Saturday, December 4, 2010

Meet Your Local Tea Party

The Lehigh Valley Tea Party boasts 1300 members and growing.

Posted by: Noël Jones

I have really done it now. I attended my first local Tea Party meeting last night. I have been wondering about the Tea Party for a long time, and have to admit I have been a bit envious of their recruitment and level of citizen engagement in our democracy. The most people I have managed to get into a room for meeting at once is 85, and last night I counted roughly 160 in attendance. I am told that this was actually a low turnout because of the holidays--they usually get over 200 at a regular meeting. 

I attended with a high level of curiosity and a small amount of trepidation, as I, like the rest of you, have seen the media saturated with Tea Party coverage for the last year, and much of it extremely negative, whether it be demonstrations of racial prejudice or simply heated outbursts at stumping candidates. These clips get repeated over and over and have over time become the general national impression of the people who make up this new political force in our country.

But I have also along the way seen interviews with Tea Party members, who claim that those depictions are overblown, and only represent a very small fraction of what is primarily a group of engaged citizens focused on 1) cutting wasteful spending, 2) cutting taxation, 3) reducing the size of government bureaucracy, and 4) reducing the national debt. These interviewees have also asserted that each local Tea Party is independent, and that parameters and behavior of one cannot be attributed to all. So, I went to see for myself.

I was impressed on many levels, and concerned for others. What impressed me was that in all the people I talked to, there was a deep level of engagement--these people not only attend

these monthly meetings, but attend other committees and discussion groups throughout the month as well. They have committed themselves to self-education on their rights as citizens and how our democracy is designed to work. There was an energetic level of enthusiasm in each person's explanation of what the local party is about, and all of the activities that they take part in--in short, these people have made fighting to take their country back more important than T.V. or any of the other distractions that keep most Americans "too busy" to make taking personal responsibility to solve our nation's problems a priority. Examples of some of the committee meetings and discussion groups that they attend throughout the month are on the following topics: Gun rights, health care, state's rights (10th Amendment), Media, Climate, Education, the Federalist Papers, and a book club currently reading Ayn Rand. For them these meetings are clearly not a drudgery--on the contrary--they are both political and social. They have momentum, and they can feel it--the air was buzzing.

The meetings are well-organized, scheduled for two hours to accommodate guests speakers and the handling of party business and announcements. The party secretary holds up signs, saying CAUTION and STOP if any one presenter begins to go on too long. As a result, the meeting ended 15 minutes early.

My concerns for the party are these: I looked around several times, and could only find a handful of people under the age of 40. The majority of the members in attendance seemed to fall in the 50-70 age range. Also, as you can see in the photo, the members are by and large white. There was one elderly Asian gentleman in my row, but aside from that, I did not see anyone African-American, Latino, Asian or otherwise non-white. So one has to wonder, with strength in numbers in mind, whether they have interest, and will actually succeed in, attracting people of other demographics, including youth in their own. During the group discussion portion of the meeting, I asked the party had a plan for recruiting youth into the party. A few different members expressed an intent desire to recruit younger people but seemed at a loss for how to go about it. One member even described a program they are starting to teach small children about the constitution and citizens' rights within our democracy, but in general they seemed at a loss for how to engage the 20-40 age group. At some point they will have to address the fact that younger generations are for the most part more socially liberal than their age group--that most young people have friends of different races and would not be attracted to joining a group that is 99% white, no matter how passionately they opposed tax hikes and wasteful spending.

So this poses an interesting catch 22: we all know that there are many non-white conservative Republicans in our country--Michael Steele, the head of the RNC being the most prominent example. So black, Latino, Asian and other citizens clearly exist that are passionate about cutting spending and reducing government. One has to wonder--is the Tea Party overwhelmingly white because the negativity in the media has made the party unattractive to potential non-white members, or is the party unattractive to non-white members because there is a silent common understanding among the majority of members that they don't want people of other races in their party, and therefore don't actively recruit members of other demographics? Whichever it is, one thing seems obvious to me--if they want to attract youth to their numbers, the Tea Party is going to have to work hard to get over any reservations they may have and actively recruit non-white members--otherwise their numbers will tap out once they've absorbed all interested 50-70 year old white people in the area.

In the entire meeting there was only one comment from an member with a racist tinge to it, and that was when the guest speaker, Ken Sturzenacker, a libertarian, suggested that if we want to cut wasteful spending, we could ask ourselves why we are currently supporting an American troop presence in 177 countries around the world. A Vietnam Vet jumped up, quite emotional, and said, "I was in Vietnam, and we were fighting the spread of Communism!" Then he went on to say that the troops in World War II were "fighting the Germans and the Japs to stop them too!" 

The speaker acknowledged that troop support was an emotional topic but that we have to be willing to look at all areas of spending for reasonable cuts--and even asserted that there was never a threat of Communism spreading to American shores because no one was about to invade a nation of troops and gun owners in a ground war. He was cut off by another member, who said, "this is very passionate for us, and you can talk about your numbers and your charts, but without passion, we won't win!" At that point, another member and speaker, Joe Hilliard, suggested that the focus shift back from foreign policy to spending cuts, and the meeting resumed it's original calm.

What struck me in these moments was that these were the moments that the media would have captured and repeated over and over for television-watching Americans to consume. Two people out of 160 in emotional outbursts, when spotlighted repeatedly, become the representative impression for the rest of the party. The rest of the people were very polite and listening earnestly. On the other hand, no one vocally disapproved of the racial comment. And  being white myself, I have no way of knowing whether or not a visitor of another race would be welcomed as warmly as I was.

Another altercation later in the meeting was just as interesting. A visitor in the audience stood up during the group discussion portion at the end of the meeting to ask how many people voted in the last primary. Everyone raised his/her hand. Then he asked how many were Democrats and how many were Republicans, and he was immediately rebuffed (civilly) by the both the audience, and the party Chair, Matt Benol. The visitor was insistent and said that he suspected that most people there had voted for Republicans, and that he wanted to become a member of the Tea Party so that together they could "get the Republican party back on track." The membership and chair again strongly rebuffed this visitor again and the chair explained clearly and thoroughly that the Lehigh Valley Tea Party does not endorse anyone, does not support either the Democratic or Republican parties and considers Republicans to be equally responsible for the economic mess our nation is in. I was very impressed with how Benol handled this situation.

After the meeting I joined the speaker and a few other members, as well as the Independent candidate for congress, Jake Towne (who was not a Tea Party candidate in the mid-term election, but occasionally attends their meetings) for dinner and we had a great conversation about the insolvency of the Federal Reserve, and regulation's role in the high costs of health care.

All in all I have to say that I was welcomed politely by all that I met, and found the members that I spoke to earnest and absolutely willing to have a civil discussion about differing views. If our congressional members could only engage nationally in discussion and debate as civilly as seems possible on the local level, we might actually make some progress in this country.

For anyone interested, Lehigh Valley Tea Party meetings are held on the first Friday of each month, at the Chrin Community Center in Palmer from 7-9pm.


g_whiz said...

Interesting post, Noel. I have to say though that two of the things that make the Tea Party demographic so engaged and active are two of the things that reduce voter turn out in other demographics. Primarily that's age. As you and I can both attest, being an engaged voter is an incredibly involved process that requires scores of research that a lot of working class people do not have the time to do. Older voters do so in numbers partially because they have more time to do so.

I'm reluctant to back an orginization that uses language like "take our country back" as though its been hijacked. People voted in the last presidental election in numbers higher than in many previous. To say that deomcracy wasn't at work when this happened, or that it is somehow less legitimate because they disagree with the outcome is problematic at best.

And of course they're reading Ayn Rand, the creator of objectivism and concepts like "rational self interest".

And finally, perhaps the Tea Party is not uniformly racist or homophobic but the generational demographic from where it skews is more likely not to have friends of other ethnic groups or orientations. If they don't have people in their networks they can reach out to about this issue its not going to happen organically.

Ken said...

Very thorough presentation overall, and valuable in that you've intro'd your readers to a new aspect of what else is happening in politics in the Lehigh Valley. Thanks!
Ken S

noel jones said...

g_whiz--good points--I think that there is a really interesting scenario developing where eventually the party will have to engage its membership in the internal conversation of whether they want to actively recruit outside the current demographic for the sake of strength in numbers--and down the road--survival as a party.

as for the phrase "taking our country back," that phrase resonates with me in the sense that our country has been taken over by corporate interests who influence our politicians to push forward policy that is counter to the best interests of the average American (and our nation at large), neutralizing the election of any president we elect who is trying to effect change.

that's why citizen engagement at the grass roots level is so important, because electing a president does little good if engaged citizens have not also elected the right school board members, city and county council members, state representatives and senators, as well as congressmen all throughout our democratic system.

what the election of Barak Obama, as well as the recent election of various Tea Party candidates proves, is that when citizens engage, they DO have the political power to put the people they want into office (and to remove them). the greatest enemy to our democracy (aside from corporate interests) is cynicism and apathy, and the elections in 2008 and 2010 are waking up the sleeping giant of the American electorate who has for decades been sedated into inaction via a narcissistic addiction to consumption and escapism that we have been trained to adopt since childhood.

the Tea Party is anything but apathetic--they are enthusiastically engaged and committed, and while they might have trouble drawing numbers long-term within such a limited demographic, right now, they are kicking butt. i have not been to (or heard of) a political party meeting in our area that regularly draws over 200 people. they are strong, and getting stronger.

but what i hope to be able to do on this blog, is to encourage CIVIL and earnest debate between Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Socialists and Tea Party members alike, so that we can all learn and grow from an informed debate and considerate the various aspects and perspectives of each side, and hopefully figure out ways to work together as citizens on an issue-by-issue basis rather than making enemies of each other through an exchange of insulting comments that shuts down dialogue, as we see so often in the media.

for instance--i know plenty of liberals who cannot afford another property tax hike by the school board. is it possible that regardless of other differing perspectives on issues, that we could come together on this issue? can everyone be smart enough to not insult each other, sit side by side, and speak up during public comments to fight a tax hike without feeling that their sense of identity is somehow threatened by association?

another possible issue would be fighting water contamination from hydrofracking for natural gas--gun rights folks might be interested to know that their favorite hunting grounds along the Delaware will soon be razed to the ground and covered with gas wells if Big Gas gets its way and is allowed to continue drilling without any oversight. we ALL need clean water to continue to be available through out taps that does not have neurotoxins, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors in it. this is a property rights issue as well, because drillers are pushing for forced pooling--so if enough of your neighbors agree to allow drilling, you will be forced via eminent domain to allow drilling on your property as well. it is also a property VALUES issue, as your property value goes to zero if you have contaminated tap water that makes people sick. who wants to buy a house when you have to pay to haul water every month from far away?

this is what i am wondering--can we discuss these things RESPECTFULLY, figure out where we agree and WORK TOGETHER issue-by-issue?

strength in numbers!

Ken S said...

My perspective differs from that of 'g-whiz' in several respects; let me address just one of them.
To pick an arbitrary number, people younger than 40 are far more comfortable with the internet than many seniors are - and have an ease of doing research with the likes of google and wikipedia that those of us who grew up knowing only the Dewey Decimal System and hardbound encyclopedias weren't even able to aspire to.
Allow me to suggest that many people younger than 25, let's say,
do not yet have enough experience to comprehend fully just how fully their governments have indebted - and yes - betrayed them.
As was discussed at last evening's meeting, the $13.8 trillion national debt amounts to more than $44,600 for every one of the 310 million people in America, a figure that is increasing at the rate of roughly $100 per person per week. (This does NOT include the trillions of unfunded liabilities for the Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and other federal programs. Unfunded liability: the cost of promises made for which there is no cash on deposit anywhere.)
In addition, the total unfunded liabilities for state and local pensions amount to apx. $3 trillion - or about $9,000 per m/w/&c.
It is the youngest members of our society who have the most at stake in this ongoing imposition of indebtedness, the ones who will have their future prosperity most limited, even destroyed, by elected officials at every level who actively continue to delude voters into accepting that they can spend today - and that someone else will show up to pay all the bills 'later'.

Wayne said...

Noël said:
"I attended my first local Tea Party meeting last night."
Hopefully not your last... you're always welcome there.

You're post is pretty much on the mark, I have just a few comments on your impressions.

For the record, we do have more minority members than you've seen last night, although nothing approaching a reflection of the local population. Ironically, the one time I brought an African-American acquaintance was when Northampton County DA John Morganelli was our guest speaker and the DA's anti illegal immigrant rhetoric turned him off. We also have to deal with condemnation from the NAACP that is unfair in general and specifically has nothing to do with our local group.

Recruiting youth & minorities is a concern of ours and has been discussed in committee meetings. And yes we are at a loss on exactly how to do that. It's not like we can walk into a NAACP meeting or AME service and expect to be received very well. For the most part I believe most members learned about our local group by word of mouth or searching us out on the internet. We do set up booths at community carnivals & fairs and also at gun shows where anybody of any persuasion can learn about us.

What I see is that if someone is inclined toward limited government and alarmed at the increase in gov't debt they will either search us out by coming with a friend, finding us on the web, or stopping at a booth we have set up. So recruitment is predicated on a pre-existing mindset or curiosity. How to set up a media campaign on "a shoestring" to instill this curiosity (and overcome the negative press) in the youth and minorities we wish would join us is a stumbling block for us. Any suggestions on how to overcome this are welcome.

And as always, everyone is welcome to attend our monthly general meetings at the Chrin Community Center usually on the 1st Friday of every month at 7:00PM

Wayne said...

g_whiz said:
And of course they're reading Ayn Rand, the creator of objectivism and concepts like "rational self interest".

We are a coalition of people that have limited gov't as an ideal that binds us. There are many paths to that ideal, Objectivism being just one of them.

The Ayn Rand reading group is an extremely small percentage (certainly under 5%) of the attending membership. A larger majority find Ms Rand's atheism objectionable.

This is actually a very diverse group if you look into their beliefs and backgrounds.

noel jones said...

Hi Wayne--Thanks for posting, and for the welcome. I think that exchanges like this are the beginning of people beginning to come together through common perspectives regardless of race or background. I think that to assume that a local branch of the NAACP reflects only the perspectives of the national organization is a similar pitfall to anyone thinking the local Tea Party reflects only the views of what we see on TV.

I have not attended an NAACP meeting yet, but have talked to members and intend to at some point. I do have one Independent/Democrat friend and one NRA Republican friend (both white) that recently attended an NAACP meeting together out of their own curiosity, and they said it was the best community meeting they had ever attended and that they were welcomed respectfully. This was even as the NRA member was announced that he planned to run for the school board.

I think that when we put aside our reservations and assumptions and put our best foot forward in a good natured way, we often receive a surprisingly kind reception, partially because whoever is on the other side is surprised as well, and relieved and delighted to find out that someone from the other side of whatever issue they are on is willing to respectfully listen and CONSIDER the perspectives of the other, without the conversation deteriorating into vitriol.

The NAACP, to my knowledge, is not affiliated with a particular political party, much as black Americans are not affiliated with a particular party. I would recommend that whoever goes, be among your most polite, diplomatic, even-keeled members so that the conversation has the best chance of going well. You might be surprised at what a good reception you get.

But one huge thing that the Tea Party could do, to improve their collective impression, would be to speak out more publicly about disapproving of racist comments, rather than simply taking the defensive posture of saying that the Tea Party isn't racist. The difference is subtle, but very important. It sends a message that "this is not what we are about, and we do not want members embarrassing us and giving the impression that our party condones bigotry as it damages our ability to recruit in numbers large enough to amass the political power we need to get this country back on the right fiscal track."

I think it would start a rich dialogue, and you would find a lot of appreciation and relief, particularly from those Americans who like the party's focus on cutting waste and reducing taxes, but do not want to be affiliated with people they fear are prejudiced from all the national media hype.

Once the party succeeds in attracting a more diverse membership, the party will begin to be more attractive to youth as well, who tend to be more socially liberal than the 50-70 demographic.

But first and foremost, I would talk to the few youths and members of various ethnicities that you have and ask THEM what they think is keeping others away, and how they might successfully reach out to recruit from those groups.

Thanks for posting!

noel jones said...

Ken--thanks for posting all the specific info.

As for Ayn Rand, I read only "Athem" because I am a slow reader and it is a short book. I liked it very much. Maybe one day I'll tackle "Atlas Shrugged" or "Fountainhead," books that look to me to weigh about 5 pounds each, and strike me with a small level of terror on sight.

I have read a little bit on her philosophy, and I agree with certain aspects of it, while I feel that other aspects are lacking. Primarly--and she is not alone in this omission--she doesn't seem to address the reality of the issue of compounded physical and psychological abuse on an individual--as well as under-education and other aspects of poverty that are the reality of the developmental childhood years of millions of Americans, resulting in many not having the same starting line as those who grow up in stable families with basic needs met and a solid education under their belt. There is an issue of fairness there that disturbs me--the idea that we should all be on our own. I can only imagine that this would result more and more in the haves having even more, and the havenots having even less.

These are deep and pervasive problems in our society that we cannot afford to ignore. But in general, as a writer, I like Ayn Rand.

cathy said...

Thanks for this forum and your open and even hand that invites all voices.

I was attracted to what seems to be Tea Party principles years ago when I was cornered by a Libratarian at the post office. All I could say is yes yes yes because I agreed with everything they said. The disconnect for me right now is around this evidently touchy subject as to whether the Teaparty is sincerely not aligned with the Republican Party which talks the talk but in the light of day purposefully and smirkfully walks the other way. If the Tea Party is not a shill for the Republicans than perhaps the meeting needs to clarify this in the open even if it means losing members. They may gain some.

Ayn Rand - loved her books when I was 16 but as time past her very closest life long disciple was Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the Fed who did apply her principles to the US economy over the last two decades. Regulations were reduced, taxes were cut. And when it all collapsed it was the banks and big business that demanded to be bailed out. It wasnt the governments idea. Alan Greenspan has admitted publically that he was wrong. Is the Teaparty discussion group aware of this connection between Ayn Rand's philosophy, Alan Greenspan, and the collapse of the economy? Its democracy that was created by our constitution and not the practice of unregulated corporate capitalism which was created by a Supreme Court clerk who miswrote that corporations have rights same as people. As long as big corporations run rampant we need government regulation or individuals and small businesses will lose their rights. We like "Ayn Rand" the capitalist sole proprietor but "Ayn Rand" the capitalist Corporation has bought and basically gone off with our country.

noel jones said...

great points, Cathy. as for affiliation with the Republican party, I can say from my experience last night with the LOCAL Lehigh Valley Tea Party that they emphatically do not support the Republican Party any more than they do the Democratic Party and it was not just the chair of the Tea Party who emphatically silenced the visitor who was trying to recruit for the Republicans, it was a general push back from the group at large.

one thing that was explained to me last night though, is that every Tea Party is an independent body and makes their own rules, and so sometimes one Tea Party will suffer from the reputations and actions of other Tea Parties. for instance, our local Tea Party absolutely does not endorse candidates, but the Philadelphia Tea Party does. so you can see how this can get confusing for those outside the Tea Party who are learning about the party on TV as if it were one unified movement all operating under the same parameters.

what the Tea Party really seems to be is a grass roots uprising of independent localities all over the nation, and some lean toward supporting the Republicans while others are fiercely independent and equally mad at the Republicans who have contributed to our current deficit and debt.

with regard to Alan Greenspan, you have hit upon my main philosophical concern--the local Tea Party in some respects seems to hold dear some libertarian philosophies while eschewing others. one that i think they embrace is the idea of trusting independent individuals to do the right thing to take care of their society by not being taxed and being allow to solve problems locally through voluntary philanthropy. this to me seems similar to Greenspan's self-admitted mistake of trusting "the market" to do what was best for the whole and not drive our economy over the brink. but this brings up your more nuanced point--is it perhaps that this philosophy COULD work on an individual level and in one's community, but that it does not work with corporations because they are NOT individuals, regardless what the law currently says?

it seems risky to me, but i want to understand more about the's new to me, and really intriguing.

Joan C said...

Thank you for your thoughts Noel. Just some thoughts.

Our tea party HAS not only rebuked any racist statements that were associated with us, we have put out press releases along the same order. Unfortunately, the press is fickle and will print what they want. We do have some hispanic members, some african-american members, some indian members and some japanese-american members- unfortunately- it's the holidays, and it seems like they were all busy last night. It was a low turnout- and for the record - there were 141 people there :)
For the record, our demographics are pretty much in line with the country.

Yes, we do have younger members as well. Most of our monthly meetings are attended by our older population. I think it is a matter of younger people have kids, and it's hard for them to attend on a Friday night.

Just some thoughts- anyone is always welcome at our meetings. We always try to be a friendly bunch.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Part I

On Ayn Rand: I admire anyone who reads wide varieties of books to gain perspective on issues and events - even if they have no real sympathy with the particular writer's views. I will not assume any relationship between her books and the positions of Tea Party members, but as a part-time practitioner of the architectural profession, I'd say her perspectives in The Fountainhead are much more attractive to young, inexperienced practitioners than any other group. There is an allure to this concept of the singular artist with undying dedication, willing to sacrifice him/herself and their work in the name of individualism and design integrity. This is the sort of nonsense still taught in many architectural schools today.
As I've grown older and become more involved in civic design/urban planning (a broader discipline than the "creation" of individual object buildings) I've realized how flawed that thinking can be. Buildings need to be able to relate to the context of their surroundings. Everyone coming in or out of the building or viewing it from the street is in many ways also the client. Knowing what I now know, there is a lot going on below the surface of Rand's work that is rather disturbing in retrospect.

As for the Tea Party in general, I worry about the quite plausible coercion/co-option of a dedicated grass-root movement by forces that may be lurking below the surface. It is by now well documented that private corporate interests like the Koch Brothers, Carl Rove and The US Chamber of Commerce have taken an interest in Tea Party sentiments and are subversively using it as a Trojan horse to push their own pro-corporate, anti-democratic agendas.

The Kochs have a long history with the wacko John Birch Society and pumped millions into the Tea Party's "education" and protest organizing. The US Chamber DOES NOT - contrary to popular belief - represent small or independent businesses, but instead does the bidding of it's huge corporate funders to the detriment of local business owners; the most likely supporters of the Tea Party. The USCOC and Prudential (parent company of the real estate franchise I work for) both poured millions into the campaign advertising of the last election, this being a consequence of the recent Supreme Court decision removing all barriers to corporate election cash.

Part II to follow...


Dennis R. Lieb said...

Part II...

At the turn of the 20th century another grass-root movement; The Populists emerged from the heartland with a platform of reigning in the Gilded Age robber barons, banking reform and a southern/midwestern-based, agrarian/organized labor-influenced agenda. They even had their own presidential candidate: People's Party member William Jennings Bryan (who unfortunately had a hang-up with establishing a silver standard for currency). In the end, their inability to put racial biases aside within their own ranks allowed the floundering Democrats (Grover Cleveland being the only elected Democratic president between the end of the Civil War and Woodrow Wilson) to co-opt the movement and absorb it's ranks into the National Democratic Party, making it the dominant party in numbers to this day.

The Republican Party under Lincoln fought a war to end slavery and institutionalized that freedom in the 13th through 15th Amendments. Unfortunately, they quickly became the puppets of industrial barons of the age, ushering in the longest and most egregious period of corruption in the country's history. The new Constitutional freedoms, designed to protect blacks and free slaves from persecution, were quickly adapted by corporations to have themselves recognized in legal decisions as "persons under the law". The rising indignation and reformist agenda of the Populists - while commendable - didn't stand the test of time and thus the largest and least understood grass-root movement in this country's history was a temporary blip of the 1890's. Populists were replaced by the Progressives; never a political movement as much as an effort by the intellectual elite to reform the ills of society through institution of the "scientific method" of business management. They believed the new technologies of the 20th century would allow us to solve and manage our social problems as easily as companies solved the problems of production lines. This has never really worked out as planned.

Today, as in the Gilded Age, the corporations reign supreme. Corporations in the hands of far right wingers like the Kochs and Libertarian property rights fanatics are dominating the discussion of policy and the implementation of rules as never before. The large centrist portion of America's republican and democratic voters are left without choices. The Tea Party movement speaks of cutting budgets, cutting taxes for the middle class and making hard choices. If left to their own devices the corporate puppet masters of today will co-opt this into fewer regulations for their own operations, fewer taxes than the pitiful amounts they already enjoy and more freedom to dump those saved funds into ever-more political pay-offs and more misery for you and me. Ask yourself this: If they are so over-taxed, how - during the worst economy in 90 years - did they find so much money to throw at campaigns?

Today's Tea Party would be well served to study the Populist's as to avoid their mistakes.


noel jones said...

Dennis--thanks for the thorough post--one note--the speaker for that night explained to me that there is a difference between "libertarian" (small "L") and Libertarian, as in the current Libertarian party, which some people believe has strayed far from the original libertarian philosophy (but in what ways I am not yet clear on...) more on this later...

noel jones said...

Joan--thanks for posting the additional info--it is good to know that the Lehigh Valley Tea Party has issued press released rebuking racism--it is hugely unfortunate that the media have not published them. Keep trying until you get through--And feel free to copy and paste one into a comment here!

Anonymous said...

From reading Dennis's post I now see that the corporations have a history and an experience of co-opting movements and sowing confusion in order to give themselves more freedom to exploit indivdiuals and drive small businesses out of business. Isnt this what happened in Easton??? The malls took away business and the town emptied out and the bottom feeders moved in.

Cathy said...

Nothing short of a direct attack and correction of that Sumpreme Court clerk's note and the subsequent interpretations and elaborations in law is going to fix the awful effect these corporation have on, not just our country, but on the civilized world.

A lawyer (Julie?) once remarked that usually the courts will not recind a right once its given unless it can be proven that it is violating some one else's previously given right. If that's true, surely it can be proven that in an infinite number of cases the rights of corporations have in fact conflicted and violated the rights of human beings.

noel jones said...

Anon 4:32--check out the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF)--they are all about teaching citizens how to fight back successfully against corporations doing damage under the banner of "corporate personhood" by taking the fight out of the regulator realm and fighting them on a state constitutional basis via city ordinances that denounce their "personhood" i.e., Pittsburgh, Licking Township, and Nockamixon residents that are taking water contamination seriously and have all successfully banned hydrofracking for natural gas within their city limits.

Donna Baver Rovito said...

Part 1

Hi, Noel (sorry, for some reason I can't get my computer to make the umlaut over the e in your name)

Thank you for your very thoughtful post about our local tea party group and your subsequent comments. I'm sorry we didn't get to meet in person - I'm chair of the health care committee, and if you ever have any questions about our positions on health care issues or want to attend a meeting of the health care committee, please feel free to contact me at

It's a shame the first meeting you attended was the smallest one in recent history due to the holidays (yes, we have Jewish members, too!)
I often express to people that it is a constant source of amazement to me that between 200-300 people come to our meetings on a FRIDAY NIGHT to talk about government, the constitution, and being vigilant citizens. Generally, there's barely room to walk between the last row of chairs and the display and product tables in the rear of the room.

I appreciate your clear understanding that there are different tea party groups (thousands of them, actually) and that most are relatively small, independent organizations like ours, each with their own set of rules and bylaws. We chose to make our group "official" with a 501(c)(4) designation as an educational not for profit, and I think it was one of the smartest things we could have done. This way, we can focus all our energy on making voters BETTER EDUCATED and as a result, better suited to making good electoral choices.

But even more important is the ongoing understanding of the difference between legislative and political advocacy. Our group is focused on how government runs at all levels - but not as a political entity. Heck, we're just as suspicious of Republican promises are we are of Democratic promises. to paraphrase Diogenes, we're just looking for one honest elected official. But be assured that when we discover a DISHONEST one, or an inept one, or one that doesn't keep his or her campaign promises, no matter what political party they represent, we WILL make noise about it.

Donna Baver Rovito said...

Part 2

Some of the tea party groups HAVE aligned themselves with Republicans. And you know what? They have every right to do that - we're not arrogant enough to think that every tea party group in the country should do what we do. We DO appreciate, however, when someone, like you, takes the time to spell out the differences.

Please keep coming to our meetings - or, like Bernie O'hare has done, please sign up, and participate in our discussions. Over time, you'll note that racial or ethnic comments are shut down or removed or otherwise condemned. I'm pretty sure that the Vietnam vet who called our WWII enemies "Japs" on Friday night did so out of historical context - our soldiers, media and even here at home, Americans did, indeed, call the Japanese soldiers "Japs" at the time, just as they called the Germans "Krauts." I'm absolutely sure, though, that in a current context, that same Vietnam veteran would NEVER use the same term for Japanese visitors or immigrants.

While you didn't see a large representation of ethnic minorities at Friday's meeting, even though we DO have several members from other countries and cultures and hyphenated-Americans, you may have noticed a member of the TG community at the meeting, who's been coming for several months now despite "advice" from others in the TG community about the lack of tolerance among the tea party movemement. Interestingly, that member has commented that he finds more acceptance at OUR meetings than almost anywhere else.

So while there are some people who believe that tea party members are socially right-wing conservatives, I think most will find that we're far more about personal liberty than anyone will give us credit for.

Do we want to reach out to more ethnic and younger groups? Absolutely - and our media committee is looking into ways to do that. Please keep in mind that this is a very NEW movement, and we're finding our way as we evolve into something much larger than anyone ever expected us to be.

And, of course, we're open to suggestions!

Thanks again for the kind words and thoughtful commentary.

noel jones said...

Donna--thanks so much for the very thorough post and all the information in it. I liked the "hyphenated-Americans"--that made me laugh.

A question--what is "the TG community"? I haven't heard that one before.

And thanks for clarifying that in saying that attendance was low that night (at 160 people!) "because of the holidays" you actually mean the Jewish holidays, not just the bridge from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

I will definitely be posting about health care soon to open up that debate, and when I do, I would love to get your comments.

And I did very much get the impression from the meeting that it is an excited new group under development that is not only open to new ideas, but LOOKING for them.

Overall the Lehigh Valley Tea Party seems very enthusiastic and genuinely welcoming. Thanks again for posting, and helping readers get to know more about what the local Tea Party is about.

I think that anyone who is not a fan of the idea of cutting spending, cutting taxes and reducing government would probably not decide that this is the group for them, but anyone who IS into cutting spending, reducing taxes and shrinking government bureaucracy might want to give them a chance.

I'm still figuring out the core differences between various different political philosophies, and so far, it seems like the major difference is trusting the good side of human nature to outweigh greed, which sounds awfully risky, but is worth contemplation.

And as Cathy pointed out earlier "individuals" means PEOPLE not CORPORATIONS AND BANKS. Some feel that individuals should be free to keep their tax money and trusted to give to philanthropies that would take care of the poor and disabled, while other don't trust that it would ever happen that way, and feel that it's necessary to tax everyone to make sure that needed services for the poor are covered.

It also seems to be a difference between supporting state's rights over federal control, and the right to fund schools locally versus being taxed federally and applying for the money back (and all of the jobs created in between to facilitate that process whose salaries and pensions we pay for with higher taxes).

Anyone interested in these differences and not sure what they think is the best solution, might want to give all the various groups a try and see who they think makes the most sense. At the very least we will all come out more directly informed, rather than trusting the media to tell us what's what.

And by being willing to talk respectfully with people of different perspectives on a local level, we hopefully will eventually find and advance candidates up through the political system who are capable of being respectful with each other in state and federal branches of government, so that they can actually work together and get something done!

Wayne said...

Noël said:
"A question--what is "the TG community"? I haven't heard that one before."
I think she means trans-gender maybe?

noel jones said...

if so, i am thoroughly impressed.

g_whiz said...

I have to say this is a sight more civil than I expected this thread to be by this point. I'd discussed the issue of identity politics and this movement with Noel the other night and think that while the Easton chapter or whatever iteration we have here seems quite disimilar to any other that I've read on. I can't shake the feeling that the Tea Party movement is suffering from a branding problem. Many here, and judging from the generous tone of your article, are simply fiscially conservative and interested in cutting spending/waste etc, and that on its face is perfectly acceptable. But when one takes this chapter and compares it to others (however loosely associated with the movement in other states/regions I am unsure) I think it becomes very difficult to differentiate between other areas of the tea party movement associated with "Freepers" "Birthers" and other ideas younger and more progressive persons are more than likely to be scared off by or outright bothered by. If this isn't the ideology espoused by this particular group, then I'm relieved to hear it. But like any other political, ethnic or cultural minority it seems that the group is likely being victim to mischaracterization by association. The more hardline social conservatives, and religious fundamentalists percieved amongst the party in other areas might make it difficult to change this perception.

noel jones said...

very good points, g_whiz. and it's an interesting question--whether the local group is unusual, or whether the Tea Party is such a threat to both parties on a national scale that the media skews public perception and causes us to think that they are unusual. what we usually see on TV, is one or two clips, looped over and over, and then all kinds of punditry ensues, or we see constant coverage of the party's most extreme candidates, Sarah Palin, Sharon Angle, etc. Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, etc. do not get nearly as much press.

Now, one thing that I found interesting and forget to mention here, is that the meeting started not just with a Pledge of Allegiance, but with an opening prayer. This surprised me because I have always been one to keep faith and politics separate, and most people that I know feel the same way. It was brief, and the reference was to "God" in general, and therefore open enough for someone of any monotheistic religion to feel included, but it something that would make of those who do not believe in got uncomfortable--and I would imagine--most youth as well.

When it comes to aligning with as many people as possible on a political goal, the party is quite likely alienating a great number of people who might otherwise be on the same page about tax cuts and reducing the size of government.

noel jones said...

I'd love to get feedback from Tea Party members on my newest post "What's Under Your Fracking Christmas Tree" on fracking for natural gas and resulting drinking water contamination. This is a public health issue and a property rights issue, as gas companies would like to do "forced pooling." Please post a comment on that post--I am going to a DRBC hearing on it today--they are trying to push through regulations without the environmental assessment being complete so that the big gas companies can start drilling whether it's safe or not for 15 million of us who get our drinking water from the Delaware. I would love to get the Tea Party perspective on this but please read the post first and post your comment there--thanks!