Asheville Daily Planet, May 15, 2020
When it comes to protests, the right is definitely second-rate compared to the left.
Take the current wave of “reopen” protests in state capitals. Lame. The crowds aren’t crowds really. People mostly stand around in middle-aged clumps or line up holding signs for the media.
Think back to women’s marches over the years. They actually marched. The 2017 march in Washington filled streets for blocks. And they were focused. Their mood said they meant business.
Anti-lockdown protest scenes are ill-defined. There are the guys with AR-15s wearing tactical vests. And there’s the pre-teen girl with a sign: “God makes the rules.” And yellow flags with coiled snakes waved about and a few Confederate flags. Some protests have Trump merchandise tables.
One sign caught my eye: “Freedom is essential.” I thought, Nice creativity, a takeoff mocking “essential businesses.” But the sign has appeared from state to state. I googled the sentence, and whataya know, there it is, prominently in Breitbart and plenty of elsewheres.
Yellow flags. “Freedom is essential.” AR-15s. Trump tables. Confederate flags.
Tell me again what this protest is supposed to be about.
I leaned back in my chair and recalled an old anecdote. It seems an aide shared some rumors with JFK: “You know, Mr. President, where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Kennedy replied, “No, I’ve found that where there’s smoke, there’s usually a smoke-making machine.”
Sniff, sniff. The smoke smell coming from these protests brings back memories of a smoke machine from days gone by: the Tea Party.
The New York Times dug deep and found: “Among those fighting the [shutdown] orders are FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots, which played pivotal roles in the beginning of Tea Party protests starting more than a decade ago.” These outsiders help with organizing demonstrations, mailing lists, setting up websites and conducting polls.
FreedomWorks is closely aligned with the Tea Party movement – and from what I read, both groups have come on hard times in recent years.
Matt Kibbe, CEO at FreedomWorks for 10 years, wrote a magazine article titled, “The Tea Party Is Officially Dead.” It’s a riveting first-person account of the Tea Party’s slide.
“In hindsight,” he wrote, “we should have been more careful. Inertia pulled us toward partisanship, and over time there was growing pressure to support the [Republican] party, not our principles. I watched local organizers rip each other and their Tea Party organizations apart, much like Trump tore apart the GOP.”
Those backing anti-lockdown protests are obviously this redirected Tea Party. Kibbe described them like this: “Under Trump, the Tea Party original agenda of freedom and fiscal responsibility has been replaced with a populist nationalism…animated by different issues, such as immigration walls and trade restrictions.”
The Times wrote about this Tea Party comeback effort: “Established national groups that generally align with the Republican Party have sought to fuel the [anti-lockdown] protests, harnessing their energy in a manner that can increase their profiles and build their membership base and donor rolls.”
And this: “Those helping orchestrate the fight against restrictions predict the effort could energize the right in the same way the Tea Party movement did in 2009 and 2010, and potentially be helpful to President Trump as he campaigns for re-election.”
Maybe one participant in 100 wears a mask. One lady’s sign read: “Social distancing is communism.” The promotional poster for one protest specifically said, “No masks required.” They’re lined up behind the president in minimizing the pandemic.
Anti-lockdown protests are probably having an effect in Republican states – on politicians. But their constituents aren’t with them. A Yahoo News poll in early May found that ”a large majority (71 percent) still say the country should reopen only when public health officials are fully able to test and trace new cases….And support for the protests against stay-at-home orders (21 percent) has not grown.” This would explain low turnouts.
I’ll end with a trivia question: what slogan appears on signs at both women’s movement rallies and reopen protests?
The answer: “My Body, My Choice.” Women use it for the pro-choice position. Anti-lockdowners use it to say they want the choice to go out and take their chances with the virus.