The Origins of the Tea Party Express Movement

Robert Sondak

Tea, Anyone?

During the second week in April, 5,000 people met in Boston to listen to former Republican Vice Presidential candidate and Alaskan ex-Governor Sarah Palin speak. Senator John McCain’s running mate echoed to the crowd that we are the true Americans, the frustrated silent voice.

The April 12 issue of Spare Change News introduced us to the new popularist platform referred to as the Tea Party Movement. The tea party crowd echoes rhetoric that supports constitutionally-limited government fiscal responsibility and is anti-stimulus (represented in the TARP legislation), deficit, and bailout, while in support of the domestic auto industry.

How Did It All Begin?

The fire for the Tea Party Movement began in the final days of George W. Bush’s presidency. At that time, then U. S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson became the manager of the Economic Economy Stabilization Fund via the Troubles Asset Relief Program (TARP). The TARP was a fund to buy back troubled assets—including sub prime mortgages—from financial institutions to improve stability. It was the largest component of the government’s measures in 2008 to address the sub prime mortgage crisis. It allowed the Treasury Department to insure or purchase 700 billion dollars of troubled assets.

The ire of the Tea Party Movement continued under our next president, Barack Obama. In 2009, Obama created a second stimulus, namely the American Recovery Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The ARRA was an economic stimulus program that focused on Keynesian economics. Keynesianism refers to government fiscal policies that pump money into the economy, covering output gaps in consumer versus business spending. The Obama administration played a major economic role in the Great Recession by expanding domestic programs like extending unemployment benefits, food stamps, and COBRA subsidies for health insurance, as well as tax credits for new car and home buyers.

Republicans in both halls of Congress complained bitterly that funds for domestic programs should come from government revenues rather than by increasing deficit spending. Obama and Republicans battled through negotiations and before the American public. Questions concerning the government’s role in fostering economic growth by providing new jobs or expanding the GNP arose. The Federal Reserve Bank cut interest rates to zero. The flow of finances stagnated due to liquidity problems at banks and other financial institutions.

What is the Tea Party Movement?

In 2009, the second year of the Obama administration, the Tea Party Movement organized a series of events utilizing the fiscal conservatism mixed with the “tea protests” that were created by Texas Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul. Fox Business Network reported on the campaign of protesters wearing tea badges. 

According to Freedom Works, a Republican activist organization, the first organized anti-Obama protest was held in Fort Meyers, Florida in February 2009. This protest against President Obama was coined the first protest of the Tea Party. 

Kate Zernike of the New York Times reported that some within the Tea Party have credited Seattle blogger and conservative activist Keli Carender with organizing the first Tea Party protest in February 2009. Another article, written by Chris Good of The Atlantic, credited Carender as “one of the first” Tea Party organizers. What is certain is that Carender planned a February rally in the Pacific Northwest that drew 100 people. In April 2009, 1,200 people gathered in Seattle for a Tea Party protest that she organized.

Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and National Coordinator of the Tea Party Patriot referred to Carender in the February 28 edition of the New York Times as an aviator for the movement. Michelle Malkin, a conservative writer, also highlighted Carender’s protests in her blog.

The Christian Science Monitor has estimated that over half a million Americans participated in protests nationally in April 2009. The Tea Party protests were facilitated in cities from Atlanta to Craig, Colorado. Fox News featured Sean Hannity discussing some of the events on cable TV. The largest rally was in Atlanta, drawing an estimated 7,000 to 15,000 people. The Tea Party protests gathered at the White House and were later chased by the Washington D. C. police. According to a Rasmussen Poll last year, 51% of Americans looked on the protests favorably.

As the recession and the mortgage crisis deepened, the divide between Democratic and Republican ideas for solutions widened, enabling the Tea Party Movement to schedule a series of nationally coordinated protests. In Hartford, Connecticut a Tea Party rally drew 5,000 people. Between April and June 2009, protests were held nationwide in Sacramento, Dayton, Nashville, Dallas and Saint Louis, which according to Grover Norquist, President of American Tax Reform, drew a total of 200,000 people.

A number of Tea Party protests were held on July 4, 2009 to coincide with Independence Day. In mid July of last year, more protests were organized by a national group known as the Tea Party Patriots. This group denigrated Obama’s health care reform bill, derogatorily calling it “socialized medicine”.

In September, 75,000 people converged on the Capital Hill. A group of
Republican speakers led by former Texas Congressmen Dick Armey addressed the crowd. Armey became one of the new Republican voices that spoke to and worked within the Tea Part Movement. Armey became co-chair of three prominent Tea Party groups: the Tea Party Express and its two partners, Freedom Works and the Tea Party Patriots. 

The Tea Party Express organized a series of two 2009 bus tours, in August/September and October/November, traveling across America to large venues in which prominent Republicans would speak to crowds. The Tea Party Express and its partner the Tea Party Patriots paid the speakers, while local groups sponsored the space. The success of the first tour culminated in a second bus tour for 2010. Between March and April of this year, the Tea Party Express bus tour traveled from coast to coast and culminated in a nationally publicized speaking engagement featuring Sarah Palin at Boston Common.

The New Boston Tea Party

The Boston affiliate of the national conservative movement is the Greater Boston Tea Party (GBTP). The GBTP sponsored the April 14, 2010 Tea Party Express bus tour, meaning that they helped to coordinate the permits and secure the permit from Boston City Hall and other related city agencies.

It is currently unclear what exactly the GBTP is. The group had formerly advertised itself as a 501(c)3, tax-exempt nonprofit organization. However, this classification seems to have been modified, forcing the group to remove the “Donate” button from their web page. The explanation reads, “Due to the (ironically) burdensome bureaucracy of the government’s tax structure we have had to remove the Donate button until the organization’s tax status has been clarified.” In the meantime, an address to which donations can be sent is listed.

Nevertheless, the GBTP continues to market itself as an independent, nonprofit organization in the sense that it maintains a mission “to educate and advocate for the restoration and defense of public policy that promotes limited government, free markets, free speech, individual liberty and personal responsibility.”

The GBTP website is organized towards public relations, including links to Meetup, Facebook and Twitter. Twitter allows individuals to post their comments, while the Meetup site enables post individual com
ments and read organizational information at the same time. The GBTP site itself also includes an interactive blog.

Conclusions and Interpretation

The strength of a Democracy is that we allow people to discuss their political views openly, including on the internet. Compare this policy to that of countries such as China where dissent is suppressed.

Newt Gingrich has commented that the Tea Party is the new militant wing of the Republican Party. It is time for Republicans to wake up. In the 2012 presidential election, the question of whether they capture the support of the Tea Party people remains.

Robert Sondak is a Spare Change vendor and writer. Robert has a Bachelors Degree from the University of Massachusetts Boston, College of Public and Community Service (CPCS). Robert also minored in planning and advocacy.

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.