Is The Tea Party Dead? Moving Beyond Adding To The Tea Party Movement: Here’s How

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

When another inevitable tea party break-up happened in my home town of Houston, the derivative group–a fine field of motivated folks–discussed their alternatives. We talked about branding. I suggested that they don’t use the words “Tea Party” at all, but instead become a mission-focused organization. They did just that and currently fight corruption in local elections.

That seems to be the future of the Tea Party movement ultimately–breaking down into activist organizations either locally or nationally to fulfill a certain purpose. Some of those involved have jumped into the Republican organization with the goal of transforming it to a small-government, fiscally conservative party again. Others have decided to become watchdogs of their local school boards. Still others have organized Get Out The Vote efforts.

There’s a lot of work to do.

Today, RedState’s Erick Erickson has decided to leave the Tea Party movement behind–to move beyond it. He alludes to the Tea Party movement disintegrating into sects like churches.

The last straw? This:

Then last week, in what everyone would have thought was a joke had it happened on April Fools Day, a bunch of tea parties, or at least one saying it was doing it for more, put out a press release announcing the birth of the National Tea Party Federation, which is not an organization, not a structure, not a new set of leaders, but an evolution of alliances of 19 tea party organizations and a handful of other groups, except for the Tea Party Patriots, which has worked overtime to be simply a volunteer group of concerned activists who neither get paid nor make money. Yeah, I have a soft spot for Tea Party Patriots living up to their ideal.

Most of us can sit back and ask one simple question: What the heck happened?

The tea party movement, one year later, is descending into a self-parody of infighting, money making, claims of national leadership, protests, unions, federations, amalgamations, etc. The groups have been so busy organizing themselves to distinguish themselves from each other that the core message is gone and media and left have been able to seize on the discord and paint a picture of the tea party movement as something other than it is and what we all know it to be — concerned Americans.

This has nothing at all to do with actual tea party activists. Let me be clear. I do not want to nor intend to slight the activists who care and show up with their hand painted signs, sometimes risking violence against themselves by the left and ridicule by the media.

But I have a simple message for them all — it is time to stop calling yourselves tea party activists and start calling yourselves concerned Americans.

The Tea Party Federation nonsense, and it is nonsense, bothered me too. Dan Riehl has touched on the problems. Here’s my take:

A small group of spokespeople would be the mainstream media’s dream come true. Only four or five “leaders” to undermine and smear? Awesome. Should one of these people have personal issues, misrepresent the movement, the media can smear the whole movement with the actions of one “hypocrite” (almost as bad a word as racist in the media world).

Why in heavens name would the Tea Party Federation group want to give the opposition ammo and line up to be shot?

Power. Money. Opportunism.

Yeah, that. There are bad actors in every movement and there are those kinds of folks in the Tea Party movement. And those folks are trying to get a federation of some kind to aggrandize themselves–TV appearances, business, whatever, under the pleasing call to put out a unified voice.

The Tea Party movement doesn’t need a spokesman. It needs concrete action.

And that is happening. Sure, there are protests and that serves a very good purpose: Demonstrating the sheer numbers of people fed up with big government. It also gives people an image to associate with an idea: millions of people wanting smaller government heartens those who fear that the government is going to take over everything. Cynicism is a democracy killer. The public image helps that.

Still, more needs to be done. If we want empty bloviating, we can turn on C-Span to watch the latest Senatorial panel. What we need is to fundamentally change some things.

Are you a Tea Party activist or leader wondering what to do? Here are some ideas:

1. Go after education reform. If it seems like we’re raising a bunch of no-mind Marxists, it’s because the curriculum overwhelmingly favors liberal ideology.

2. Watch the School Boards or better yet, run for them. These bastions of local politics are notoriously corrupt and misguided. Help find ways to cut costs, hold teachers accountable and increase parent involvement.

3. Become polling-place observers. How many wrong things happen at voting stations? Depends on the place. Go observe. Bring your camera. Bring your video camera. Catch the corruption on tape.

4. Get out the vote. Make sure you get people out to vote on important days. Today in Texas, for example, is run-off day. Make sure people vote.

5. Run for office. Don’t just stand there, do something. Sick of corrupt politicians? Replace them!

6. Blog. Oh, party operatives will hate you. Politicians may hate you. Heck, your brother might hate you. But since the MSM simply refuses, or because of funds, can’t write stories keeping officials accountable, bloggers can and do. And no, there are still not enough of them.

7. Inform: Email, Twitter, Facebook, lunch with the ladies: Preach the small government gospel to anyone who will listen. Hearts and minds need to be won to the cause and evangelism happens person to person.

8. Fundraise. Good politicians, efforts and ideas need money to transmit and promote them. One blogger friend of mine said that he was changing his focus from blogging to giving money to candidates. He was done screaming and wanted to put his money where his mouth is. Many people, formerly unwilling to give politically, see the consequences of staying out of the process and would donate to help others.

9. Become a teacher or college professor. Start inculcating the next generation with pro-democratic ideals and free thinking.

10. Be an individual success. Be a star at something, or if you already are a star, and then, on your big platform, come out of the small-government closet and trumpet your message of excellence. Explain why you succeeded. Explain why America is great. Lead by example. Do you know how many people are still afraid to verbalize their ideology for fear of being called stupid, racist, fill-in-the-blank evil? Yeah. Have courage and state the truth.

There are so many ways to make a difference. Many Tea Party organizations are doing many of these things. Most aren’t just showing up and complaining. Most are turning their words into action.

Do I think the time for the Tea Party is over? No. I’ll be at a Tea Party event this week and why not? It’s inspiring to be with like minded folks and to hear the stories of triumph. We need that.

It doesn’t have to be either/or. The Tea Party brand is strong still and will be a catalyst for greater things to come.

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