What is the Tea Party, Really?

By Shane Cronin

Oh the Tea Party Movement, and the trouble it has stirred in the land of the free. Tens of thousands of Americans protesting across the nation: in both red states and blue states. Who are these people? Are they simply modern day colonists fighting against taxation without representation or are they racist, sexist, homophobic, “tea-bagging” rebels without a cause?

There is no question the left wing abhors them. The New York Times buried the Tea Party protests of the summer of 2009 deep in its A section – when they deigned to cover them at all. MSNBC mocks them mercilessly. The right wing heavily supports the Tea Parties and is making broad attempts to court them.

Let’s set aside the conjecture for a paragraph or two and delve into the facts about the contemporary anti-tax, “Tea Party” movement.

Despite widespread belief, Tea Party organizing began prior to the presidential election of Barack Obama. According to thenewamerican.com the exact date of the movement’s fruition can not be pinpointed. This is likely due to the movement’s lack of central organization. There is no Tea Party leader. It is a grass roots campaign which is organized separately in each state. Each independent group thrives solely on private donations. 

Just about a year ago the Tea Parties attracted the national spotlight. In the spirit of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, these Americans are protesting what they feel is recent skyrocketing government spending at taxpayers’ expenses.

They concentrated their anger on the second $700 billion plus government bailout within a six month period last year. Let’s put that into perspective. In less than six months, under two separate administrations, roughly $1.5 trillion in taxpayer money was distributed in large part to failing banks. Among countless shady book-keeping tricks many of these bailed-out banks practiced, some have histories of selling sub-prime mortgages to Americans. African-Americans were specifically targeted by these predator lenders.

After billions in taxpayers’ monies were printed and handed out, President Obama initiated a year long campaign for healthcare reform. As the summer months whizzed by, Tea Party demonstrators and the American-electorate at large grew more frustrated with the Obama Administration and the democrats in congress. Several polls indicated that Americans did not want the President’s health care reform legislation to pass. Angry constituents lashed out at their congresspersons urging them to reject the murky proposal. Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts earlier this year, which some deemed, “the shot heard round the world,” was meant to plunge the final stake into the bill’s heart and carry the message to Washington: stop the outrageous spending! But the cries of Americans went unheard… or should I say ignored?

In response to sexism permeating the movement I draw your attention to a recent Quinnipiac University poll which found that 55 percent of self-identifying Tea Party activists surveyed are female. And on an anecdotal level, can anyone say Sarah Palin? The former Alaska governor and potential 2012 presidential candidate just concluded her countrywide Tea Party Express tour. Ms. Palin is one of the most prominent American feminists I can think of.

The nationwide poll, which included 2000 registered voters, also found that only 19 percent of American voters trust the government to do the right thing “almost all the time” or “most of the time.”

No doubt, the Tea Party movement is conservative. However, that does not mean it is entirely Republican. Nearly 30 percent of Tea Party activists identify as Independent. More than 10 percent say they are Democrats.

In response to criticism that the Tea Party is an extremist movement, take a look at the rally held in Boston last week. An estimated 5,000-6,000 people turned out on the Common without incident. There were no arrests. They assembled peacefully and lawfully exercised their first amendment rights.

Is the Tea Party largely comprised of whites? Yes. So is UMass Amherst – faculty and students. Does that mean it has a racially-motivated agenda? No. With all the reporters, cameras and microphones, a single audio or video clip of racism or homophobia have yet to surface, although several serious allegations have been made. Bet your bottom dollar, certain media outlets have been searching high and low for them. The Tea Party has made it clear they aren’t fans of President Obama’s political docket. Remember when George Bush was President not so long ago and the antiwar/anti-Bush protests sponsored by the liberal left? This is America. And when people aren’t happy in America on either side of the political spectrum, they protest, and they do so loudly.

There may be no titular figurehead leading the Tea Parties, but they are united by a common goal: reign in government spending. That has been the recurring theme since the get-go.

I would like to see the Tea Party become the third national political party in the United States. I’d also like to see it actively recruiting more minorities. Like many Tea Party activists, I’ve had it up to here with both Democrats and Republicans alike. I want more choices. But what I’d like to see most of all is the removal of the term “tea-bagging” in connection with political organizing. To all the dirty minds out there: grow up. 

Shane Cronin can be reached [email protected]