Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Tea Party Movement: One example of a grassroots movement 'hijacked' by politicians, PACs, and astroturf organizations

Author's note: This is the first of a two-part article where I briefly discuss the co-opting of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street grassroots movements by politicians, political action committees and other political organizations.  The second part to be posted later will cover OWS.

A grassroots movement is a political movement inspired by change and driven by individuals at the local level. It opposes the established bureaucracy which controls the nation at the highest levels. The objective is to bring attention to issues important to ordinary Americans, issue which are generally ignored by the government and the mainstream media. The idea of the common people establishing their own political force from the ground up fosters an attitude of freedom, creativity, bonding, and renewed enthusiasm for politics. Individuals involved in grassroots movements participate in a number of ways including attending local city council/county commission/school board meetings, circulating petitions, writing letters to the editor of local papers, staging protests and encouraging others in the community to get involved. Citizens who become involved in the movements do so because they seek change, to make a difference, and do something meaningful.

There are certain principles which make grassroots movements effective. They include:
  • They are independent and not controlled or led by any one individual at the state or national level, rather they begin from the ground-up. 
  • Participants should be inspired with a sense of patriotism and "common sense rhetoric worthy of their wholehearted support" (Renew America)
  • Adequate resources available to participants. Those in leadership positions should consider themselves resources and encourage and assist participants to be creative and take initiative. Guidance and leadership are fine, but control of the participants is not. 
  • Freedom from the influence of corporations, unions, political parties, politicians, and any individuals or entities which may potentially co-opt the movement for their own cause.

There are various stories on how the Tea Party movement began. Whether somebody heard a politician say something in a televised interview, or whether they heard something on the news that got them angry, it doesn't matter. What matters is that somewhere along the way American citizens all around this great nation got tired of the status quo and decided they'd had enough. They liked the idea that maybe they could make a difference and so they ran with it, organizing groups and events in their local communities. However, once the movement picked up speed and became newsworthy,  a number of individuals and groups (and even some media outlets) began taking up the cause to serve their own agendas. And that's where everything went wrong.

Why Tea Party? That should be obvious.The Tea Act was the straw which broke the camel's back. The colonists had bore the brunt of British tyranny in a long series of Acts passed by the Parliament for years since the Sugar Act of 1764. Finally they'd had enough. Sound familiar? It should. A great number of Americans in 2011 have had enough.

The roots of the tea party have nothing to do with race, religion, politics, sexual orientation, abortion, or immigration. It is about fiscal responsibility!  Americans are worried and for good reason: our economy is tanking fast. Meanwhile the government hasn't passed a budget since 2009, the tax system needs overhauling, unemployment is high, the CEOs of the largest corporations own the politicians. This isn't the fault of one administration, it is the fault of many administrations and many Congresses. This problem  has been building for years.

There is something very important regarding the Tea Party Movement which supporters and non-supporters alike need to be made aware. The Tea Party Patriots is the only sponsor of the movement that embodies the ideals of a grassroots movement. TPP is a non-profit, non-partisan organization which does not endorse any political party or candidate. Its leadership consists of local coordinators of TPP groups in communities around the country. The TPP formed "from the reaction of the American people to fiscally irresponsible actions of the federal government, misguided "stimulus" spending, bailouts and takeovers of private industry" and seeks to "improve our great nation through renewed support for fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free market economic policies." (Tea Party Patriots, 2011).

Unfortunately a handful of individuals and organizations with ulterior motives decided that the Tea Party movement was the perfect opportunity for them to gain support for their own agendas.There are many organizations which claim to represent the grassroots Tea Party Movement and are using its platform to further their own agenda. Here are some examples:

  • The Tea Party Express claims to be  the "most aggressive and influential national Tea Party group in the political arena. We are committed to identifying and supporting conservative candidates and causes that will champion tea party values and return our country to the Constitutional principles that have made America the 'shining city on the hill'.  (Tea Party Express, 2011). This organization is funded and sponsored by "Our Country Deserves Better" a political action committee (PAC) which has raised millions to help fund Republican election campaigns.
  • The Tea Party Nation is a Conservative for-profit corporation founded by a former DA in Shelby County Tennessee. The organization's website describes them as "a group of like-minded people who desire our God given Individual Freedoms which were written out by the Founding Fathers. We believe in Limited Government, Free Speech, the 2nd Amendment, our Military, secure Borders and our country" (Tea Party Nation, 2011). The Tea Party Nation organized the 2010 National Tea Party Convention with Republican Governor Sarah Palin as the Keynote Speaker. According to the New York Times, the Tea Party Nation formed a PAC "to raise money and provide political consulting and campaign management for Tea Party-approved candidates" (Zernike, 2010).  
  • The Tea Party Network an "organization of tea party, 9/12, and other conservative groups within the state of Florida" (Tea Party Network, 2011) sponsored the 2011 Tea Party Convention in Daytona Beach. While the Convention's website states it does not endorse any candidate, many of the original proposed speakers were Republican politicians (most did not attend), and the actual speakers are linked to Conservative groups. Also, the convention was sponsored by Republican PAC's and affiliated organizations. Most of the discussions on the TPN's website are also conservative-centered. Interestingly enough, the Tea Party Patriots advised supporters of the Tea Party Movement not to attend the convention.

The above-named groups are just a few of the many claiming to be supporters of the Tea Party Grassroots movement. None of the organizations above represent the ideals of grassroots activism. Individuals truly interested in the true Tea Party cause should be wary of their affiliation with any group that endorses any candidate, politician, or political party.

The Tea Party movement has not just been astroturfed by the above organizations, it's also being co-opted by shifty politicians with political motives. A prime example of this is the Congressional Tea Party Caucuses. Republican Representative Michele Bachmann told Politico, “The goal is to be able to give people a forum for people to bring their ideas to Congress under the tea party banner. This caucus isn’t here to vouch for the tea party or any particular act of the tea party” (Barr, 2010).

According to Politico, organizers of the Caucus hope it will “serve as a periodic meeting to discuss conservative ideas with outside groups and turn grass-roots ideas into legislative proposals".

Senator Rand Paul hopes the Senate Tea Party Caucus will “tighten communication and turn that into positive change in Washington.” (Barr, 2010). Paul also spoke of a summer rally in Washington in which Tea Party activists would “call for a conservative agenda on Capitol Hill” (Wong & Manu, 2011).

With this kind of support for the Tea Party Movement is it no wonder its reputation and legitimacy is under fire? The Tea Party isn't about conservative agendas, gay rights, religious freedom, or immigration policy. The Tea Party is neither nor against President Obama, nor are they for or against any of the Republican Presidential candidates. The real Tea Party movement is about fiscal responsibility. Fiscal responsibility knows no race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, political affiliation, or religion.

This movement which is at its roots interested in promoting fiscal responsibility should attract attention from people from all walks of life and it would have, if in fact, it hadn't been co-opted by politicians and organizations with Conservative and Republican agendas. The Tea Party Movement is a legitimate grassroots movement which has been co-opted by individuals and groups with a great deal of money and influence, both of which are directly reducing its effectiveness.

Grassroots movements are the one sure way for citizens to have their voices and in order to protect them, those involved must be educated on the objectives and principles of true grassroots activism. The only way to prevent grassroots movements from being co-opted and subverted is if the individuals involved in the movement refuse to allow it to happen. After all, grassroots movements are the people's movements! 

Grassroots movements must maintain their distance from political parties and candidates and they must be very careful of what organizations or individuals sponsor their causes. Grassroots movements cannot endorse or show favoritism of any candidate or party. They cannot accept support of any kind from any organization which supports any party or candidate. Of course, this becomes difficult because PACs can be hidden beneath layers and layers of organizational bureaucracy, but to maintain the integrity of grassroots activism it has to be done. The only way to protect the legitimacy of grassroots movements and the voice of the American people is for the movements to stay strictly neutral in regards to politics and stick strictly to the issues. Grassroots activism is an important part of American history and must be protected and preserved so that its principles can be passed down to future generations. 


Barr, A. (2010, Jul 20). Caucus won't 'vouch' for tea party. Retrieved Nov 28, 2011, from Politico:

Levinthal, D. (2010, Sep 17). Is the Tea Party Really A Grassroots Movement? (S. Inskeep, Interviewer)
New York City General Assembly. (2011). About Us. Retrieved Nov 28, 2011, from New York City General Assembly:

Renew America. (n.d.). How the Grassroots Works. Retrieved Nov 27, 2011, from

Tea Party Express. (2011). Tea Party Express. Retrieved Nov 28, 2011,  Tea Party Express,

Tea Party Nation. (2011). Tea Party Nation. Retrieved Nov 28, 2011, Tea Party Nation,

Tea Party Network. (2011). Tea Party Network. Retrieved Nov 28, 2011, from Tea Party Network,

Tea Party Patriots. (2011). About Tea Party Patriots. Retrieved Nov 28, 2011, Tea Party Patriots,

Wong, S., & Manu, R. (2011, Jan 27). Senate tea party: Members wanted. Retrieved Nov 28, 2011, from Politico:

Zernike, K. (2010, Feb 5). Convention Is Trying to Harness Tea Party Spirit . Retrieved Nov 28, 2011, from New York Times:


  1. Why are you working at UF when you can write like this?

  2. Fascinating! Thank you so much for deconstructing the Tea Party. It's far more dangerous than the lunatics who grab the most camera time.

  3. Anonymous7/24/2012

    agreed the tea-party has been hijacked.....problem is the "real" tea-party can't compete with these lifers who know how to sway things to their advantage and came in and stole the thunder and used it as their own. Those bullies need to get kicked out so the real message can be heard. Get rid of the "darlings" and you will have your party back!!