I went to the Minnesota Tea Party on tax day. I saw a different story than what most people saw. Fortunately, I had a video camera, so you can look over my shoulder.
At a protest, normally, one sees the very hard core support. However, what I saw was widespread disillusionment. In the video, notice how people are blaming politicians on both sides. Note that even though we now have President Obama, there is still is acknowledgment that the problems started in the President Bush administration.
I have a strong value in fiscal responsibility, that is shared by this crowd of people. The Democratic party is now the party of fiscal responsibility. This crowd is suspicious of the idea of spending to get out of the recession. However once the recession is fixed, then I think they would like President Obama's fiscal responsibility. So I see opportunity of politically uniting or converting. If I was doing doorknocking persuasion, I would have loved talking to these people at their doors.
More in-depth analysis and pictures after the fold.
This tea party tax crowd may want a flat tax, however they are not in favor of taxing the poor more. Taxing the poor more is displayed by combining all taxes at the state and local level and comparing to the population, by income level. Across the years and increasingly more in recent years, Minnesota taxes the poor more on a dollar earned than the rich:
If I had not been in my reporter role, then I would have loved to be presenting this information in a handout, titled "Flat Tax would be Fairer", because while I believe in progressive taxation, the flat tax would be improvement over the incredibly regressive taxation that we have now!
This tea party tax crowd does believe that the rich and the corporations are unfairly influencing our policy. In fact, one person agreed that we should have campaign financing. This shows up in the desire to have an "audit", to see where our money is being spent. This shows up in the understanding that the Federal Reserve is a private entity, spending our money without direct congressional approval. I was deeply impressed that this group understood that "printing" more money was in a way a tax. I was deeply impressed that this group understood that long term high US debt is bad. Too bad that they were so very quiet during the President Bush administration!
So while I think a rich people and corporations are behind the whole "tax" protest (see Taxpayers League), I do not think that this tea party crowd is as sold as it once was.
This tea party tax crowd was willing to attack specific policies of Governor Pawlenty like the baseball stadium and the proposed Vikings stadium. This not to say there is universal agreement, for I value bike paths and commuter rail as far more important to building a long term economy and environment than roads. However there is openness to challenging existing structures and beliefs that I have not seen before.
This tea party tax crowd does think that there is good government, which they describe as essentials. Even health care was mentioned off camera as an important concern. Note that in the video, the lady describing a good experience with the Veterans Administration. The difference comes in the concept of "earned". Social Security is earned, unemployment is earned and welfare is not earned.
This tea party tax crowd is very committed to the American dream of working hard and doing better. This for me was the emotionally sad realization. These people just want the opportunity to work hard and achieve the American dream of becoming better off. Yet the very organizations that probably financed this very protest work to: 1) send jobs overseas 2) destroy unions and constantly decrease wages 3) destroy the stability of economy through get-rich schemes. Small businesses are especially hurt by corporate rich policies, which is what the Republican party represents.
Basically, I just did not see the strong support. The crowd was not as enthusiastic as could be expected. The presentation had flaws. The sound quality of Star Spangled Banner was so bad, that one lady near me was wondering if it was meant to be a joke. Then there was this gentleman's response in the picture, which is asleep on the grass. The conversations that I did not put in the finished video, just expressed deep uncertainty. This is certainly a far different crowd than the ones early in the Bush administration. In fact, the only politician that had favorable comments was Ron Paul.
Judging crowd size is always an issue, so I took this picture from the corner of the courtyard, to show perspective. The organizers say 8000, however I think that is just hype, although there was more than a thousand. It was a respectable showing. However the crowd was not dense. The crowd had very few black people. The crowd tended to be older, where white hair was common.
Fact Check: A gentleman in the video states that oil companies only makes 10% on a gallon. Actually oil companies have high fixed costs that takes years to change, so profits on a gallon vary wildly. I was a senior systems analyst that worked on a major oil company's financial systems, so I know. Also, articles have published that same information:Oil companies make 55 to 85 cents per gallon profit and Minnesota and federal taxes on a gallon of gas 40.4 cents. And right now, I expect that oil companies are barely breaking even, where last year they probably making excessively high percentages. So last year, the oil companies did make way more profits than the government made in taxes on each gallon! This is a nit point, however better public policy comes from better understanding.
Fact Check: The Federal Reserve is audited, although one could argue if the audits are through enough, transparent enough or timely enough.
In 1978 Congress passed the Federal Banking Agency Audit Act (31 USCA §714). It placed the Federal Reserve System back under the auditing authority of the GAO. The Act significantly increased the access of the GAO to the Federal Reserve Banks, the Board, and the Federal Open Market Committee (the FOMC). Since then, the GAO has conducted over 100 financial audits and performance audits of the three Federal Reserve bodies.
Summary: So unlike other reports, talking to people at the Minnesota tax tea party gave me hope that these people value "fiscal responsibility" and are actually open to persuasion. They are very jaded and pessimistic. However, we are guilty of leaving them to Taxpaper-League types of organizations. Lets start more conversations!
Cross posted at MN Progressive Project.