Malice in Dairyland

Don't Tread on Me. Rallier at the Tea Party Tax Day rally in Madison, Wisconsin, 2012. Photo by Callen Harty.

With today being tax day I was thinking back to the Tea Party Tax Dally rally that was held at the State Capitol in downtown Madison on Saturday.  There were several things that struck me about the rally as I was observing it and after a few days of reflection.

  • Americans for Prosperity sponsored the event.  They chartered several busses to bring people in from other parts of the state, but couldn’t get enough people to sign up to bring two of them.  The other four made it, but it was still not a huge turnout.  The Wisconsin State Journal, a conservative newspaper, estimated the crowd at 2,000.  There really couldn’t have been more than 600-800 Tea Party ralliers and a hundred or so protesters.  The ones who showed up for this one were the die-hards.
  • Several bigger-name speakers were invited to attend, but none of them did, including Sarah Palin, who showed up last year in the middle of the Wisconsin Uprising.  The highlight was a surprise appearance by Lieutenant-Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, best known for saying that if gays are allowed to marry we’ll have to pass laws allowing people to marry furniture.  True.  She said that during the 2010 campaign.  On Saturday all she did was either lie outright or twist the facts and statistics to make the governor look better.
  • The people at the rally were ostensibly there to protest taxes.  I couldn’t help but wonder if they ever give thought to the fact that the roads and highways they traveled to get there were paid for with taxes, that the police personnel who were there to protect them were paid for with taxes.  Taxes are nothing new.  They helped the Romans build highways and aqueducts.  They are used to build fire departments, libraries, schools.  I would gladly pay more in taxes to have health care for all.  I personally know too many people who cannot afford to get sick.
  • I kept seeing individuals who looked a lot like me wearing tee-shirts that said “I am AFP”.  I couldn’t help but wonder if they really know what Americans for Prosperity is.  As background it is an organization founded in part by the conservative billionaire Koch Brothers as a way to advance their right-wing fiscal and social agenda.  It was designed to appear as a grass-roots political group, but in reality is top-down conservative planners deciding the agenda for the Tea Party (which really started as a more legitimate citizen protest against big government but has since been co-opted by right-wing organizers and political theoreticians).  The organization is appropriately called  Americans for Prosperity (for a select few), not Prosperity for Americans.  Clearly, the bulk of the people wearing those tee-shirts were not AFP.
  • The speakers were generally very nasty.  To be blunt, Vicky McKenna does not come across as a good person.  She comes across as mean-spirited and selfish.  One speaker after another engaged in personal attacks against the opponents of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  They barely touched upon the topic of the day–taxes.  But they spent a lot of time on their enemies.  And they didn’t attack the politics of their opponents.  They engaged in name-calling (Communists, Marxists, hippies, etc.) and innuendo (people aren’t allowed to come here naked and masturbate–this isn’t an Occupy event).  This is a classic Karl Rove tactic, to say something that sounds like you’re accusing someone of something, though that’s not really what you said, and then let the people who heard it take it away and repeat it as truth–“Did you know they hang around naked and masturbate at the Occupy camp?”  The reality is that small people engage in this type of thing when they have nothing else solid upon which to stand.  If their political beliefs are strong enough they can share those beliefs and stand behind them.  When that’s not there, then deflecting with false accusations, innuendo, and outright lies is a last-ditch attempt at saving what little is left.
  • There were counter protesters, including a couple who were very loud and obnoxious, but the bulk of the problems came from Tea Partiers getting in the face of the counter protesters and screaming and yelling, even though most of the counter protesters were doing nothing but peacefully holding signs.  The police did a very good job at keeping tempers under control and not letting anything get out of hand.  There really were very few problems at all.
  • One man held a sign with the quote that noted when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag.  The Tea Partiers were very much wrapped in flags on Saturday–flags on sticks being waved, flags on shirts, on handkerchiefs and bandanas, on pants, hats, tattoos, and signs.  It was an incredible display of red, white, and blue, as well as eagles, Gadsen flags, and countless other bits of jingoistic Americana.  But it was all symbolism to disguise the empty rhetoric.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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