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General News    H2'ed 2/16/10

A Tale of Two Bags: Brown Bags vs. Tea Bags

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A Tale of Two Bags: Grassroots Brown Bags vs. AstroTurf Tea Bags
Take Action: Attend or Organize a Brown Bag Lunch Vigil!

Question: How would the mainstream media react if several organizations mobilized nation-wide demonstrations to demand action on their political agenda? Answer: It depends on who did the organizing. If it's the nearly all-white "Tea Baggers" attacking President Obama for "socialism" and his supposed foreign birth, we don't have to guess. Who hasn't seen coverage of Tea Bag events, often featuring signs with extreme, even racist slogans and pictures of President Obama with a Hitler mustache? Coverage of Tea Bagger antics is widespread, generally respectful, and often fawning.

The Los Angeles Times column On The Media warned the majority, "Opponents of Obama's economic policies remain in the minority for now. But the time of small government, anti-tax crusaders likely will come again." The Sacramento Bee asked, "Is there a tea party nation?" only to answer that the Tea Parties represent "a massive venting of pent-up anger." The Washington Examiner ignored contrary evidence to proclaim the Tea Baggers represent the majority: "But there really is nothing in modern American political history to match the spontaneous explosion of grassroots political activism in recent months among what once was known as the Silent Majority."

In reality, Tea Baggers are hardly silent and they're far from the majority. Still, at the height of the Tea Bag activism--Tax Day last April 15--mainstream media like CBS News claimed the Tea Baggers "struck a chord with Americans." This even through the same article cited a CBS News/New York Times poll revealing that 56 percent of Americans supported President Obama's economic policies. The Tea Baggers speak for an even tinier slice of Americans--about 1 in 4--when they rail against Obama as a tax-hiker. According to the same poll, "74 percent support higher taxes on the rich, the only group that Mr. Obama has proposed be taxed at a higher rate." So much for the tea baggers' anti-tax stance, the position their mainstream media supporters tout as most salient.

As the mainstream media grant the Tea Parties coverage, the verdict is clear: if dozens of people gather at various places to speak out, then that message must be important and newsworthy. Ignoring this message would be politically reckless. This although polls indicated the Tea Bagger view is a small minority on taxes, and even though--as Nobel Prize winning economist and former Reagan Administration advisor Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times--these "tea parties don't represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They're AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects. In particular, a key role is being played by FreedomWorks, an organization run by Richard Armey, the former House majority leader, and supported by the usual group of right-wing billionaires. And the parties are, of course, being promoted heavily by Fox News."

When a demographically unrepresentative group expresses extreme fringe and unpopular views, TV cameras and reporters flock to cover them--and many even praise them. It makes sense that Fox would promote AstroTurf events promoted through millions of dollars from deep-pocket right-wing groups and heavily hyped by Fox personalities. But what explains so-called liberal media falling all over themselves to join in? And what if a diverse, genuine grassroots movement mobilized to express popular positions at 60 Congressional and Senatorial offices from coast to coast? If groups expressing a minority viewpoint are important, then groups expressing the majority position for "Healthcare NOT Warfare" must be even more important. Wouldn't the "liberal media" rush to publicize them? Not so much.

Progressive Democrats of America's "Healthcare NOT Warfare" campaign calls on President Obama and members of Congress to support H.R. 2404, calling for an exit strategy from Afghanistan, H.R. 3699, prohibiting any increase in the number of members of the United States Armed Forces serving in Afghanistan, and to enact Medicare for All H.R. 676 to guarantee comprehensive publicly-funded, privately-delivered healthcare for everyone in the U.S. Polling shows wide support for these positions, but the mainstream media remain indifferent to this common-sense, mainstream grassroots effort.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll conducted in late January shows most Americans oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to this data, only 47% "favor" but 52% "oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan," while only 39% "favor" but 60% "oppose the U.S. war in Iraq." Other polls show the public remains dissatisfied with the ongoing wars, want the troops withdrawn, and feel "the United States has accomplished as much as can be expected in Iraq." For comparison, this is double to triple the public support for the most popular Tea Bag positions. Still, the media trumpet Tea Bags and downplay growing opposition to these wasteful, unnecessary, and self-defeating war efforts.

Americans overwhelmingly support government action on healthcare, despite widespread confusion about Congressional proposals. Before the massive disinformation campaigns from insurance companies, Republican operatives and others with a vested interest against reform, a February 1, 2009 CBS/New York Times poll asked, "Should the government in Washington provide national health insurance, or is this something that should be left only to private enterprise?" Only 32% responded "Private enterprise," while 59% preferred "Government," and 9% replied "Don't Know." Again, other polling shows a majority of doctors, nurses and the general public support a "Medicare-like" national health plan.

Beneath the media radar, a grassroots movement is growing. PDA and allies including the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee,,, United for Peace and Justice, Healthcare NOW,, and Code Pink Women for Peace are organizing several dozen Brown Bag Lunch Vigils (BBLVs). From California to Mississippi, from Florida to Maine, concerned constituents are rallying to ask senators and representatives to thoughtfully engage on issues of war and peace, life and death.

Tea Bagger conspiracy theorists enjoy media attention as they rashly accuse President Obama of lying about his birthplace and hiding "death squads" in his healthcare proposals. Cable news and print media take their unpopular and often contradictory demands seriously. Brown Baggers ask their members of Congress to vote against funding unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to oppose new wars in Pakistan or Yemen. They also ask lawmakers to urge leadership and their colleagues to join this public commitment. What is the media response to this rapidly growing movement? Cue chirping crickets.

A Google search using "Brown Bag vigil" reveals an article by PDA and AfterDowningStreet's David Swanson on Op-Ed News describing the effort, and publishing PDA's press release announcing the vigils. This is, in effect, a total news blackout, even though Brown Baggers speak for the majority of Americans. Why won't the media report on this true grass roots effort? Why isn't MSNBC touting Brown Bags like FOX cheer leads for Tea Bags? Clearly not all bags are created equal!

Constituents began organizing vigils just after New Years in these districts with these legislators: (AZ-05) Rep. Harry Mitchell, (CA-06) Rep. Lynn Woolsey, (CA-22) Rep. Kevin McCarthy, (CA-23) Rep. Lois Capps, (CA-40) Rep. Ed Royce, (CA-42) Rep. Gary Miller, (CA-45) Rep. Mary Bono-Mack, (CA-46) Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, (CA-48) Rep. John Campbell, (CA-50) Rep. Brian Bilbray, (CA-53) Rep. Susan Davis, (FL-09) Rep. Gus Bilirakis, (FL-10) Rep. Bill Young, (FL-17) Rep. Kendrick Meek, (ID-01) Rep. Walt Minnick, (IN-09) Rep. Baron Hill, (MA-03) Rep. Jim McGovern, (MA-08& 09) Sen. John Kerry, (MA-02) Rep. Richard Neal, (MI-09) Rep. Gary Peters, (NY-18) Rep. Nita Lowey, (NY-28) Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, (OH-13) Rep. Betty Sutton, (OH-17) Rep. Tim Ryan, (PA-02) Rep. Chaka Fattah, (PA-15) Rep. Charlie Dent, (PA-07) Rep. Joe Sestak, (WA-02) Rep. Rick Larsen, (WA-03) Rep. Brian Baird, (WA-06) Rep. Norman Dicks, (WI-03) Rep. Ron Kind, (WI-07) Rep. David Obey.

More people are planning new Brown Bag Vigils every day. In just the past week, concerned Americans scheduled vigils to meet with the following elected officials: (CA-05) Rep. Doris Matsui, (CA-18) Rep. Dennis Cardoza, (CA-31) Rep. Xavier Becerra, (CA-33) Rep. Diane Watson, (CA-34) Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, (CA-37) Rep. Laura Richardson, (CA-49) Rep. Darrell Issa, (CO-04) Rep. Betsy Markey, (FL-04) Rep. Ander Crenshaw, (FL-07) Rep. John Mica, (KY-01 Sen. Mitch McConnell, (MA-10) Rep. William Delahunt, (MD-04) Rep. Donna Edwards, (ME-01) Rep. Chellie Pingree, (ME-02) Rep. Michael H. Michaud, (MS-01) Rep. Travis Childers, (MS-04) Rep. Gene Taylor, (NJ-04) Rep. Chris Smith, (NJ-06) Rep. Frank Pallone, (OR-04) Rep. Peter DeFazio, (OR-05) Rep. Kurt Schrader, (UT-03) Rep. Jason Chaffetz. The movement is expanding. Check the PDA Calendar throughout the day to keep track of them all.

At these monthly events, local PDA members and allies "call on the Obama administration and the United States Congress to begin redirecting the money spent on war and death into human needs here at home and abroad. We demand humanitarian and reconstructive aid for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, not money for troop escalation and permanent bases. We demand that wasteful and unnecessary military spending be directed toward healthcare, jobs, and housing in America. We demand an end to the unjust and illegitimate wars against, and occupations of, Afghanistan and Iraq." But you'd never know it from the mainstream media.

Far more Americans support these Brown Bag positions than the Tea Bag agenda, so why the silent treatment? Why won't the media report on Americans devoting their lunch hour to peace and healthcare in deepest red states--Utah, Idaho and Mississippi, swing states like Florida, Ohio and Colorado, and bright blue bastions including Massachusetts, New York and Maryland? Isn't this movement worth covering? A story worth reporting? Apparently not, according to the pundits and purveyors of conventional wisdom.

It's up to us to be the "not so silent majority." Speak out and get involved with the ever-growing nation-wide Brown Bag movement. Call or write to your local TV, radio and print news and the national media as well. Use PDA's online system to send email and find phone numbers to urge reports to cover this growing grassroots movement. Tell the media and all your local contacts about the BBLV in your area. If there aren't any near you yet, organize one today, and then tell the media to cover it. For more information, please contact the brown bag team.

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Mike Hersh Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Maryland State Coordinator, Progressive Democrats of America

Executive Director, Montgomery County Progressive Alliance

Cofounder, Health Care Maryland | Fundraising Chairperson Camp Democracy

Steering Committee Democracy for America / Montgomery (more...)

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