Introduction: I must admit that I have a fascination with the Tea Parties in large part because I believe that I predicted their creation in this piece. That particular piece was written when the Bush administration was still in power. At the time, I had first discovered just exactly what loan modifications are. I believed that loan modifications would lead to a mortgage class war. Of course, the Tea Party movement grew in large part following a rant by Rick Santelli in which he railed against these very loan modifications.
The first hints of the Tea Parties came in small demonstrations in places like Colorado in the early part of February. There were a handful of them around the country. One prominent early tea party was organized by stay at home mom and blogger, Keli Carender. As these began sprouting, about the only media source that gave them any attention was Michelle Malkin. The initial tea parties were in response to the stimulus that was still being debated. The crowds ranged from a few dozen to a couple hundred at the time. At the time, the MSM didn't mock them, didn't call them tea baggers, in fact they simply ignored them. Then, in mid February, Rick Santelli, of CNBC, went on this rant.
Almost instantaneously, this rant became a viral classic. Santelli's rant was in response to President Obama's mortgage modification plan which was released days before the rant. The rant became classic not merely for the message but mostly for the raw passion and emotion behind the message. Almost immediately, the national Tea Party movement that we have today was born. Suddenly, and within days, web sites, Facebook pages, and twitter threads started popping up all over the place promoting Tea Parties.
The first coordinated Tea Party was held on February 27th. It was held in 18 cities and about 200 people showed up at each party. That coordinated effort was totally ignored by almost all major media. Local media covered the protests though they were usually covered at the end of the news. The protestors, however, were not deterred. Literally, the very next day web sites were created for a much greater show of force and that show was going to be on Tax Day, April 15th.
With several months to organize, the movement grew exponentially. All the same networking tools were used only the power that these tools had was maximized because time was on the side of the movement. Between Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites, grass roots organizing took on a 21st century dynamic. From the beginning though, the movement was entirely de centralized. There was no one person or group that was organizing everyone. Instead, each tea party had a local leader organizing it. For instance, a college student named Corie Whalen organized the Boston Tea Party. Here in Chicago, the Tea Party was organized by Eric Odom.
Between February and April, the only media outlet that gave the Tea Parties any publicity was Fox News (along with conservative blogs and talk radio but they are sympathetic) Then, the tax day Tea Parties occurred. The turnout was so tremendous that the media couldn't ignore them. As such, most of the media simply mocked them. The protestors were referred to by sexual pejorative "tea baggers" by many on MSNBC and CNN. Then, there's this infamous clip of now fomer CNN reporter Susan Roesgen challenging a protestor.
When the media could no longer ignore the movement, it immediately began to mock it in order to marginalize it. The protestors were referred to as Republican shills. Some complained that there were no protests when Bush was overspending. Others complained that the movement only complains and has no ideas. (somewhat ironic) There were even those that suggested that the movement was racists. (most famously by Janeane Garofalo) Still others dismissed the event and said that all the movement will do is protest.
The next major event for the movement was on the Fourth of July when the movement held its third coordinated protest. By now, the organization of the third Tea Party became a self fulfilling process. That's because the media attention from the second one meant that folks were going to be aware of the third one with or without massive social networking. The third tea party on the Fourth was attended by about as many people as the second. Often the local organizers were different. For instance, here in Illinois it was now organized by Christina Tobin of the Free and Equal Coalition. The media attention was also not nearly as fierce as it was for the second one.
While some have tried to paint the Tea Party movement as Republican and conservative, in fact, the movement can't be pigeon holed into an ideology. If anything it is libertarian. That's because libertarians, more than anyone, are viscerally repulsed by all the government intervention. The movement is really for anyone that feels the government has stopped being for all the people and for those with access. It's not a Republican or Democrat thing, but a government thing. For instance, the Fourth of July Chicago protest was organized by members of the Green Party working in conjuction with Republican activists. Of course, the Democrats are in charge and that's why some characterize it as anti Obama.
Make no mistake, the movement is diametrically opposed to the entire Obama agenda, but that doesn't make it some Republican shill.
Still, after the Fourth, the question continued to be asked what next. In fact, the movement was already transforming itself. Thousands of advocacy and watch dog groups had sprouted by people that attended one or all the Tea Parties. Odom, for instance, created the American Liberty Alliance. Other groups like Americans for Prosperity, which helped promote the parties, watched themselves grow from marginal to powerful almost overnight. What the movement created was an electorate that was more active, more involved, and more vocal. That's one reason why politicians began to see more phone calls, faxes, and emails protesting cap and trade, health care reform, and the budget.
Then, throughout the month of July, a media pundit could often be heard alluding to the fact that pols would need to go back and face their constituents over the recess at town halls during the break. That, I believe, was the call to action for many of these new found citizen activist. Regardless of the perception of some, the eruption in numbers and fury of the attendance at the town hall meetings that we have seen over the last few days is NOT some organized and funded event. Instead, it is almost entirely a spontaneous reaction by these new citizen activists who are now motivated to get involved in the process.
That's the real legacy of the Tea Parties. What it did was got millions to not only engage in the process but to engage with much more ferocity. Some of the attendees were already political junkies, but most were novices or casual political observers. Almost all were moved to take every opportunity to get engaged. They write their Congressman. They attend political events, and thus they attend town hall debates on health care over the summer recess.
So, now a confluence of events have set the stage for the Tea Parties to make their first tangible political contribution. That is to put the final nail in the coffin of President Obama's health care proposal. I'm sure that not all of the folks that show up at the town hall debates are veterans of the Tea Parties, but a large number are. Their visible confrontations with politicians at these events have become a major media story and it's unlikely the story will go away anytime soon. So, these Tea Party participants have an opportunity to define Obama's health care reform effort for the nation. It will be their criticism captured on video that will drive the coverage over the next month.
Now, not surprisingly, the media and the Democrats have taken to marginalizing them again. They're again called Republican shills, plants, and unhinged extremists. That's no matter. This is the same attacks that have been leveled at the Tea Parties since people took notice. Opponents won't define the movement. The movement will define itself. So, over the next month, video clips, interviews, and other videos, will drive the debate to define Obama's health care reform. That debate will be driven by folks that attend these town hall meetings. These protestors got their inspiration at protests held in February, April and July. There they heard speakers rail against run away government spending, government control, unconstitutional usurption of power by the government, and government incompetence. Now, it's their turn to speak and their words will add the last chapter in the health care debate. The Tea Parties have arrived and their first tangible political effort will be to put the final nail in the coffin of Obamacare.
Please check out my new books, "Prosecutors Gone Wild: The Inside Story of the Trial of Chuck Panici, John Gliottoni, and Louise Marshall" and also, "The Definitive Dossier of PTSD in Whistleblowers"