As the Occupy Wall street movement gains steam and inspires similar protests worldwide, defenders of the so-called Tea Party have decried the Occupation activists as “law breakers” “radicals”, and even “un-American” (unlike themselves, of course). One imagines that such objections, coming from Tea Partiers, are meant to contrast them not only from themselves, but from the original groups of Americans who made the term, ‘Tea Party’, history. In this version, they were nice, law-abiding folk, engaged in a little, oh, patriotic disagreement. Suffice it to say, it didn’t exactly happen that way. The late great historian, Howard Zinn, in his groundbreaking: ‘A People’s History of the United States’: 1492-Present (Perennial Classics: 2003), recounts the Tea Party as a great event not only of rebellion, but law-breaking.
Imagine the worth of crates of imported tea, broken into, and tossed into the Boston Harbor. The property of local merchants–destroyed. Why? Because of the taxes added on, which made Americans angry at such high prices for something they considered a staple. It was also a thumb in the eye of the British. The British government responded to this provocation by passing Parliament’s Coercive Acts, they closed down Boston’s port, dissolved the local colonial government, and brought in armed troops, virtually establishing martial law (Zinn 67). Now–which contemporary group more closely resembles their American ancestors? The Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street? And lest we miss the big lesson, women played a pivotal role in these protests as well.
John Adams’ wife, Abigail, wrote of a “coffee party”, led by nearly 100 women, who, angry at the high coffee prices at a Boston store, marched down to the warehouse, and demanded the “stingy” merchant surrender his keys. When he refused, Adams writes: “Upon which one of them seized him by his neck and tossed him into the cart. Upon his finding no quarter, he delivered the keys when they tipped up the cart and discharged him; then opened the warehouse, hoisted out the coffee themselves, put it into the trunks and drove off. A large concourse of men stood amazed, silent spectators of the whole transaction.” (Zinn 110)
‘Law-breakers?’ ‘Radicals?’ ‘Un-American?’
Well, they broke the law, certainly, for, during colonial days, English law ruled. Were they radicals? Probably. Were they un-American? They destroyed private property. They reacted to the rich getting richer by looting their warehouses. Sounds pretty American to me.