theatre of protest: analysis of Boston tea party tax day action

Tom Boland (
Tue, 5 May 1998 00:43:38 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  CC REPLIES TO Andrew Boyd <>

here's a write up of what we did right and could have done better at the
tax day tea party action:

[Analysis follows short article below, which describes the theatrical


  Apr 15, 1998

  By Michael Ellis

BOSTON (Reuters) - Republican congressmen Dick Armey
and Billy Tauzin threw a crate containing the tax code from
the Boston Tea Party ship into the city's harbor Wednesday,
promptly overturning a dingy of demonstrators protesting
their proposed tax reforms.

``Your tax will sink the working family,'' shouted the two
demonstrators, Chris Hartman and Kristin Barreli of the
Boston-based group United for a Fair Economy, before they
and a plastic doll tipped into the water.

House Majority Leader Armey and Rep. Tauzin of Louisiana
appeared surprised when the dingy upset the tax day press

They hesitated before throwing the crate marked ``tea'' from
the famous symbol of American rebellion against excess

More than 200 years ago, Boston colonists crept aboard three
ships including the ``Beaver'' and threw overboard tea crates
to protest a British tax on tea, one of the most important
events leading up to the American Revolution.




good research.  we knew what they were going to do and when and where they
were going to do it.  we scoped out the physical site.

symbolic engagement.  we understood the symbolism of their event and
instead of disrupting or going against the grain of it, we participated in
that symbolism, extending it, reinterpreting it.  this provided a single
coherent image and story for the media that told BOTH sides of the story
but with ours enclosing theirs, calling theirs into question.

surprise & stealth.  they didn't know the boat was coming.  they didn't
realize our folks were standing right next to them until the moment of
surprise.  it gave us an edge to define the moments, steal the show - and
then their surprise itself became part of the media story.

timing & discipline.  excellent timing made all the difference.  discipline
was key.

upstaging.  we were more dramatic, more entertaining, more unusual.  two
people (and a doll) getting capsized in the harbor has more punch than two
suits throwing a trunk off a ship.

"ideological pincers".  we had them ideologically surrounded:  on one
side-the voice of working family, the victim of their tax policy; on the
other side-the voice of the rich, unmasking the true agenda behind their
tax policy.

right tool for the right job.  we did two creative actions for two
different settings and they were just the right thing for each situation.
when they were doing their lecture, we did our static performance-outside,
separate, ongoing, on display.  when they did their action/stunt we
intervened with our action stunt-single lightning strike, in the midst,
direct engagement.

appropriate tech.  we figured out how to get the biggest bang for the buck,
matched our concept to our available resources.  the dinghy boat cost $30.
signs were hand-made.  we bought a few simple props (hard-hat, etc.).

"media wrenching".  we hijacked their media event.  they set up the event,
sent out the press releases, drew the media-but we stepped in and wrenched
it away from them.  this worked much better than past attempts to get the
media to cover the stunts that we have set up on our own.

media spinning.  we didn't just let the media cover our antics anyway they
cared.  we prepped them and spun it for them.  our co-director (in a
straight, non-theatrical mode) worked the media both before and after the
stunt.  handing out press releases, warning the camera people of what was
going to happen, suggesting they set a wide angle to capture the whole
scene at the critical moment, etc.  and afterwards, he was available right
there for expert commentary .

controlling the confrontation.  no bouncer could strong-arm the dinghy out
of the room.  it was harder to shout down the RPLF because they were "for"
the tax.



message discipline.  we needed stronger message discipline and stronger
visual means of carrying it (not for the dinghy boat but for the RPLF).
+ The RPLF folks needed to have one phrase/chant to use in each circumstance:
before sinking:	"sink the middle class with the sales tax"
after sinking:	"let the middle class drown"
to targets themselves:	"The rich love you, Mr. Armey!  You're our man in
to others:	"the rich love the flat tax,"
+ since ironic identity of group is confusing, phrase should stand on its
+ oral and written messages (on placards, banners) should be closely
+ just b/c we have all these great fun phrases (like "Free the Forbes 400")
doesn't mean we should put them all on the placards.  instead we should
have chosen a few phrases like the ones above and put them and only them
big and clear on multiple placards.
+ and we should come up with one good, universal ironic RPLF message and
put it big and clear on a huge banner that we take to every RPLF action
(similar to the church of euthanasia's "save the planet -- kill yourself")

better coordination/communication.  everything could have messed up b/c I
didn't know where the dinghy boat was.  I had to run all around the harbor,
the bridge and both sides of the channel to find the boat.  things were too
hectic-I never got from kristin & chris exactly where they were going to be
hiding out.

hold the field.  after the first capsizing, we floated away.  so they
hauled the trunk in and dropped it again, cameras filming.  they were thus
able to get a clean shot of their stunt without us in it.  we needed to
hold our ground, stay in the scene even in our capsized state.

luck.  luck won't always be with us:  public space allowed us access, they
were amiss in their scouting/security, we happened to hear that they were
going to be doing this at all, we managed to buy a boat, pull everything
together at last minute, etc.

more media follow-up.  we could have followed up with the media better than
we did.  we could have spread the word better (in both mainstream and
alternative press) as well as leveraged our media coup into "who are these
guys and what do they have to say about taxes et al" kind of stories.

our own photographer/videographer.  as usual photo/video was the last thing
to think about and the one greatest regret afterwards.  we need our own
simple to use still camera and video camera in the office w/ film and
cartridge stock.  we need to make it  a painless, habitual part of every

Andrew Boyd
 55. Lay claim to one fragment.
 91. Label your tribe.
152. Name what names you.
341. Make the border your territory.


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