What we Progressives can learn from the Tea Party’s Success
Yep, Election Day was a pretty sad affair: the Senate will be far more conservative; the House – Republican landside takeover with as many as 80 new law makers whom are Tea Party activists or allies.
But, we’ve had nearly a month to grieve the election results. Now it’s time to move on. And let’s not waste energy demeaning the Tea Party – instead let’s learn from their remarkable success.
Of course it is tempting to blame the likes of Dick Armey (FreedomWorks), Karl Rove (American Crossroads) the Brothers Koch, and the Supreme Court (Citizens United) for unleashing megabucks for rightwing candidates. However, I am convinced that the Tea Party has a legitimate grassroots base with a level of anger, energy and message that resonated with a frustrated public. Show potential – the money will follow. Build it they will come.
Although progressives will take very different stands, the organizing principles used by the right wing Tea Party have proven effective — they learned it all from the left!
Ten Tenets of Tea-Party Success
- Don’t wait for deliverance from elected officials.
- All politics are local.
- Show up at town hall meetings and get heard.
- Focus on small number of issues (jobs, jobs, jobs)
- Run your own candidates at local, state and national levels.
- Don’t form a separate party, but challenge your party’s establishment.
- Run in primaries against incumbents whom are not on board.
- Be highly focused and explain the issues in simple, straightforward terms.
- Have training sessions for local leaders.
- Charisma counts – Grizzly Moms score media. Don’t be wishy-washy.
Let’s stop being defensive about “pork.” Tea Party folks are not wishy washy or defensive. So with regard to so called “pork” let’s call it what it is, meat and potatoes (M&P). M&P has provided a great things for communities around the country –from schools, to roads, to municipal buildings, and research centers. It’s a much better use of money than the enormous subsidies that Congress has given big corporations. Take the offense and highlight the difference between a boost to a community college and billions in tax breaks to big oil.  Don’t forget local M&P means jobs. There are lots of folks wanting jobs – Go down to the Congressman’s home office for a friendly Saturday chat. Bring up unemployment insurance extensions while you’re there (talk about MM&P = mortgage, meat and potatoes). Bring kids along – a good educational experience.
A good example of taking charge locally comes from the Boston area. Community organizers have developed a “take it to the streets” model for fighting foreclosures – it has been quite effective in getting the banks to reconsider. See it here.
An opportunity: The coming months will demonstrate more clearly than ever the real right-wing / Republican agenda — attacking social security and Medicare. They will likely work to slash budgets for community health centers and continue to block extensions of unemployment compensation while pushing tax cuts for the wealthy. And Republican Governors and Governors-Elect are already at work cancelling federally funded commuter rail projects. (Link). These actions will produce real harm to increasingly large numbers of people – from construction workers to teachers to police and firemen, to local business (benefit from M&P), to scientists (dwindling government support), and so forth.
Big tent: I just Googled up “Tea Party politics / images.” (If you don’t add the word “politics” you get illustrations from Alice in Wonderland). With very few exceptions the people in their demos are White. This is not to cast any aspersions, but to point out that the Tea Party-infused GOP has a huge vulnerability. African-Americans and Latinos will be disproportionately harmed if to the extent that conservatives are successful.
No Congressional districts will be spared and every district is an opportunity to organize locally from the bottom up. The challenge for progressives is to mobilize and organize a broad coalition around economic issues – a coalition that can win elections and economic justice.