It has been called the second American Revolution. The Tea Party Movement is a grassroots coalition of conservatives, which emerged in 2009 in opposition to the national stimulus package and the Obama Administration in general. In 2009, Tea Party protests sprouted from coast to coast, with attendees at some protests numbering in the tens of thousands. Tea Party organizer Judson Phillips says that the driving force behind the Tea Parties is the fact that “the government will not listen to us, that the government thinks that it is our public master not our public servant.” It is generally understood that the Tea Parties have been a spontaneous, grassroots effort sparked by hundreds of thousands of Americans who are unhappy with the current liberal policies of the nation.
But are the spontaneous and bottom-up Tea Parties all that they truly claim to be? Lately, issues of transparency in the “grassroots nature” of the movement have been brewing.
While the movement claims to be a completely grassroots effort, it is relatively unknown that the Tea Party Express, a national bus tour that hosts a series of Tea Party rallies across the nation, is based right inside of a political consulting firm that works closely with the Republican Party. Some claim that the Tea Party movement is about to be, or already has been, hijacked by the GOP. The Tea Party Express recently spent $350,000 on advertising for Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown. Oh, and 2008 Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin will earn a meager $100,000 as the keynote speaker at the opening Tea Party convention this weekend.
And to some, the price tag of attending such an event, which kicks off the movement’s 2010 “season” at a resort outside of Nashville, defeats the grassroots nature underpinning the entire movement. Convention guests will pay $550 to hear Sarah Palin speak, a price that many say is afforded only by the wealthy. Some Tea Party loyalists will boycott the event as a result.
Astroturfing refers to a political or public relations campaign that is formally planned by an organization, but masks its origins to create the impression of being spontaneous, populist or grassroots. If the Tea Party movement wants to maintain its reputation as a spontaneous grassroots effort, built on the invitation to anyone who has felt alienated by current policies in Washington to join, it needs to address these concerns openly and honestly. Otherwise, the campaign will earn the reputation of astroturfing.
In a grassroots movement, transparency is especially important, as power only exists in numbers. Communication is crucial to recruiting members, and if the movement wants to do just that, it must begin to infuse an element of transparency into its future. Tea Party orchestrators must take a long hard look at where the movement is headed, and whether or not it is committed to maintaining the grassroots, bottom-up and egalitarian framework under which it first sprouted.