Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Focus of the day: Tea Party – What it’s behind a cup of American tea

A Tea Party protest in Hartford, Connecticut, ...Image via Wikipedia

Grass-roots movement or political protest? A historical legacy of the American history reevaluated or successful brand used symbolically to solve political contradiction?

Grass-roots movement or political protest? A historical legacy of the American history reevaluated or successful brand used symbolically to solve political contradiction?

The beginnings

The name "Tea Party" refered to the Boston Tea Party, a direct action started by colonists in Boston from the then British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government. On December 16, 1773, after officials from here refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor.

The action was the latest manifestation of a resistance movement throughout British America against the Tea Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1773, considered a violation of the right to be taxed only by the own elected representatives.

The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution, who began near Boston in 1775.

The never ending revolution(s)

The label Tea Party has often been applied to other political protests, with different effects and political agendas. When Mohandas K. Gandhi led a mass burning of Indian registration cards in South Africa in 1908, a British newspaper compared the event to the Boston Tea Party. At the beginning of November 2010, representatives of Israeli Likud created a „tea party“ meeting protesting theagainst the policies of president Barack Obama. In Australia, the T.E.A. Party, self-assessed as a non-political movement, encloses the acronym: “Tax Enough Already”.

American activists from a variety of political viewpoints have invoked the Tea Party as a symbol of protest, but the senses differed of the original understanding. In 1973, on the 200th anniversary of the Tea Party, a mass meeting at Faneuil Hall called for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon and protested oil companies in the ongoing oil crisis. Afterwards, protesters boarded a replica ship in Boston Harbor, hanged Nixon in effigy, and dumped several empty oil drums into the harbor.

In 2006, a libertarian political party called the "Boston Tea Party" was founded, but without a significant further political involvement. In 2007, the Republican Ron Paul held a „Tea Party”on the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, and raised the record sum of $6.04 million in 24 hours.

In early 2009, a series of citizen gatherings called "Tea Parties" began to protest recent increases in government spending, particularly in President Obama's budget and economic stimulus package.

The new parties

On January 19, 2009, Graham Makohoniuk, a part-time trader and a member of Ticker Forum, posted a casual invitation on the forums to "Mail a tea bag to congress and to Senate". Forum moderator, Stephanie Jasky helped organize the group and worked to "get it to go viral." Jasky is also the founder and director of FedUpUSA - a fiscally conservative, non-partisan activist group whose members describe themselves as "a group of investors" who sprung out of the forums and previously held DC protests in 2008.

The founder of, Karl Denninger (stock trader and former CEO), published his own write-up on the proposed protest, titled "Tea Party February 1st?," which was posted in direct response to President Obama's inauguration occurring on the same day, and railed against the bailouts, the US national debt and "the fraud and abuse in our banking and financial system" which included the predatory lending practices currently at the center of the home mortgage foreclosure crisis. By February 1, the idea had spread among conservative and libertarian-oriented blogs, forums, websites and through a viral email campaign.

On February 11, talk radio host and Fox Business Network anchor Dave Ramsey appeared on Fox and Friends, waving tea bags and saying "It's time for a Tea Party." He was on the show criticizing the newly confirmed Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, who had outlined his plan to use the $300 billion or so dollars remaining in the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds. He intended to use $50 billion for foreclosure mitigation and use the rest to help fund private investors to buy toxic assets from banks.

New York Times reporter Kate Zernike, reports that some within the Tea Party credit Seattle blogger and conservative activist Keli Carender with organizing the first Tea Party on February 16, 2009. Another article, written by Chris Good of The Atlantic, credits Carender as "one of the first" Tea Party organizers.

The Protests

On February 19, 2009, in a broadcast from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, CNBC Business News Network editor Rick Santelli loudly criticized the government plan to refinance mortgages, which had just been announced the day before, as "promoting bad behavior" by "subsidizing losers' mortgages" and raised the possibility of putting together a "Chicago Tea Party in July". A number of the traders and brokers around him cheered on his proposal, to the apparent amusement of the hosts in the studio. It was called "the rant heard round the world". By the next day, guests on Fox News had already begun to mention this new "Tea Party", Fox News, an outpost of support for the Republican Party during Bush administration continuing to devote extensive editorial space to the movement.

In response to Santelli, websites such as, registered in August 2008 by Chicago radio producer Zack Christenson, were live within twelve hours. About 10 hours after Santelli's remarks, was bought to coordinate Tea Parties scheduled for July 4, and as of March 4, was reported to be receiving 11,000 visitors a day.

A Facebook page was developed on February 20 the same year calling for Tea Party protests across the country. Group administrators included Eric Odom of the conservative activist group FreedomWorks, and the group was created by Phil Kerpen from the conservative advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity. Soon, the "Nationwide Chicago Tea Party" protest was coordinated across over 40 different cities for February 27, 2009, thus establishing the first national modern Tea Party protest.

Other protests have been held on:

- April 15, 2009 to coincide with the annual U.S. deadline for submitting tax returns, known as Tax Day.

- July 4, 2009 to coincide with Independence Day.

- September 12, 2009 to coincide with the anniversary of the day after the September 11 attacks.

- November 5, 2009 in Washington D.C. to protest the impending Health insurance vote

- March 14–21, 2010 in Washington, D.C. during the final week of debate on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Reaction to the tea parties included counter-protests expressing support for the Obama administration, and dismissive or mocking media coverage of both the events and its promoters as it was the case with the Rally held October 31, at the National Mall in Washington DC, organized by the media anchor Jon Stewart and comedian Stephen Colbert. This event was organized as a reply to the August 28 rally of the conservative Glenn Beck, held in Washington DC aiming to restore „honor in America” and raise funds for the non-profit Special Operations Warrior Foundation, dedicated to support veterans.

What will be the next party about

The final results of the recent mid-term elections are considered a litmus test of the actions of the tea-party movement by now. Leaders of the movement declared already that their projected midterm election victories should send a strong message: watch out in 2012. "The Republicans need to know, we've done it in 2010. If they don't do the right thing in the next couple of years, it's not a problem. We'll come back in 2012. We'll do it all over again. We'll replace them with people that will uphold [our] principles," said Mark Meckler, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots -- one of the movement's largest groups.

Until the end of the week we will be able to know the overall successes of the Tea Party movement. For me, it is very interesting to observe the passive reaction from the Democratic side, limited rather to humoristic, intellectual appreciations. It might be, perhaps, the confirmation of my old observation, which I have to explain soon in a later post, that the Democrats, when they won the power, were always unable to keep it for too long. On the other hand, I am also curious what changes will be brought in terms of leadership for the Republican side, confronted for the moment with a problematic lack of leadership. We will find, probably, the answer, in the next weeks, after the full evaluation of the elections results.

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