The Tea Party movement emerged in 2009 through a series of locally and nationally coordinated protests. And the movement has been on the rise ever since! Named after the original American tax revolt in 1773, the Tea Party movement brings together people (mostly conservatives) united by their anger over “big government,” taxes, and the soaring federal deficit. The movement’s primary concerns include, cutting back the size of government, lowering taxes, reducing wasteful spending, reducing the national debt and federal budget deficit, and adhering to the United States Constitution. Many of the movement’s members also speak out on a wide variety of other issues, including national defense and illegal immigration.
Now, why the sudden rise of the Tea Party movement?? I think Sidney Tarrow’s concept of diffusion applies here –
Several polls have been conducted on the demographics of the movement. Various polls tend to show that Tea Party supporters are mainly White and slightly more likely to be male, married, older than 45, more conservative than the general population, and likely to be more wealthy and have more education. Polls have also shown that they are significantly more likely to be registered Republican, have a favorable opinion of the Republican Party and an unfavorable opinion of the Democratic Party. Thus the supporters of the movement have a lot of similarities and can easily build a network of trust – a perfect scenario for relational diffusion. It also proves Tarrow’s point that the Elites (like most Tea Party supporters are) do not think more globally than others, and are rooted to national and regional contexts.
The movement has no central leadership but is a loose affiliation of smaller local groups. But with the rise of the internet, its given the people a voice. It also helps the movement with rapid diffusion of information among chains of activists. In a movement like the Tea Party, that lacks a hierarchical organization structure, the internet can act as a form of organization, and a link between an individual and a virtual community.
The weak links of the movement can be kept alive by a broker. In this case, several Federal laws: the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and a series of health care reform bills provided that trigger that these brokers could use to spread the word and encourage the frustrated, similar-minded people to join the movement.
But having said that, what is the future of the Tea Party Movement? Could we see the birth of a 3rd National Political Party? All these are valid questions. But i’m still skeptical of the long-term success of the Tea party movement. And here are some reasons why:
1) Diffusion does not guarantee success. The Tea Party movement is diffusing horizontally and we have seen a small amount of transnational protests due to the movement’s use of internationalism (example: Tea party movements in Australia and Britain). These nations have internalized the American Tea Party movement into their domestic politics.
But the universality and formation of a global movement require a vertical shift, which the Tea Party movement lacks (similar to the movements like Satyagraha and Islamic movement).
2) The movement has already been hit with controversies. Accusations of racism and racial motivations among Tea Party protesters have been made from early on. On March 21, 2010, Springboro Tea Party founder Sonny Thomas posted racist slurs against Hispanics on the group’s Twitter webpage. While at a Tea Party event on February 27, 2009, a photo was taken of TeaParty.org founder and president Dale Robertson with a sign that said “Congress = Slaveowner, Taxpayer = Niggar”. On July 14, 2010, a Tea Party group in Iowa removed a billboard comparing Obama to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin after receiving sharp criticism from other Tea Party leaders.
Hatred, racism and elitism will make it very difficult for the movement to survive long term. Externalization is the first step in attracting support from influential allies for a domestic cause. And governments are known to be more vulnerable to external pressures than the internal ones. Building campaign coalitions is the most fruitful strategy for transnational collaboration. But with all this negativity surrounding the movement, it will be difficult for the Tea Party to externalize its cause and to form coalitions.
The Tea Party is not really a party…with no clear-cut leaders, rules, and organizational structure. Rather, it’s a political movement defined more by what it’s against than by what it’s for. It’s not really a grassroots movement and does not represent the sentiment of the majority of Americans.
Ross Perot rose up in 1992 because he resonated with moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans. Perot fell just as fast when voters realized he wasn’t part of the mainstream. Similarly, the Tea Party movement’s weakness is that most of its supporters are well to the right of mainstream voters. It is a movement started and run by some of the wealthiest people in America to keep the focus on tax cuts for the rich instead of for the great middle class.
The Tea Party movement is just a phase, that will pass. And if it wants to survive and become powerful in the United States, its only alternative would be to link up with one of the major parties.