There is a mentality among artists which I have always found puzzling. While poor, unknown, and ineffective, they are considered “authentic.” However, as soon as they strike it big, start to make money, and meet with success, they become reviled as “sell outs.”
A similar dynamic threatens to undermine the Tea Party movement. To some among its ranks, the term “grassroots” seems to demand perpetual lowliness. Once a grassroots activist or organization begins to mature, build coalitions, and meet with success, they are suddenly “part of the problem.”
Such is the narrative of an ongoing “investigation” by Mother Jones of Tea Party Patriots, perhaps the preeminent national Tea Party organization and a favorite among grassroots groups. No doubt thrilled at the opportunity to malign an organization fundamentally opposed to their editorial positions, Mother Jones has made strange bedfellows with professed Tea Party activists formerly affiliated with Tea Party Patriots.
Lately, Tea Party Patriots (TPP) has started to resemble the Beltway lobbying operations its members have denounced…
As TPP’s leaders entrench themselves in Washington, local activists the group represents have accused them of exploiting the grassroots for their own fame and fortune while failing to deliver any meaningful political results. “Tea Party Patriots? I can’t attribute one victory to them at all,” says Laura Boatright, a former TPP regional coordinator in Southern California who has become an outspoken critic. “Where’s the success with what they’ve done with all this money? My view is that it’s just a career plan” for its national leaders—namely Jenny Beth Martin, who in 2010 was named by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and Mark Meckler, now a regular commentator on Fox News…
I have encountered Ms. Boatright before. While in the process of founding North Star Tea Party Patriots, the state coordinating organization for TPP in Minnesota, I published a post addressing the philosophical schism which led to the previous state coordinator’s resignation and our new group’s formation. The split was between what I then termed originalists and revolutionaries, and now call activists and anti-activists.
The [anti-activist] demands the movement avoid structure, saying it can only be “grassroots” if barely organized. The [activist] points out that the Constitution – framed to ensure our liberty – is structure. Some form of organization is necessary to move beyond rhetoric to meaningful action. The [activist] is thus comfortable caucusing within established parties, working with favorable candidates, building coalitions, even becoming a candidate. The [anti-activist] is skittish, reluctant to ally, and largely ineffective outside rallying discontent.
Ms. Boatright took exception, not with my characterization of these two disparate factions within the Tea Party, but with my conclusion regarding which was more effective. In keeping with the anti-activist modus operandi, Ms. Boatright did not argue so much as appeal to the sanctity of some undefined Tea Party purity.