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Daniel Sinker

Daniel Sinker

Posted April 17, 2009 | 02:04 PM (EST)

When the Left Went Teabagging: As You Chuckle at the Right's Newfound Activism, Don't Forget That the Left Sucked Balls for Years


The Lorax. It took me a while to figure out what the fuzzy red costume with a big yellow mustache was supposed to be. Ten minutes of staring at the photo and it finally hit me: The Lorax, from the Dr. Seuss book about the pollution caused by the production of Thneeds ("A Thneed's a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need"). A young woman in a Lorax costume was marching down the middle of a Seattle street, while the rest of the city smoldered and burned around her. This was 1999, and the WTO ministerial meeting -- and the protests and riots that surrounded it -- announced the arrival of the anti-globalization movement.

It seems like a thousand years ago. I was the editor of a well-read punk culture magazine, and we ran the WTO protests big. While the traditional media portrayed the protestors as mobs of messageless anarchist thugs and environmentalist wackos, we saw the movement for what it was: a disparate collection of people and organizations that were able to come together around a common cause, even if they arrived there via different routes. It was a movement that could support old hippies, fair traders, masked anarchists, people dressed as sea turtles, third-world debt relievers, social justice crusaders of every stripe and even, yes, the Lorax himself (er, herself). And what was the message that brought us all together? Er... well....

Search me.

While the WTO protests felt like they were presenting a coherent message, it was instead the pinnacle of the left's lost decades -- years of wandering the desert of obscurity, torn apart by competing causes and beliefs, fracturing into ever-smaller interest groups holding ever-smaller protests and actions. The WTO protests of 1999 and 2000 brought these many groups together for the first time, but they still weren't able to speak with one voice. Then towers fell, two wars were begun, and things began to Change.

Fast forward a decade: Many of the folks that paraded down the teargassed streets of Seattle turned in their gasmasks and said Yes We Can to finding common cause around a presidential campaign. An often divided left found their message and organized around it, finding victory after decades wandering the desert. And while the world certainly hasn't suddenly become a reflection of the dreams of the left, it's clear that things are at least beginning to tilt our way.

And so now a new group of the dispossessed have taken to the streets, arriving through a multitude of pathways, to speak in one voice against.... Taxes? Gun rights? States rights? Immigration? Obama? Coffee?

OK, maybe it's not one voice. And maybe it's not a coherent message -- actually, strike the "maybe" in that sentence. And maybe most of the groups are simply showing up to rally around their specific cause, and don't actually care about tea at all. And maybe the whole choice to rally around the term "teabagging" without double-checking its sexual meaning wasn't the brightest decision in the world, making it a very easy target for the Rachel Maddows of the world.

But haven't we been here before?

Haven't we -- the left -- been the teabaggers for decades? As you write off the right's tea parties as messageless, unfocused, marginalized ranting, don't forget that the left had our fair share of messageless, unfocused, marginalized ranting over the last twenty years. And that, ultimately, we needed those twenty years to understand how to become organized and take back power for ourselves. Without two decades wandering the desert, we wouldn't have built the modern infrastructure that the left stands on now. So laugh if you want, but today's teabaggers may be tomorrow's resurgent right.