Now that the National Tea Party Convention is over, where should the tea party movement go from here? I could be completely wrong, but from what I’ve gleaned from the little actual news of the convention’s happenings I can find, it seemed like it was mostly about organizing, wack-a-doos, and red meat. And while the first and third (and not so much the second) are good for rallying the support of your ideological base and attempting to get your favored politicians elected, those things do little to to get an agenda passed.
The trouble with many protest movements – and I’d consider the tea party movement, at least until the convention, to be one – is that they’re great for expressing what they don’t like. Take the anti-war protesters of the Bush years. They were against the War in Iraq (and some were against Afghanistan), but when it came time to discuss what to do about terrorism, they had few answers. This is perhaps why protesting is a political activity that Americans tend to look down upon: they are seen as whiners. In a nation of doers, we don’t like whiners. We like people who get stuff done, and for the most part, those groups have not been protesters.
Now, I understand that tea partiers are not necessarily politicians, but they are certainly political actors, and supposedly have an idea of what kind of agenda they’d like to see for America, beyond “limited government” and “no universal health care.” After all, I’ve seen the competing plans for health care written by the conservative think tanks. It seems to me that the tea party movement is well situated to make their voice heard about these ideas. By using their numbers to put a bug in the ear of their legislators the tea party movement has the opportunity to create the change they’d like to see.
It will take organizing. Yes, the tea partiers must work together. I understand the whole point behind the movement is a bottom-up approach, but that does not mean the citizens cannot band together to get things done. It will be necessary because politics simply cannot be done effectively in any other way. Interest groups, 527s, and other political organizations do it all the time. Anyway, strength in numbers, right?
The next convention will happen in July. This first one had breakout sessions, and I think that is exactly the kind of setting that would be perfect for debating where to go on policy. I would urge the convention organizers to coordinate with people on the ground to create sessions that will allow attendees to find their common interests, and perhaps even start to get an agenda in order. Then the attendees can go back home and bug their Congresspersons and Senators, state legislators, and local councilpeople to get those things passed. If they don’t, those sessions about getting people registered to vote will provide the next step.
The tea party movement is quickly coming out of its infancy, and in order to move forward the activists will have to work together to actually get a conservative agenda passed in local, state, and federal legislatures. The tea party’s future will depend on whether its supporters can be doers rather than just whiners.
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