Tea Party and the Right  
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Rowdy, Friendly Crowd of 500 Marches in NYC to Rebrand David H. Koch Theatre "The Tea Party's Wallet"

Organized by the Brave New Foundation, the Guerrilla Drive-In event culminated in a "guerilla rebranding" of the Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center.
 
 
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On Wednesday night, a diverse crowd of more than 500 New Yorkers gathered at Martin Luther King High School behind Lincoln Center in preparation for a “Guerrilla Drive-In,” a satirical urban take on the drive-in movie. The rowdy event was designed to shine a spotlight on the now infamous Koch Brothers and their efforts to cover up their far right wing, anti-environment, anti-union agenda by donating large sums of money to New York City cultural institutions.

The audience witnessed the world premiere of Brave New Foundation’s short film, and the event culminated in adding a sign reading “I am the Tea Party’s wallet” to the name plate of the Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater. (After donating more than $100 million dollars to Lincoln Center in 2008, the institution renamed its New York State Theatre, which houses the New York City Ballet and Opera, the David H. Koch Theater.)

Led by Reverend Billy and the radical marching band Rude Mechanical Orchestra, the crowd paraded (popcorn in hand) from the high school to Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. From the plaza behind the theater, activists watched the film “The Koch Brothers Exposed” and Reverend Billy, dressed in white pants and a matching jacket, spoke into a megaphone as the crowd tightened: “We’re here because we love the Earth and we love our city. This must stop!"

The boisterous, fun loving crowd then marched to the front of Lincoln Center to participate in a “guerilla rebranding” of the Koch Theatre. The event was orchestrated by key staff from the Brave New Foundation and AgitPop, along with the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, and of course the popular Reverend Billy, who leads a radical, 50-person performance community that describes itself as "wild anti-consumerist gospel shouters." The crowd included a gaggle of local "stealth" activists recruited via a secret text message strategy set up by AgitPop, reminiscent of "flash mobs."

“We realize the Koch brothers spend a lot of money to put their names on buildings but not other places they give their money – the Tea Party and union busting," explained Tenene Allison, Political Director of Brave New Foundation, a non-profit organization that uses video and new media to inform and mobilize the public. Thus, renaming the Koch Theater by adding “I am the Tea Party’s wallet” simply put the context behind the man. John Sellers, CEO of AgitPop, a netroots subvertising agency delivering boots-on-the-ground guerilla marketing to progressive campaigns, called the Koch Brothers “evil geniuses with billions of dollars and a deeply formed political agenda capable of changing the course of history and democracy.”  
 
Prior to the action, several attendees said they were unsure what the event  entailed but were eager to participate. The Danger and The Yes Men, two New York City event/activism listservs, had alerted them. Judith LeBlanc, National Field Director of Peace Action and distributor of popcorn at the event, put it like this: “Stay with us and march to see the world premiere of a movie to mock villains in public funding and services.” 
 
As revealed in “The Koch Brothers Exposed,” brothers David and Charles Koch have donated $31 million to the Tea Party, $50 million to deny climate change, $34.6 million to union-busting organizations, and much more to other right-wing think tanks and conservative candidates. The film and rebranding are part of an effort by Brave New Foundation to expose the family’s multimillion dollar campaigns to pump money into the right wing agenda and further their own business interests as oil refiners.
 
In front of Lincoln Center, before a large crowd, organizers projected visuals onto the building from a projector inside the Empire Hotel, across the street from The Koch Theater. Theater attendees watched the crowd from the balcony above the sidewalk, and passers-by stopped to check out the action – it was a difficult one to miss. Organizers and attendees alike were excited by the success of the event. A peaceful evening, the mood was hopeful and positive – New Yorkers took back, at least for a moment, one of their most prized institutions, and they had one hell of a time while doing it. 

The action lasted until about 9pm, when four NYPD paddy wagons rolled-up, and legal counsel Wylie Stceklew advised the crowd to disperse. just as Lincoln Center attendees were leaving their events -- creating a juxtaposition of evening clad concert goers and the casually dressed protesters. As the police formed a human barricade on the sidewalk and pushed on-lookers north, the crowd and band continued to sing “We’re Not Going to Take It.”  For Reverend Billy, however, the advice came just moments too late, as he was arrested on trespassing charges while leaving the scene.

Kristen Gwynne is a freelance writer and a journalism student at NYU.
 
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