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How to Turn a Party Into a Protest

Ever since I read Kalle Lasn's Culture Jam, I was captivated by one simple piece of information he put forth. On page 66, he posits:

The United States of America was born of a revolt not just against British monarchs and the British parliament but against British corporations.

He then goes on to make his case that the Boston Tea Party was a protest not just against the tyranny of a county, but also the monopoly of a company.

Because I read this right before my recent trip to Boston, I picked up a short book on the tea party, and read it on the flight home. I was fascinated by the events that took place in the winter of 1773, and I couldn't help but wonder if such an extraordinary act of protest could happen today against repressive corporations.

In reading Robert J. Allison's New England Remembers The Boston Tea Party, I gathered a wealth of information about the context of that fateful tea party, as well as some lessons for those of us today who are looking to spark a revolution:

Set your sights high:
To make a major statement, you've got to go after the biggest problems, polluters and perpetrators. After all, at the time, the East India Tea Company was one of the largest corporations in the British Empire, no small task for a group of lowly colonists.

Stand together:
The party in the harbor was just the icing on the cake, which highlighted weeks of protest, meetings and movements. Allison describes all of the protesters' activities as "well-organized, well-coordinated" efforts. "Even Admiral Montagu was heard to remark that 'these were not a Mob of disorderly Rabble…but men of Sense, Coolness, and Intrepidity.'"

Stick to the plan:
The group could have sent the entire ship into a watery grave, setting it afire and tearing it to pieces. But that wasn't the point; the tea was. "Each squad captain kept careful tally against the manifest, ensuring that every chest of East India Company tea, and only the East India Company's tea, was destroyed." You'll be far more effective in making a statement if you do one thing, and do it well.

Stay true to the cause:
Long after the sexiness of the protest buzz and the convenience of radicalism have worn off, you must stay the course to remain effective. Change takes time, and the more committed your entire life is to a cause you believe in, the more effective you'll be. Here's what it meant for John Adams:

After a thirty-five mile [horse] ride on a hot July afternoon, Adams arrived at Falmouth (now Portland, Maine). Weary, dusty, and hot, Adams hoped to relax and revive with a cup of his favorite beverage. "Madam," he asked Mrs. Huston, "is it lawful for a weary Traveller to refresh himself with a Dish of Tea provided it has been honestly smuggled, or paid no Duites?" "No sir, we have renounced all Tea in the Place." Mrs. Huston's patriotism far exceeded his own, he found. "I can't make tea," she said, but, pointing to her husband, offered, "but He can make you coffee." For the rest of his time in Falmouth, Adams "drank Coffee every Afternoon" and bore it well.

Adds Allison,

"Before 1773 upwardly mobile Americans had adopted tea as a social beverage; now Americans renounced tea as a patriotic duty. "Tea must be universally renounced," Adams said. "I must be weaned, and the sooner, the better.""

The value of the dumped tea (in today’s figures) totaled $1,738,500. That's a feat of staggering protest for a small group of committed citizens. But then again, the actions of such a group are the only thing that has ever changed the world.

Revolt. Life is too short to not make a difference.

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