Who Will Write the History of the Tea Party?

During the week after the September 11 attacks, I kept telling myself to take pictures.  I should have taken pictures of the flags on cars and houses, of the patriotic messages on the signs of every fast food restaurant, of the quiet, dignified acts of unity that, even though they filled every open space of our society that week like water rising in a canyon, I knew would disappear quickly, soon, and forever.  We occasionally see footage aired of planes hitting the twin towers, but when was the last time you saw that tape of Congress singing “God Bless America” that afternoon on the steps of the Capitol?  It was a unique time of intense mourning and brotherhood, and was gone almost as soon as it started.

I’ve only ever seen one other thing like it, and I likewise regret not doing something myself to document it.  Throughout January of 2009, as I listened to average citizen after average citizen call in to every talk radio show I listened to, asking how to organize one of these new “tea party” meetings that everyone was talking about, to protest the Bush bailouts and the promised policies of the radical-leftist president-elect, I knew I was listening to something new, and something special. 

Now, you might not like tea parties, those who attend them, or their beliefs, but no one can deny that what we’re seeing is the rise of one of the most spontaneous grassroots movements in history.  In less than two years, tea parties have gone from rag-tag, ad hoc meetings in living rooms and bars to a cohesive (though still officially loose) brotherhood of millions of kindred spirits who are about to take a midterm Congressional election by storm. 

Whenever I hear about desperate leftist spin doctors trying to play their own George Soros card against the tea parties by insinuating that they’re bought and paid for, staged by shadowy goons, I just remember those first tea parties that got onto the cultural radar, as they coalesced organically right before my eyes over just a few weeks, a mere year and a half ago.  Why are our memories so short?

There are no good records of this event of which I’m aware.  All the books about the tea party movement out there are either histrionic rebuttals from the mainstream media, or manifestos by new leaders trying to expand it.  Where are the historians documenting the trend?  Why didn’t anyone in January 2009 think to track all of this in its nascent, DIY glory?  Why didn’t I?

After those first furtive spurts of protest around the country in the opening weeks of last year, someone (who?) thought to organize larger protests at a meaningful date in the near future: April 15, tax day.  There was a tea party protest at Sunset Park in my valley that day, but as I was at work, I didn’t go.  I wish I’d had.  Those truly amateur protests are largely done now. 

Oh, some are still around–Glenn Beck’s rally, like it or not, was the real deal, and plenty of others are still fighting the system from their little rebel outposts, but like any counterculture movement–like the music festivals of the last two generations being overtaken by corporate sponsors who packaged and sold them as anti-capitalist products–the tea party has now seen its share of opportunistic leeches.  Yes, Scott Ashjian’s “Tea Party of Nevada” is fake and, yes, the Tea Party Express is basically a GOP cheerleader in disguise (though it has certainly done a lot of good for some great candidates). 

Still, I can’t and don’t want to forget those heady days of early 2009 when there weren’t any professional tea partiers yet, when it was all about the people and nobody had an agenda or was after a profit, when a miraculous merging of a million strangers let us see that we weren’t alone in our desire to reform government by traditional standards.  It was beautiful, and I miss it already.

4 comments on “Who Will Write the History of the Tea Party?

  1. I have to take exception to your mentioning the “spontaneity” of the Tea Party movement. It’s about as spontaneous as any movement seeded generously by money from wealthy billionaires, who want to make sure they won’t lose their tax cuts.

    Now, I’m not sure if the $3.6 trillion they’re going to cost in the next 10 years is a reliable figure, but I have studied economics. “Mad as hell” doesn’t sound like a sound policy statement to me. But if they started talking about deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare and education funding, I’d bet the teabaggers would be a bit less popular.

    But if thy really are going to fight excessive bureaucracy, good luck and good riddance, if they happen to be successful.

    But the winners will always write the history — not the winners of 2010 or even 2012 elections, but those, who will own most of media outlets by 2020. And he seems to be Rupert Murdoch the way things are going now. And he’s hiring these teabaggers left and right to make sure they really know which side their bread is buttered on.

  2. Velska, I haven’t replied to comments in a while, but I couldn’t let this one pass. After all my observations about the crudity of public discourse lately and my attempts here to offer olive branches and reasoned statements of positions, not only do you respond with merely a contradiction of my postive, personal feelings, but you twice employed the term “teabagger,” which is nothing more than a vulgar, ad hominem slur. You know its sexual meaning, and you use it on purpose.

    You and I share the same faith, and if someone discussed that with us but called us “filthy evil cult idiots,” it would be a dealbreaker. You’ve done that here–you’ve lowered yourself to sling a degrading, disgusting insult.

    I’ve enjoyed both your praise and your criticism in the past, but such blatant assaults on common decency cannot be tolerated. I mean it.

    You will apologize for using that term, or you will not be commenting on this blog any more.

  3. When I read this post, I just HAD to respond!! I also remember when the Tea Party movement was in its infancy, and just how awesome it was to realize how many people felt like I did! I actually remember right where I was driving as it sunk in while listening to talk radio that this was a real thing. It was just so darn exciting and I don’t think I realized at the time what an incredible and historic thing I was witnessing. I wanted to be at those first Tea Party events, and I do specifically remember wishing I could be there at Sunset Park on April 15th. I have so much admiration and respect for Glenn Beck. I think what he has done is remarkable, and I would absolutely have loved to attend his rally on Aug. 28th.

    On a different note, I have been wondering what the deal is with that Scott Ashjian guy. The whole thing seems so odd with him.

  4. As you said there are those trying to write their version of history now.
    It is sad that citizens calling for their government to be fiscally responsible, that are trying to make a change in a lawful way, are vilified at all. This government was set up to be a representative government. This is exactly the way our forefathers set up for us to be involved in government. Why are citizens labeled and vilified by the media in any way? This is our heritage.

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