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The hour of destruction, or manly opposition to the
machinations of tyranny, stares you in the face. Every friend to his
country, to himself and posterity … is now called upon … to make a
united and successful resistance to this last, worst and most
destructive measure of administration.
Is this a leaflet for the protests at last week’s meeting of the
World Trade Organization in Seattle? No. It’s a leaflet for a 1773 town
meeting in Boston to protest the passage of the Tea Act by England’s
Parliament. But the 226 years between the Seattle and Boston protests
notwithstanding, the two events have some interesting things in common.
The British East India Company, which dominated the late 18th century
tea trade in Asia, was on the verge of collapse. Its warehouses along
the Thames were hugely overstocked with unsold tea. It was time for a
“bailout” — 1770’s style. East India was awarded a monopoly in the
American colonies and a deal in which the British government would
refund to it the import duties collected upon arrival of the tea in
England from Asia. A duty tax on the colonies was imposed by the Tea Act
of 1773, but since the price of East India’s tea would drop due to the
refund, it would be cheaper than the Dutch tea it competed against.
Thus, the British expected that America would relinquish protests about
taxation without representation because the people were getting a good
buy. Parliament believed it could thus secure its authority to tax the
colonies — something the colonists had been resisting for over ten
years — and save Britain’s control over the international tea trade in
However, Parliament was wrong. The colonists recognized the ploy for
what it was — an effort to bribe them into complying with an
unconstitutional tax, into forfeiting their political interests in
exchange for cheap consumer goods.
When three British ships carrying 45 tons of tea landed at Griffin’s
Wharf in Boston Harbor, a group of some 200 patriots, disguised as
Mohawk Indians, dumped the tea into the harbor.
The British called the Boston Tea Party an insurrection and closed
the port of Boston, abrogated the Massachusetts Charter, installed a
military governor, and completely usurped the colony’s democratic
institutions. In response to this and other parliamentary acts which
imposed England’s authoritarian will on the colonies, the Committees of
Correspondence were formed, which soon convened the Continental Congress
in Philadelphia in 1774. The solidarity there was remarkable. Patrick
Henry said it most eloquently:
All America is thrown into one mass. Where are your landmarks —
your boundaries of colonies? They are all thrown down. The distinctions
between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are
no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American.
Less than two years later, the Declaration of Independence was
drafted and signed. The war to establish the democratic governance of
America of, by and for the people, had begun.
The Battle in Seattle was not exactly a tea party. And today’s global
trading realities are a lot more complex than the days when the British
East India Company controlled the tea trade. But the principle that the
terms of U.S. participation in the world marketplace — as both
consumers and producers — must be determined democratically by the
American people is still at issue. It is that principle that Americans
are rising to defend — including those in the streets of Seattle, in
the communities of color (amongst the hardest hit by the erosion of our
manufacturing base); including environmentalists, trade unionists and
economic nationalists. Cheap consumer goods, the “bribe” of the new
millennium, won’t make up for the declining quality of U.S. jobs, the
vast discrepancies in the distribution of wealth, the destruction of the
global environment, the undermining of our sovereignty and human rights
The anti-WTO movement is a movement that throws down the boundaries
depicted by Patrick Henry two centuries ago. This time, the boundaries
are less geographic and more ideological. And it is this coming together
of left, center and right — the creation of “one mass” — that
seriously threatens the bipartisan elite. That is one reason why my
Reform Party alliance with Pat Buchanan, a left/right coalition opposed
to economic policies that favor transnational special interests, has
caused such a furor.
Does Seattle signal the coming of a new American revolution against
postmodern tyranny and for a radically restructured and reformed
democratic process? Only if the American people are ready to dump the
two parties and rebel against the labor, left and environmental
bureaucrats who tell them to vote for the Democrats in spite of their
support for the WTO and like-minded trade policies. That’s what the
Reform Party is all about. And that’s what its political reform agenda
is all about — giving the American people the power to determine our
trade policy by restoring our control over our own government through
instituting process reforms like term limits, initiative and referenda,
same day voter registration and campaign finance restructuring.
The revolutionists tossed the tea into the harbor rather than be
subject to taxation without representation. But it wasn’t about the tea
or about the tax. It was about the process by which the tea was taxed.
We fought a war to guarantee that the process by which commerce and
society overall were governed would be democratic and self-determined.
And there are battles yet to be won.
Today the usurpers of democracy and self-determination are not the
British Crown and Parliament, but Bill Clinton and Al Gore, Trent Lott
and George W. Bush — the Democrats and the Republicans who would have
the WTO and its unelected representatives of multinational capital set
the terms for our economic endeavors. If the battle cry of the 1770s was
“No Taxation Without Representation,” then the battle cry of the new
millennium may be “No Globalization Without Representation.” And America
is going to have to declare its political independence from the two
parties to make it stick.