What are the biggest dangers facing the Tea Party movement, now that the first round of protests is over? I’ve identified three areas that concern me greatly, and if these three things come to pass, I’m afraid we won’t have much of a chance at success.
1- The Tea Party movement becomes synonymous with Republicans.
This really isn’t a Republican thing, or even a conservative thing. This is a movement for those who are Americans before they are a member of a political party or followers of a political ideology. The Founding generation managed to coalesce a wide-ranging group of Americans… from Calvinist merchants in the north to Deist planters in the south and every kind of patriot in between. Wealth wasn’t a requirement to be a leader in the movement. Artisans and mechanics (the Joe Six Packs of their day) not only took part in the patriot cause, they helped lead it. Among the delegates Massachusetts sent to the First Continental Congress were the chronically poor Sam Adams and the relatively wealthy Thomas Cushing. Radicals like Adams and Thomas Paine had just as much influence in their own way as did conservatives like George Washington and John Dickinson.
The bigger the tent the better. We need to point out that we’re not just opposed to the stimulus bill, but many of us are opposed to corporate welfare and bailouts to big business as well. This isn’t about protecting Republicans or winning elections. This is about saving the nation. There’s room for every American, of every political persuasion, as long as they’re concerned about the fate of our republic. The one thing that supporters of the Tea Party movement have in common is our love of country. We’re the patriots, not political partisans.
2- The movement relies too heavily on the Internet
The Internet needs to be the starting point for organizing, but it can’t be where we put the most emphasis. If we can use Facebook and Twitter to get 1000 people to a protest, we should be able to use those sites to get those 1000 people to 10 meetings once a week. Get a room at your local library, meet at a bar or restaurant. Have a house party. Meet wherever, but meet. Get to know your allies face to face. There is no substitute for the genuine camaraderie that develops only from personal contact with one another.
In the days of the original Boston Tea Party, the Liberty Tree (or in some towns, the Liberty Pole) was often covered in political broadsides and slogans, but it never replaced the face to face contacts at taverns like the Green Dragon or the Bunch of Grapes in Boston, Montanye’s Tavern in New York, Durkee’s Tavern in Norwich, Connecticut, and dozens of other meeting places around the colonies. Today, the Internet is our Liberty Pole, not our meeting house. It’s a great place for thoughts to be laid out, but (as any quick glance at a comment section will prove), it’s a horrible place for an actual discussion.
3- The movement becomes too organized from the top down.
Our political class isn’t suffering from a lack of glory hounds these days, and some of them are already trying to artificially proclaim themselves as leaders of the Tea Party Movement.
Yes, I know I’ve said that a unified message needs to be developed, but that doesn’t happen because a political consultant or a big name blogger decides they're going to be in charge. It happens when those meetings of 100 people discuss, debate, and reach accord on what it is that they’re protesting, as well as what they’re advocating. Joseph Warren may have written the first draft of the Suffolk Resolves, but students of history will note that his name appears nowhere in the Resolves themselves. Let our opponents have their cult of personality. We’re defending principle, not creating a new political celebrity.
If you want a local leader, elect one! Maybe your group will decide to elect several people to take the lead. Maybe you’ll divvy up the responsibilities by forming committees to handle various tasks. The point is, this is your movement. You own it, each and every one of you. Please, don’t delegate or abdicate responsibility when what we need is more personal responsibility.
This could be the start of something big and new, or it could turn into the same pre-packaged “grassroots” campaign that’s become so common over the past few years. I hope and pray that it will be the former, because the latter possibility is too depressing to seriously consider.