Monday, April 13, 2009

Are Tea Parties Working? (UPDATED)

UPDATE, 10-31-2009: Things have changed since I wrote this in April, 2009. The Tea Parties have shown that they can directly and profoundly affect local and national politics. Bring in supporting factors like Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and others and the Tea Party "movement" is quickly coming into its own, finally beginning to gel into something cohesive. Bill Hennessy sums this up well in his October 31, 2009 column at Big Government, titled "New York 23: When a Nation Calls." It's a must-read. Be sure to also see "Washington Post: ACORN Video Creates New Conservative Star." *** original post *** Depends on what you mean by "working." The nationwide "tea parties," which are protests against wasteful spending by the government, especially within the "stimulus" legislation, are certainly working in terms of getting a lot of armchair warriors to sign online petitions and to mail tea bags to their representatives. But let's be clear about this: I support the Tea Party movement, but I see flaws in it. The purpose of the tea party protests is not merely to get online signatures and to overload congressional mailboxes with tea, for those tactics and methods must produce actual results. That is, the marching, the online ranting, the digital signatures, the tea bags need to cause action on the part of the government. So far, it's shown no real sign of having any real effect. Legislators, from aldermen to congressmen, are not feeling any pressure. In fact, most are either ignoring the tea parties or just plain laughing at them. Indeed, there are many now who are Attacking The Tea Party Movement. The Economist noted, on April 9, that "No one thinks this stuff is effective. And yet conservatives are gearing up next week for a series of disaggregated 'Tea Parties' modeled on the Boston Tea Party of 1773." Chicago News Bench wrote about it on April 10, in which we said that the tea party organizers need to rethink their tactics and "get serious" about staging real protests. NetRightNation has an interesting post about this today (emphasis added): Just as conservatives once mocked the online wave that helped Barack Obama surf into the White House, liberals are now heaping scorn on the tea party movement. This Web phenomenon may bring tens of thousands of small-government conservatives to tax day rallies across the country Wednesday. They Twitter. They Facebook. They blog. They mail tea bags to Congress. It’s an outgrowth of the tax-revolt movement that has been simmering on the libertarian right for years. But the idea got new life as conservatives, upset at the scope of the Obama agenda, passed around online a clip of CNBC personality Rick Santelli railing against the president’s mortgage bailout. Full Post... The Tea Party organizers are missing some huge opportunities here. Rather than protesting the "stimulus" and "porkulus" and wasteful government spending (which they cannot and will not slow down or stop), "the movement" should be screaming about the march to totalitarianism that Obama is leading along. The higher taxes are part of that, but a small part. Worse are the threats to free speech (a proposed resurrection of the "Fairness Doctrine" and the "Smart Grid" and cyberlaws), threats to freedom (the GIVE Act/HR 1388), and so much more. These are the bigger, more urgent issues. Taxes can easily be reduced. Over time, taxes go up, then down, then back up, then back down. Once the government takes away our liberties, however, they are rarely given back to the people. There are major differences between the Obama Internet Campaign and the current Tea Party Internet Campaign. The Obama people were unified. They followed a single guiding entity - the Obama campaign group. They issued marching orders and followers followed, often from one state to another to hand out literature and ring doorbells. Obama's army was working for a single, easy-to-understand goal: The election of Barack Obama. The tea parties, on the other hand, are much less unified and have no easily defined goal. Many local tea party organizers , in hundreds of cities across America, look to the "Nationwide Tax Day Tea Party (NTDTP)." The name is unfortunate; what happens after April 15? Well, you could click on a link at NTDTP's website (way down at the bottom of the page) to the "Tea Party Revolution," a separate group. There, they tell you that the movement will continue after April 15, but they give no real direction the troops. You'll also find a link at NTDTP's website to "ReTeaParty," which calls itself "Rick Santelli's Tea Party." Until recently, the two groups virtually ignored each other. You'll still find events listed at ReTeaParty that are not listed at Nationwide Tax Day Tea Party's site, and vice versa. Meanwhile, there are other, smaller groups out there that are not well coordinated with each other or with any central guiding authority. In fact, while NTDTP is by far the largest organization in terms of membership and publicity, there is nothing official about them. The Obama campaign, on the other hand, was official and was looked to by every Obama supporter for guidance. As big as NTDTP has become (and the deserve much praise for their phenomenol growth), there is nothing official about them. I don't want to make too big a deal out of the "non-official" reality of NTDTP, however. It's a problem at the moment only because it causes confusion for people searching for tea party information. If there was one, authoritative, central website to go to it would strengthen the ability to get information out rapidly. The operators of ReTeaParty and other tea party-oriented websites, such as DontGo and SurgeUSA, should shut down their sites and put redirects on them so that people who click to their links automatically go to NTDTP's site, which has, by default, become the primary source for tea party information. If the DontGo and SurgeUSA and other sites truly care about "the movement," they will put ego aside for the sake of the very movement they say they support. That "information," however, presents another challenge. Obama's campaign was simple with a simple goal: Elect Obama. The goal for the Tea Party Movement is much more complicated. The NTDTP's website does not really explain their goals. On their "About" page, we see the following, which gives the reader no direction and only wondering what the exact goal of "the movement" really is (emphasis added): The Tea Party protests....set out on a rant to expose the bankrupt liberal agenda of the White House Administration and Congress. Specifically, the flawed “Stimulus Bill” and pork filled budget. [Rick Santelli] called for a “Chicago Tea Party” where advocates of the free-market system could join in a protest against out of control government spending. A few days later, grassroots activists and average Joe Americans began organizing what would soon become the Nationwide Chicago Tea Party effort. On February 27th, an estimated 30,000 Americans took to the street in 40+ cities accross the country in the first nationwide “Tea Party” protest. NOTE: The first nationwide Tea Party protests occured on February 27, although there were independent protests happening before then. As recently as ten days ago, a woman wrote to me to ask how she could organize a tea party in her state. I referred her to the Nationwide Tax Day Tea Party website, but can you imagine an Obama organizer a year ago wondering where she could find information about organizing a rally? She would have gone straight to the Obama campaign's website. NTDTP's "About" page, continued: Organizers of the February 27th events pledged to continue on with an even bigger and better protest to follow the first. With April 15th being “Tax Day”, it was decided to schedule the second round of Tea Party protests to ride alongside the tax deadline. And with that, the “Tax Day Tea Party”, the second round of the Nationwide Tea Party protests, moved into reality. Okay, nice. But what does it all mean? Exposing "the bankrupt liberal agenda of the White House Administration and Congress" is fine, but would somebody please tell me how the tea parties are doing this? That is, after many years of talk radio and bloggers and Fox News "exposing" the "liberal agenda" etc., what is the Tea Party Movement doing to further it? Theyr'e preaching to the choir. As for "exposing" the flawed “Stimulus Bill” and pork filled budget," ditto. MORE IMPORTANTLY, what action is "the movement" achieving? Online signatures? Tea bags sent to Congress? The federal pork continues to sizzle. The "stimulus" bills keep piling up. Obama's youth corps is strapping up its boots. Congress is considering a bill that would allow Obama to shut down the Internet. The march to totalitarianism steps forward unimpeded, and all the Facebook groups and online rants and polite lunch hour marches will - not - accomplish - anything. I'll repeat what I wrote on April 10: If Thomas Jeffereson, Ben Franklin, Sam Adams and the rest of our Founders had settled for the mild-mannered tactics of today's "Tea Parties," we would still be paying taxes to the British Crown....Either you're serious about a protest, or you're not. Either you're serious about a "movement," or you're not. Cute and clever marketing campaigns are well and good, but only if they can inspire boots-on-the-ground, physical action against Authority. The Tea Party movement should continue, despite its flaws. It will, of course. It is, after all, still a very new phenomenon and with time it will inevitably evolve. One can only hope that it will evolve into a truly viable movement that demands results (not merely asks for them), has a solid plan of action that includes both tactics and long term strategy, and focuses more on the real threats to America rather than allowing itself to be distracted by tax rates. I'm certainly with them on the tax rates, but as I noted above, there are more urgent things to protest. Daniel Ruwe stated it well in his April 9 post on The Tea Party demonstrations are not without value. They inspire the base, and can serve as a first step into the world of conservative grassroots. And they do inspire media coverage, much of it positive. But protests are no substitute for ideas and organization. The Tea Parties can be an effective gimmick—but they are only a gimmick. They should play only a very secondary role in the conservative arsenal. 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