and what the Fedearl Government would find more troubling than anything todate is if the mature and the youth came together in a common cause. That would shake the Federal Government in fear, where it should be. There is no fear in DC at this time. We will put the fear of the people back in them or we will vote them out in 2010 and 2012.

    Thanks for the great idea. It’s time to start forming coalitions on the left and the rigth. Any contacts you can share?

    Keith
    Tea Party Patriot

  5. While I agree with much of what you write here, I disagree with the opening line:

    “Political protest has always been an outsider’s game, a struggle for attention from what tends to be a small group that believes it can win over more people with more visibility”

    It seems to me that many protests actually reflect the popular opinion of the masses but those masses (or a least a fairly large chunk of the population) may just be too scared (or distracted) to participate.

    As for the media promotion of protest… I beg to differ. Yes, the tea-baggers were promoted by Fox, but the 9/12 protest was as ineffectual of a protest as could be had — it was clearly partisan, clearly corporate backed, and the powers-that-be had relatively nothing to fear from the great majority of the ignorant slobs there to condemn, of all things, health care reform proposals. The G-20, on the other hand, was a meeting of the most influential and powerful people in the world — people responsible for resource wars, environmental degradation, corporate bailouts, sweatshop consumerism, the military-industrial complex, and the prison-industrial complex. If ever there was a better group to protest… I’d like to have known about it! These people are responsible for the most serious crises of our times, and the left media — despite any event-day hindsight and coverage — dropped the ball. If you followed it like I followed it, you’d see that it was barely given any attention beforehand from the media sources that should have been all over it as soon as it was announced. This point can be debated, again in hindsight, but I think this was clearly the case.

    @NihiloZero

  6. This is the worst thing I have read ever. I agree with other commentors – you are an idiot! First off, the moniker “tea baggers” was given to tea party protestors to mock them. It is used ad nauseum in liberal media because it gives liberals a hard on. The G-20 protestors in Pittsburgh have not only been violent, they are threatening to become increasingly violent, with one group threatening to attack 100 targets in the city. As for the way the tea party and town hall protestors have been potrayed, where have you seen them described as “staid” and “exercising their 2nd amendment right” other than Fox News? Huffington Post continually called these protestors racists, and the gun toters dangerous. I can’t believe you call yourself a journalist. I can only assume that you mean you write in a hournal, because this isn’t journalism. This article reads like it was written by someone who has one eye shut, one ear closed, and one half of their brain missing.

  7. Comrade,

    Well done! A suggestion. Next time what about saying that

    Bush/Cheney/Hitler/Teabaggers/Republicans were the only ones at the G20 committing the violence? (they were in disguise)

    Or maybe a little photoshop.

  8. Ms. Jaffe
    You claim to be a journalist interested in politics.However, it seems little journalistic practice was employed here.

    First you would have discovered that

    If you had really looked in to the “tea-bagger” movement:
    You would have found out:
    1. Tea-partiers apply -“bagger” with sarcastic honor to mock the mockers’ cheap shots.
    2. Tea-partiers are uncharacteristally “inside” of our work-a-day society. The very nature of their protest is rooted in protecting value of their own hard-earned property and (and subsequently repecting other people’s property). Nothing “fundamentally unruly” about that. However that common fundamental respect for hard-earned property makes the the various “tea-bagger” factions’ efforts more coherant than any movement that welcomes anarchists.

    Of course the G20 protesters don’t suffer from such behavioral hinderences like respect for property. They disdain property as artifices of evil capitalism. They assume all wealth and subsequent properties property are ill-earned, so there are no qualms about property destruction. (I’d be curious how many of those folks have had to meet a payrole, or how many have worked enough to feel the really raping of their pay-check).

    Back to media coverage:
    Dozens of tea parties – over 70,000 in D.C.- no violence, no arrests.
    G20 protests – the rap sheet is too long to list here.
    Believe this: If only one right leaning protester gets violent, it will be the top news story everywhere!

  9. [NOTE: Sorry, I accidentally hit the “Submit” button. on the last post before editing; here is the corrected post]
    Ms. Jaffe
    You claim to be a journalist interested in politics. However, it seems little journalistic practice was employed here.
    If you had really looked in to the “tea-bagger” movement, you would have found out:
    1. Tea-partiers apply -”bagger” with sarcastic honor to mock the mockers’ cheap shots.
    2. Tea-partiers are uncharacteristically “inside” of our work-a-day society.
    The very nature of their protest is rooted in protecting value of their own hard-earned property and (and subsequently respecting other people’s property). Nothing “fundamentally unruly” about that. However that common fundamental respect for hard-earned property makes the various “tea-bagger” factions’ efforts more coherent than any movement that welcomes anarchists.
    Of course the G20 protesters don’t suffer from such behavioral hindrances like respect for property. They disdain property as artifices of evil capitalism. They assume all wealth and subsequent properties property are ill-earned, so there are no qualms about property destruction. (I’d be curious how many of those folks have had to meet a payroll, or how many have worked enough to really feel the raping of their pay-check).
    Back to media coverage:
    Dozens of tea parties – over 70,000 in D.C.- no violence, no arrests.
    G20 protests – the rap sheet is too long to list here.
    Believe this: If only one right leaning protester gets violent, it will be the top news story everywhere

  10. Pingback: GlobalComment » The G-20, Tea Parties, and the politics of outsiderism | Common Sense
  11. I think it all comes down to whos right and whos wrong. In the case of the G20 protests we were right. We were serious and we were angry. So unless you republican pussys are going to do something about stay in your place. Another thing, changing the world IS NOT reserved for college educated, smart, rich white, men. Besides the youth are more athletic and will win eventually.

  12. I still don’t get how libertarians don’t take those loaded guns to the G-20. For all the right-wing talk about the new world order conspiracy theories, i see very little action. And why get down on illegal immigrants? Aren’t they coming here because of the corporate practices that destroyed the economies and labor pool where they call home? It seems odd to blame others when they are so similar to yourself. As opposed to blaming the incredibly powerful, rich, and corrupt i mean.

  13. “Of course the G20 protesters don’t suffer from such behavioral hinderences like respect for property.”

    True, we don’t suffer from the delusion that the concept of “property” (which is different than possession- as in an item for personal use) is anything more than a grand theft, whereby unequal power structures perpetuate themselves. So no, we have zero respect for it.

    “They assume all wealth and subsequent properties property are ill-earned”

    No, we don’t assume. We know. Because they are. People usually land in property due to a pre-existing advantage (usually rich parents). Then they use that advantage to make themselves even wealthier off the labor of those they employ. This is ultimate freeloading- YOU work, THEY benefit.

    “(I’d be curious how many of those folks have had to meet a payrole, or how many have worked enough to feel the really raping of their pay-check).”

    More than you know. I have 25% of the wages from the job I work to SURVIVE garnished to pay a medical bill for a staph infection that came out of nowhere. At the end of my day all of my labor goes towards three things- keeping me from starving, keeping me from homelessness and keeping my employer neck-deep in Maseratis, Mexican vacations and money.
    This is why I am an anarchist.
    You have no idea how personal this really is for most of us.

  14. Ab Irito,
    I promise you the original tea party protesters did not destroy their fellow citizen’s property. Hey, I read your 1st link. Wow. And us old folks were supposed to be cynical – –

    Steven,
    Basically you’re saying you’re right because – – uh, – – just because.
    AND if people who disagree with you don’t back their opinion with force, they should shut-up.
    AND if people who disagree with you DO get physical, you’re more athletic, which implies physical might makes right.
    Hmmm, what’s the word for this position? – – -Oh yeah, FASCISM.

    Cbloc:
    So, you KNOW that ALL wealth is ill-gotten or inherited, because – – uh just because. Assigning a general trait to a class of people without getting to really know them – – -BIGOTRY. I actually do know a few wealthy people. They grew up in my lower middle-class neighborhood. Not a cheat or trust-fund baby among them.
    You complain about you medical bills and housing costs as though the people who SAVED YOUR LIFE or provide shelter should meet to your needs without compensation. That’s called slavery where I come from. You claim you provide your employer with wealth. Who really provides the greater value to the other? If you quit, I get the feeling your boss with carry-on just fine. Yet as you said, without the evil boss – no home- no food.

    Man, this is too easy. You folks keep solidifying my point. The Tea Partiers are fighting to keep what they earn, and the G-20s are just fighting.

    P.S.
    I have a question for all the anarchists. Doesn’t less centralized govt. further your cause?

  15. Great article. I think the overarching point that can be taken from this is that two party democracy is unsustainable. The GOP is irrelevant b/c they pander to their ever-shrinking base, yet the Dems are on shaky ground because their center-right, pro-corporate politics are alienating the real Left. We’d be in much better shape as a country if we had a multi-party system (equally strong Green, Dem, Repub, Libertarian parties?)

  16. The idea of Americans right to protest is inherent in our history. Free-Speech zones should be everywhere. We need to realize that our rights to protest – disagree – and say what we need to should not be taken lightly. We have the right and responsibility to speak up when we feel the need, and not be harassed, kicked, gassed, silenced or beaten if we decide to disagree and speak up.

  17. great article kid don’t let the “tea baggers” get you down and to everyone else you shouldn’t knock REAL street protest’s untill you try them

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