Oct 132010

By Joy Arnold

The last weekend in September saw the birth of the Coffee Party when Annabel Park got up off her couch and ranted on her Facebook page about the growing popularity of the Tea Party movement. Park immigrated with her parents from South Korea as a young girl, grew up in Houston and now works in film. She and her partner, Eric Byler, recently produced the film 9500 Liberty, which documents the immigration issue as it has played out in Manassas, Virginia. The film is currently being shown on several MTV outlets.

Park’s Facebook rant reached an audience increasingly frustrated with the incivility and obstructionism in political discourse, and with the media assertion that the Tea Party represents America. Inspired, Park to organize, via social media outlets like YouTube, a group to counter the Tea Party’s populist mobilization. Continue reading »

Sep 292010

By Joe Anthony

“What,” asks Shakespeare’s Falstaff, “is honor?” There is no practicality to it. It “hath no skill in surgery,” he discovers. It is a mere word. Air. “Honor is a mere scutcheon,” he concludes, prompted mainly, it’s true, by his cowardice. Honor breaks bones though it does not set them. He will have none of it.

Falstaff’s quest for a definition of honor comes to mind because I, too, have been wondering lately about this word “honor.” It’s in the news so much lately. What is its substance? In particular, what do the tea-partiers and Glenn Beck have in mind when they say things like , “Let’s bring back honor and let’s take back the country”? Continue reading »

Aug 252010

Fancy Farm with the anti-fascists

By Danny Mayer

Fancy Farm, KY

It takes a worried man
To sing a worried song.

—Woody Guthrie

In June, I began attending meetings for a new group, the United Front Kentucky (UFK), formed to mobilize against what we see as a growing fascist movement in this state. Our goal is both to educate people about fascism’s specific history and to agitate against folks who deploy the term incorrectly as a form of fear-mongering.

As a political movement, fascism has a distinct history of support by populist movements that scapegoat outsiders as a way to make sense of national economic crises. Strong populist rhetoric has historically provided the groundcover for more overt oppressive forms of fascism.

In fascist Germany during the global depression of the 1930s, for example, Adolph Hitler mobilized support by scapegoating outsider groups like gypsies (nation-less immigrant outsiders) and Jews (religious outsiders)—both groups exterminated by the millions using the cold tools of industrial capitalism—as dangers to the nation’s future prosperity. Working alongside his fearmongering of perceived outside threats, Hitler also energized and harnessed the German volk through nationalist appeals to a mythic and superior Aryan German race that needed to be reclaimed by any means necessary.

An umbrella group that includes a diversity of left/progressive political loyalties, UFK wishes to engage and counter-act, through education and agitation, such fasicist rhetoric. While we recognize that the Tea Party is where much fascist rhetoric emanates, our resistance to fascism is non-partisan.

Most of us (myself included) would not define ourselves as Obama supporters or Democrats. We recognize that Obama has continued, and in some cases deepened, a number of Bush era policies that are consistent with the march to fascism: creating a privatized military force of “contractors,” increasing overseas wars intended to facilitate corporate development of other countries’ oil fields, mandating the privatization of human needs like access to healthcare, and using the power and wealth of the state both to enrich bankrupt financial institutions (TARP) and to cover over corruptly inept private sector functioning (BP). We are decidedly not, as has been suggested on some post-Fancy Farm websites, connected in any way to the Democrat party.

Why Fancy Farm?

In keeping with our mission to educate and agitate, we decided our first public action should take place at the Fancy Farm picnic. None of us had been to the gathering, but we knew that the audience we hoped to engage—journalists, Tea Partiers and politically interested groups—would be found in abundance there.

We knew also that the throwback stump-politicking and all-around carnival atmosphere would lend us a measure of safety. This was an important feature; left-based protestors like ourselves have historically borne the brunt of state crackdowns, as anti-war gatherings and G-20 protests are routinely turned into militarized zones by the government. (Right wing agitation, it should be noted—bringing guns to political rallies and preaching on bathing the tree of liberty in blood—gets a relatively free pass from the government.)

Plus, the whole damn thing—the quick trip West to Fancy Farm, the picnic, the hootin’ and the hollerin’—just sounded like it’d be a kinghell of a time.

Prep Work for Fancy Farm

Beginning a couple months before Fancy Farm, we began to develop a handout to provide a brief historical background of fascism as a political ideology. Garnishing it with quotations from both historical and current political figures, we titled the pamphlet “Flirting with fascism.” It was our main educational gambit, a document people could read quickly at Fancy Farm or, fishing it from their trousers hours later, more slowly at home.

Courtesty of UFK

Anti-fascist cover photo

I loved the pamphlet’s cover art: in the foreground, a young white couple, arms clasped and smiling atop a globe, are juxtaposed against a fleet of B-52 bombers in the process of firebombing a city in the background. Below the couple a banner reads, “To protect our way of living.” The couple face forward, seemingly unaware of what to protect really means; from the perspective of the collage, the two appear to lead, stridently, the B-52 fire-raid formation receding into the distance.

In addition to the pamphlet, we also planned, sketched and painted a Fascist Scoreboard onto a slightly re-cut and home-grommeted 6′ x 9′ painter’s tarp that I had sitting in my basement. We planned for the scoreboard to tally both the type and amount of fascist statements made by the politicians during their stump speeches at Fancy Farm. As it turns out, we’ve now got an easily transportable game for any public event.

Initially modeled on old-timey baseball scoreboards and attached to two eight foot tall bamboo poles, the scoreboard lists five traits of fascism in big letters: NATIONALISM, FEAR-MONGERING, SCAPEGOATING, PRO-CORPORATE, and ANTI-DEMOCRATIC. (Among others, MILITARISM and CURRENCY MANIPULATION lost out on space issues.) Alongside these descriptors, we left room to keep score, choosing blue electric tape for our marking system.

We hoped the scoreboard would be an interactive event when, with our banner scoreboard facing the crowd, we imagined keeping track in real time whenever any speakers engaged in, say, fear-mongering, or made knee-jerk big business statements that put the needs of various industries and specific corporations over that of the people of the state. The scoreboard was perfect for Fancy Farm: big, highly visible, fun, explicitly political and, in what we found to be a departure from Fancy Farm protocol, viciously nonpartisan.

Much pork at Fancy Farm

We arrived a little before noon, nine strong and in two vehicles, to the Fancy Farm grounds, 100 degree heat soon turning us, like the surrounding corn fields, a dusty light brown. Our vegan and vegetarian comrades had eaten thirty minutes earlier, at a Taco John’s on the way over, after being informed that there might not be much in the way of edible food for them at the gathering. To their somewhat inconvenience, the Fancy Farm political picnic features some excellent pork and mutton barbecue, but little in the way of clean Vegan fare.

Their loss was Martin Mudd and mine’s gain. After bumping into some KFTCers pamphleting for the re-enfranchisement of Kentucky felons and setting up an interview with the Murray NPR affiliate, we dropped our gear and split to survey the food. With the Knights of Columbus buffet line stretching outside the group’s grounds, our choices, essentially, became pizza, pork or mutton. We both went for the pork, one pound of it apiece at $8 per, a styrofoam box packed so full that our collective weight in purchased pig, Mudd and I surmised, was actually somewhere nearer six pounds.

No buns, no napkin, not even a fork. I would eat on the swine throughout the day, scooping up the last scraps with my thumb, index and middle fingers while crossing over the Cumberland River on our return trip to Lexington eight hours later.

They’re all sons of bitches

At Fancy Farm, the name of the game is loud and brutal. I now understand why I had to sneak my flask of Svedka onto the picnic grounds. The people there went temporarily frothing mad. Not necessarily in any physically violent sense…it was more ritualistic, like regimented daily market calls on the floor of the Dow, a verbal assault that started casually enough, moved to a rush at 2:00 with the national call to God and undercard speakers, peaked rabidly during the great Conway/Paul (7 minutes) debates, and—like that—became calm, presumably for another 365 days.

As it turns out, we had dropped our gear and set up right next to a contingent of Conway supporters, mostly members of Kentucky Young Democrats and one NeanderPaul man, a brainchild of the Conway camp who dressed in cave-garb and intermittently shouted out “Abolish all taxes! Abolish all government! Abolish all education!” while raising a plastic club. A couple of Rand Paul supporters and a cluster of locals who came to see their loved ones receive various pre-game civic awards, rounded out the set.

We stood stage right, clustered in and around a bleacher half-located in sun, just about even with the stage, allowing us an upclose profile of each of the day’s speakers. Though we couldn’t see them, I think we faced most of the Paul supporters, who cloistered around stage Left, some grown men snazzily dressed in white pantyhose, tight-fitting blue jackets and pointy hats.

The undercard featured a strong cast of Kentucky politicians: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear (D) and Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R). The year before, Jack Conway had proclaimed that he was “one tough son of a bitch,” which had prompted the picnic’s sponsors, Saint Jerome Catholic Church, to create a new rule for this year’s edition: no cussin’, the penalty for which would be a strike-up of Rocky Top by the band at stage left. This prompted a number of puns off the phrase, both complimentary (from Beshear) and derogatory (McConnell, Grayson).

For the main event, Conway won the coin toss and elected to receive. He had clearly rehearsed his call and response with the crowd, one guesses via burned and delivered cd roms to the Conway Democrats near us. They were all ready for the jokes, when to laugh, when to be quiet, when to get rowdy happy. Conway scored several points—both on our scoreboard and with his compatriots.

Finally Paul spoke. The person even the Conway folks seemed most jazzed at seeing, Paul was largely underwhelming and easily the worst of the five main speakers at the picnic. His quiet, whiny tone, what one journalist has generously described as his “elusive accent,” was awfully matched to the white populist fire of Fancy Farm.

Mudd was kept busy scoring points during Paul’s talk, a lot at my urging and most of them based off his speech, but some marks also came out of the generally primitive courtside reactions to the game unfolding before us. The Conway kids to my right and behind me were vicious. Paul mentioned tax code, and they chanted boring (so much for the pretense of intellectual engagement); he moved to Pelosi, and they exploded with boos. In front of me, a College Conway kid and a white-haired Tea Partier in mesh baseball cap jousted Conway and Paul signs, while tucked next to them NeanderPaul Man, part of Team Conway, continued to belch out Abolish all government! Abolish eduction!, brandishing his plastic club like Captain Caveman. To my left, I glimpsed my UFK comrades, swept up, their hands also over their mouths, shouting I couldn’t hear what.

It all blended together. A huge explosion of sound with only faint echoes of Rand Paul whining stupid about the tax code and how heavy it weighed, a 2010 heaping of that same stale capitalist mutton basted in free market populism, his prattle a weak backbeat no louder than some taped over analog.

It wasn’t until later that I could figure out what the scene reminded me of, and then it hit me, around the time I finished the last of the Fancy Farm pork on the way home. It reminded me of the great Tea Party shutdowns at the healthcare town halls. Except, of course, at Fancy Farm verbal shout-downs are so part of the game, they are the game.

Aug 122010

By Danny Mayer

Fancy Farm, KY

It takes a worried man

To sing a worried song.

—Woody Guthrie

In my notebook, this line starred, maybe 2 pages into the notes covering my trip to Fancy Farm, Kentucky, to attend the state’s symbolic beginning to the political season. Part nineteenth century stump speechifying, part political family reunion, part local civic celebration day, and part picnic, Fancy Farm is really a political carnival, inflected with the usual particular Kentucky seasonings: dull suburban white jokes spoken in thick accents, barbecue, no cussin’, no alcohol. Plenty of religion, plenty of outlandish costumes.

I remember the scene quite well. Standing at the edge of the shade, facing an empty podium, leaning against a bamboo stick freshly sliced the day before from a friend in Southland who, when I informed him that I planned to use the bamboo at Fancy Farm to fight fascism, responded, “Right on….I’m glad to help.” A whirlwhind 24 hours later and standing next to me, fuzzy in the strange halflight of my prescription shades, Martin Mudd is singing along to the strong bluegrass band toiling away on the far side of the stage from us. “It takes a worried man,” Mudd continues along, “to sing a worried song.” Continue reading »

Apr 222010

By Joe Anthony

Like many people, I’ve been surprised and dismayed by the depth of the rage exhibited by the tea party group. It has confused me, too. What is it all about? Today’s Lexington Herald-Leader had a Washington Post column by Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar from the very conservative American Enterprise Institute summing up Obama as left of center, certainly not a radical president by any means. The column talks about the dismay many of Obama’s base, me included, have felt at many of his very moderate initiatives. So even conservatives, in moments of clarity, see that this president is about as far from being a socialist as Gerald Ford was, maybe not as near to it as Richard Nixon. So again the question: why all the rage?

I’ve thought about it and come up with a few tentative answers. Continue reading »