Earl Grey, drop scones and cucumber sandwiches are what you might expect to find in an article about a tea party, or perhaps some Teddy Bears Picnic-esque debauchery and a nod to the inevitable rivalry a tea party movement would present to the Picnic Society. Alas, such frivolity is, apparently, a thing of the past: tea parties just got political.
Treading on the childhood memories of using a plastic teapot to treat your teddies to the finest Earl Grey, the Tea Party Movement is an American conservative, neoliberal and largely Republican movement gathering momentum throughout the States. Some of its objectives – amongst others – target reducing taxes, abolishing emissions legislation and preventing Obama’s attempt to form a national health system in the US. Heavy, eh? Although not exactly anti-establishment, their guise is that authority should uphold laws, rather than fabricate new ones. The ‘American ideal’ of liberty and freedom is the central focus of the campaign; despite their non-interventionist rhetoric, just what exactly are the common aims of the party…and why have they become so prominent since the Obama administration?
The Tea Party Movement is a grassroots movement (it was founded by the people) with no central leadership and is instead comprised of loose associations at both local and national levels, although it is supported by a smattering influential (and usually Republican) American politicians. The origins of the Tea Party’s legislation can be traced back to the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, whilst its name derives from the ‘Boston Tea Party’ of 1773. Three ships of tea sent over to America by the British parliament through the East India Trade Company were refused to be allowed to dock in Boston harbour due to the taxes which had been imposed upon them, resulting in the destruction of the tea chests and the first ‘anti-tax’ movement the US had seen. A precedent had been set; the fuse was lit for the American war of independence and the legislation which governs the country as we know it today was born.
The Tea Party…calls awareness to any issue that challenges the security, sovereignty, or domestic tranquility of our beloved nation
So should we worry? Although still a relatively small movement, they are gathering support day by day and despite their lack of political weight at the moment, a few aspects of their constitution give slight cause to concern. Firstly, their fifth ‘non-negotiable core belief’ (see www.teaparty.org for full list) is ‘gun ownership is sacred’, inducing within me a slight apprehension towards the people involved in this faction. With news stories as recent as the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Treyvon Martin in March 2012, as well as the shooting of UK students James Kouzaris and James Cooper in April – all of whom were innocent of any crime prior to their deaths – questions are posed: just how far can possession of a gun be justified? Whilst those who carried out the above shootings may not have been Tea Party members, the Party’s disregard of government responsibility combined with an emphasis on the ‘right of the individual’ indicates the possibility of firearms becoming a prevalent in everyday life. For a ‘Christian nation’ (as the tea party website constantly reminds me), the population revering guns as much as they revere God is never going to end well. Also, and perhaps even more worryingly, Sarah Palin is an advocate of the movement. Yes, the Alaskan nutcase (sorry, politician) has spent a proportion of her last four years on the political stage campaigning on behalf of the Tea Party (with the rest of the time spent advocating gun use and anti-abortion campaigning. Oh, and falling for prank phone calls.) Yet, her prominence within the American government as well as the global publicity she has enjoyed suggests that – were she to run for the 2012 presidency – the Tea Party might, just might, have a potentially stronger control over the most powerful government in the world than had first been expected.
Furthermore, there are accusations of the racism which underpins the Tea Party, something hotly denied by any of its members. ‘No!’ they cry, ‘just because we’re a Christian country, doesn’t mean we don’t like blacks! Anyone is welcome in our party!’ Yet, the statistics say otherwise. The Tea Party display themselves as ‘representing what the average American wants’, which is true if the ‘average American’ is white, over the mean age and income of the country, conservative and a Republican. And it’s clearly just a coincidence that they’ve emerged as a strong right wing opposition to the first Democratic administration ever headed by an Africa-American, with signs at Tea Party rallies likening Obama to a monkey or a dog being just a bit of light-hearted fun, really. This kind of institutional racism reflects the lack of black or minority membership in both the demographics of the party and the focus of the party. They’re not anti-government, they’re just anti-black government, pandering to the reasoning behind the re-emergence of the Tea Party since Obama’s inauguration. It is not a racist crime to dislike Obama’s presidency, nor is it racist to join the Tea Party itself. Yet, the rhetoric of the Tea Party and Republicans alike, whereby ‘America (should be) returned to the American people!’ is somewhat dubious. Returned to who, exactly? It is this stance on Obama’s presidency that causes questions on the validity of the party.
In essence, the Tea Party are of a certain class, a certain time period and a certain way. There’s no denying their love for America and their endorsement of bills and legislation to fuel the country the way they feel it should be fuelled. Certainly not all members are racist, not all members believe in universal gun ownership and not all members liken Obama to Hitler. Yet, there is something unnerving about them: their blatant disregard for Obama’s government and advocacy of old-fashioned principles, along with the right wing rhetoric they display so blatantly. With Sarah Palin at the helm of the Tea Party ship, it’s only a matter of time before they’re steered towards a wider public support network, or are completely sunk because of something ludicrous Palin says. Let’s just hope it’s the latter.