Tea party picked the wrong flag

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill into law last week that provides special protected status for the tea party’s “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.

This emblem, wielded by tea party activists in their 2009 demonstrations against health reform and President Obama, will now enjoy the same special protections afforded the Arizona state flag and the U.S. flag.

Simply put, the tea party has chosen the wrong flag as its symbol, as this move in Arizona so aptly reveals.

It is also offensive. The yellow, snake-emblemed “don’t tread on me” flag as borne by these protesters is something of an ironic con job.

As is well known, the flag’s origins date from the Revolutionary War period, during which citizens of the British Empire* living in the colonies protested the fact that they could not select their own local members of Parliament. Thus the protest: “no taxation without representation.”

The tea party, a far-right, corporate-financed set of organizations, has twisted the meaning of that flag. They have always had the right and the opportunity to select their representatives. Unfortunately, most of them have chosen to believe and repeat racist lies about the legitimacy of the Obama presidency. Some tea partiers have even suggested a return to colonial-style restrictions on voting rights to property holders.

Despite these historical distortions, the main point is they have chosen to hoist the wrong flag.

Tea partiers frantically waved that flag at rallies during which the likes of Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and resigned former Alaska governor Sarah Palin spewed lies about health reform and the president.

Meanwhile, working-class Americans from diverse backgrounds from Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio carried the “stars and stripes” during their protests against real disfranchisement and real attacks on their basic rights to organize unions and collective bargaining – their basic rights to jointly represent themselves in the workplace.

While the owners of Koch Industries corrupted the democratic process with millions of dollars poured into Republican Party and tea party coffers, steelworkers and teachers, university students and firefighters, longshore workers and electrical workers, librarians and cops, janitors and mothers, farmers and teamsters, members of the national guard and veterans, together marched behind the American flag in Madison, Wis., to protect the right to organize unions.

While tea party Gov. Jan Brewer wasted taxpayer dollars to use her time and political clout to create special protections for that ugly yellow flag that no American has died for, working-class men and women have carried “Old Glory” in their hearts from the beaches of Normandy and the bridges of Selma, Ala., to the state Capitols in Madison, Indianapolis, Lansing, and Columbus.

*Because non-whites, women and working-class people were excluded from voting rights, the representation issue in the Revolutionary War period only held real immediate meaning for property owners. Still, the demand symbolized a democratic upsurge against British imperialism, and would over the next two centuries through the struggles of the disenfranchised come to include more and more people.

Photo: (Creative Commons)




Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of "Mythologies: A Political Economy of U.S. Literature, Settler Colonialism, and Racial Capitalism in the Long Nineteenth Century" (International Publishers) and "The Collectivity of Life" (Lexington Books).