The Tea Party movement has come to Brooklyn, courtesy of an activist from Manhattan.
John Press is an author with a doctorate in history from New York University, who was fed up with the excesses of the Bush and especially the Obama administrations and had begun going to Tea Party events. He noticed that they were all in Manhattan. So Press talked to some Brooklyn friends who he knew were interested in the Tea Party and talked to them about starting a group there. They all told him they were too busy.
"I said, 'OK, that means me. I'm on it,'" he said in an interview at the Bobst Library at N.Y.U. last week.
Though Press is something of an outsider in Brooklyn - he had trouble remembering the names of some of the borough's conservative neighborhoods - his group has gained some momentum. They have their first meeting in a week, a Facebook page with over 350 members and a blog. The motto on the Facebook page reads: "Enough is enough. No more wasteful spending, no more government expansion, no more corporate bailouts. Enough with Democrats, enough with Republicans-in-Name-Only."
It has long been known that for all of the liberalism that runs through it, Brooklyn has several decidedly conservative areas. Neighborhoods in the southeast such as Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst have traditionally voted Republican. Yet Press said that on the whole Brooklyn remains a decidedly blue state borough. "Overall, if it's just one big area, certainly we'd lose."
Asked what has driven him to the Tea Party, Press described his "complete disgust" at the increased government spending under George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
"I don't have any automatic allegiance to the Republicans," he said, citing the expansive foreign policy and the bank bailouts under Bush. "A huge amount of people feel so sold out by the Republican Party."
Still, Press said the Brooklyn Tea Party group needs to be involved in finding local candidates and influencing electoral politics - something he said makes his branch different from, say, the Staten Island branch, which is not involved in directly electoral efforts.
Press also said he's found a way to help the Tea Party movement talk about thorny issues such as immigration. The ideas come from a book he has written, Culturism. He sees it as a way to move away from discussions of race and toward a discussion of culture.
Press's theory is that there's a dominant Western culture with values that must be protected. Immigration, he said, is a threat to this. Practically speaking, this means he's less worried about people from South Korea coming to America - because he thinks their cultural values are in line with Western values - than about people coming from Latin America, whose culture he sees as not valuing education or curbs on teen pregnancy.
On April 15, Press was in Manhattan passing out fliers for the Brooklyn Tea Party at a Tax Day rally being held at Pennsylvania Station. There were many Brooklynites among the hundreds of people who turned out to the protest. Most who received them had never heard of the group until that night, and not all said they were inclined to join. However, they all expressed anger at the current state of the country.
Gregory Bronner, 34, a recently unemployed banker, said taxes are so high it stifles innovation. "People should have freedom to achieve their dreams," he said.
Asked if he feels alone in Brooklyn, where people may not like taxes but many do love Obama, he replied, "Oh, I'm a registered Democrat. I voted for Obama in the last election."
Gene Otrovsky, 32, who moved from the Ukraine 20 years ago, said he thinks America is becoming a socialist nation. "It's the same things they were doing back there, the same explanations, the same arguments." Otrovsky, who owns an online business in the medical industry, had a flyer for the Brooklyn Tea Party in his hand, but said he'd never heard of it before the rally. He said he feels "pissed off" and would consider joining.
Some Brooklynites at the rally were recruited from Republican Party meetings, while others simply decided to show up.
"I've never even been to a political rally before," said Dennis Fernando, 30, an insurance inspector who lives in Williamsburg. "I party my ass off. I have nothing in common with most of the people here." However, Fernando did share an apprehension about what he saw as the invasive nature of the federal government.
"Fuck the government," he said. "I want the government to get out of my life." Fernando described himself as an anarchist but said he is wary of the Tea Party movement because he feels it has been hijacked by the Republican Party.
Anthony Rich, 40, works as a firefighter in Brownsville, where, he said, too many people are dependent on the government. "We're headed for tyranny," he said, adding that "some people are awakening, some are still sleeping."
Rich, who has six children, believes in creationism, Ron Paul and self-reliance. "It will be a cold day in hell when government-dependent Americans vote for someone who loves freedom," he said.