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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: South Bay | Racial Justice
San Jose Gets Her First Tea-bagging, Says Leaves Sour Taste
Tax Tea party provides platform for open intolerance.
On Wednesday April 15th, various community advocacy groups from San Jose organized to protest visitors who were in town for a special event that was put together around the concept of not paying taxes and other various complaints some have with our federal government, specifically our recently elected president.
It was not this specific set of concerns that drew the small group of protestors. In fact, many in the group would agree that the tax policies and financial institutions in our country could use a hard-pressed rethinking. The small group of less than 50, which consisted of people from all age groups and walks of life, attended the event in hopes of confronting a group of American- Mexican border monitoring vigilantes referred to as "Minutemen." It is felt amongst the group that the Minutemen should be addressed and met with opposition toward their views of how our borders ought to be patrolled. This specific event was chosen because it was felt that their ideals should not be given a platform to covertly massage their own agenda into the actual issue at hand. It is important to note that this is not a government issued position, and all active Minutemen work independently of any law enforcement or other government agency. It is their belief that immigrants are in large part to blame for our tax issues and failing economy.
What started as a peaceful demonstration of community members speaking out against discrimination toward immigrants, quickly became a shouting match and a clear sign that the far right of this country is alive and angry.
A small and controlled march left from the San Jose State University campus just after 5 p.m. and proceeded to walk to Cesar Chavez park via the sidewalk lining Santa Clara street and other public walkways. When the group arrived at the park chanting calls for tolerance and unity, they were confronted by an extremely hostile group of "patriots" armed with sharp tongues and flared tempers. While it was not all that surprising to see a confrontation between the two groups, what was remarkable was that this group of disgruntled tax payers did not seem to be affiliated with the Minutemen, nor were they specifically engaged.
The Plot Twist
A small, seemingly unaligned, group of individuals met the arriving demonstrators wielding American flags, cameras, and signs reading things like "Bend over and get ready for change" and "Obama spends like a woman". Both of these statements being boldly demeaning in nature to both homosexuals and women (who did not seem to be insulted.) It is important to mention that this group of people was primarily caucasian, and looked nothing like what one might imagine a hate monger to look. Their were no hoods or burning crosses. In fact...a less informed individual may not have seen anything peculiar about the group at all. What gave them away, was when they opened their mouths and began letting the hate fly like our country's coveted Bald Eagle. The sheer aesthetic of the matter read like a bizarre Raoul Duke memoir. Being there, I felt as if I had been transported to some destitute civilization where the inhabiting creatures were only able to sustain life by feeding off of hate and anger. With their forked tongues and rage filled eyes (one lady spotted even had contact lenses adorned with American flags), they began screaming things like "go back to Mexico!" and at one point even began chanting "USA!" to combat the more inclusive and embracing chants of the apparently unwelcome demonstrators.
What would unfold over the next hour or so can only be described as sickening.
When it had become aware to the speaker who was on stage as the group arrived, that there were people in attendance who were not feeling as empowered as the larger group of over 500 devout conservatives, things took on a nasty tone. While it is understandable that this speaker may wish to address the group of demonstrators, and even ask that they acknowledge the Tea Pary-ite's right to assemble and express their views and opinions, she instead opted to spew some sort of contrived spiteful rhetoric, before exclaiming "Oh just shut the hell up!" To me, that moment singlehandedly summed up the days events and solidified the idea that this gathering had layers of questionable endeavoring, and almost passed through our city, mostly unnoticed. . . except by the radical right. And the crowd, men women and children alike, ate it up and made that plainly clear by going bananas over every morsel of anti-left preach-speak that was lofted at them. It may come as no surprise that these guys are now convinced that anyone who does not agree with them is either a socialist, communist or terrorist.
I would like to take some time to deviate from the aerial view of the experience, and explore the cultural dynamics of this scenario in hopes that we may better understand what was taking place, and what this demonstration meant for the state of cultural relations in San Jose.
Most San Jose residents would describe our city as a moderate to liberal, large city, with a rich immigrant culture and seemingly tolerant cultural climate. This can be observed in any part of the city and is what many residents consider to be the supreme benefit of being able to live in the area. A smaller group of residents also believe this to be true, but bare an uneasy feeling of still not belonging to the core fabric of the city and it's inner- workings. With a police department under scrutiny due to taser related deaths, and disproportionat e numbers of minorities being arrested for infractions deemed "attitude arrests" (i.e. drunk in public charges which are weighted heavily on a police officers discretion as opposed to an actual 'crime' having been committed), some citizens feel as though they are not welcome in this city, which many were born and raised in. There is also a strong feeling that areas of the city are being gentrified, and that there is a definite sense of being institutionally marginalized. It is nothing new for minorities to feel as though they are being targeted by police or the government. What may not be as obvious is that there is also an undercurrent of intolerance coursing through the veins of the lesser seen and heard.
Living in the bay area my whole life, mostly in San Jose, I have always known that I was fortunate to live somewhere that was generally more forward thinking than many other regions in the country. I have also felt comfortable knowing that people were unlikely to openly express views of intolerance, aware that it would be met with considerable opposition, as it is not generally a celebrated perspective on community relations. The events of yesterday's demonstration have opened my eyes to one thing that I have spent years trying to play down within myself. Racism is still very much alive...even in present day San Jose, California. What I had observed was downright sickening. Men, women, and children who looked liked the family of your child's soccer teammates, were relentlessly hurling phrases like "build a wall" regarding the American- Mexican border and "get a job" which was one of my personal favorites considering the protestors arrived after 5 p.m. while the Tea Party folks had been demonstrating since some time around noon on what was a Wednesday and incidentally tax day.
What does all of this actually mean?
To put this all in perspective, I should mention that I am of mixed race. My mother is white and my father is black and filipino. To a minor amount of my mother's dismay, I have openly never identified with my caucasian heritage, am generally embarrassed by the empirical nature of anglo-saxons throughout history, and am mortified by the thought that some would even consider me an abomination due to my mixed heritage. I would be lying if I said that I had always been embraced by the black or filipino communities, but I have never felt as disassociated from either ethnic affiliation as much as I have by the culture which accounts for half of my bloodline. Yesterday's events cemented in my heart that some people are just downright hateful and we are not even safe somewhere as culturally progressive as the Bay Area. Not even in San Jose.
As little as 40 years ago, this Tea Party concept would have had masses of disgruntled citizens flooded into the streets, and would probably have resulted in the injuries, deaths, and arrests of countless opposers. In 2009, thankfully that is not the case. That does not mean we have won. It does, however, offer a glimmer of hope in the idea that we are not powerless and that if we keep fighting we actually win. The irony lies in the idea that our only prize would be winning freedom and equality, which should be granted as a term of being human. Apparently the far right does not see things that way.
This is my message to anyone who may identify with the thoughts and feelings of our friends of the apparently intolerant far-right: times are changing. Obama is the president. Immigration is not going to bring this country to it's knees. Not all immigrants are undocumented nor are they all on welfare. We do not NEED you. That is not to say that we do not want you or that we do not love you. What I am saying is that you are quickly becoming the minority. That feeling you have that makes you feel like you're losing everything or that somehow we all owe you for letting us be here is something that non-whites have been dealing with in this country for more than two centuries. When you hear our cries for justice, we are not yelling at you. Unfortunately it is the only way that you all seem to acknowledge us. The days of being able to lock people up for expressing their political beliefs is over. While some people may not see things that way, and use treachery and misinformation to silence the voices of the disenfranchised , we will not stop. We can not stop because something is working. To consider that we actually have more in common than we think is perplexing considering we'd be a lot more effective as a team.
Should this be expected?
Before closing I would just like to raise some points that I think are interesting. This event was organized by a faction of people who believe that we are being unfairly taxed and that our current administration is pushing our economy into financial crisis. The gatherings that took place all over the country were mostly supported and advertised by more conservatively slanted media agencies. This is an issue for all Americans. It is not only the belief of the far right that bailouts may not be the most effective way to restore national economic stability. This view is shared by many Americans from the far right to the far left. It is my belief that more progress may be made in respect to such an issue, if instead of pointing out our differences we were to band together to express and address a singular concern. Through working together and exchanging information is how progress is made. By pointing fingers and placing blame, we only work to set ourselves apart. Instead of a more righteous approach it looks like since the far right feels like they were not invited to the party then they'll just crash it. I wouldn't be surprised to see a sharp incline in the number of nationalist militias that start popping up. You know what they say...if we can't control them, let's just kill them!
The issue of impeaching a newly seated president, who has only been in office just over two months, also strikes a malicious chord with me. When our last president was elected twice under extremely shady circumstances, I did not see these same patriots out waving their flags and demanding justice. Instead I saw them cheer and celebrate as we ushered in a regime of cuts in taxes for those most suited to pay them, insane military spending, and a slew of counter- constitutioanl initiatives like the misleadingly named "Patriot Act" all of which sank our economy and sullied the world's view of our great nation. You would think that any true American would revolt against such blatant disregard for the country's well being, and be receptive to change. It is seeming to me that this issue may be as simple as some people just can't handle our having a non-white president, and that not only is "American" not a race but a nationality and it's complexion is changing more and more every day. I recall members of the right accusing anyone who did not approve of George W. Bush of "treason" against the United States for openly questioning the president and his actions. I guess when the shoe doesn't fit the other foot, the other foot just doesn't wear shoes....or dodges flying ones when applicable.
I live in America, was born here, and am therefore an American. I pay taxes and do my best to obey the law. I do not hate white people, and I do not think think this is a white vs. everyone else issue. What I saw yesterday filled me with a torrent of emotions and I just wanted to share how I was personally affected. I believe that our country has a ton of problems and I try my best to make life a little better for myself and others. I would encourage anyone reading this to try to do the same. It is the amassing of small accomplishments that amalgamate to become victories.
BE MORE NICER!