On silos and the healing power of tea

The concept of a silo is a rather simple one:  A vertical tower or a shaft dug in the ground where items of like types, usually freshly harvested grains, can be kept.  Silos are useful for storing large quantities of like products.  The millions of kernels of corn, wheat and other grains harvested on a given day are placed into a particular silo so that they are not mixed with other grains and are protected from rot, scavengers or thieves.

Silos became so synonymous with categorization that the studies of Organizational Behavior and Operations Management now use to to describe another effect:  The rationalization of an unknown element into a known category, and/or the refusal to permit elements or people out of that category even when it no longer fits.

Take a business:  Large corporations probably have a marketing, human resources, information systems and operations department.  In a business that actively silos itself, people in operations probably don’t listen to marketing when determining which projects to prioritize, while people in information systems do not talk to operations about what information is needed to get projects done with high quality and on-time.  People with marketing backgrounds might be seen as unlikely to be able to help in research and development even though they might better know the needs of customers.  As different departments establish their fiefdoms, the company suffers from lack of coordination and poor performance.

Today, we see various people trying to “silo” the Tea Party movement.  Pundits, talkers and politicians struggle to define and categorize the masses of protesters.  They label it as “AstroTurf” or assign it to “Neocons” or “Paulistas” or “Palinites” or say it is “Anti-Obama/Establishment/Government/Democrats/Republicans/Taxes/Bogeyman.”  Ron Paul supporters claim they were the foundation of the movement, as do libertarians and conservatives.  Liberals claim that the movement co-opted their message of “Change.”  Some say it is a racial backlash against the first black president, while others think it is the beginnings of a new American Revolution.  Every political hack with a gristle of brain and a scrap of shrewdness is trying to characterize, categorize and constrain the Tea Party movement to something that fits his or her own personal agenda.

The pundits, politicos, pushers and panderers are perplexed to parse the parties precisely.  The Tea Party movement deftly defies definition.  It is not enough to simply say that people are mad at government or at politicians or about taxes.  Mad for government doing what?  Which politicians, Democrats or Republicans?  Whose taxes and why?  These questions cannot be answered, because for every individual member of the Tea Party movement, the answers vary.

That, more than anything, is what confounds politicians and pundits and causes them to fear the Tea Parties so much:  The politics of the past century have largely been a “Conservative vs. Liberal” one-size-fits-all, easy to classify struggle.  Rather than recognizing the wide array of beliefs and ideals among Americans, politicians have worked hard to convince us that Conservatives believe “A” and Liberals believe “B.”  Since enough people who self-categorize into each group agree with enough of the various ideals, everybody goes along.

The Tea Parties have the power to change that.  So many people who were once content to let the bi-polar political spectrum define politics in America have suddenly become politically active that no one knows which way is “Left” or “Right” anymore, let alone up or down.  Some in the Republican Party embrace the Tea Parties; others distance themselves while still more simply co-opt the sentiment.  The Democrats have nominally accepted the idea that Americans are unhappy with the government; however instead of embracing the movement, most have denounced it or attempted to spin the sentiment into support for their positions, just like the Republicans (and the Libertarians, the Socialists and the Greens).

This is what politicians do when faced with sudden change in the political makeup of the nation:  They either demonize it or they embrace it hoping for support whether they agree with the general sentiment or not.  It is their hope that our thirty-second-soundbite media and the voter’s short attention span will give them the necessary cover once things calm down so that they can get back to business as usual.

The most consistent complaint I see among Tea Party supporters is that the Tea Party does not have a central ideology or message.  Perhaps that is a good thing.  Strong businesses often have mottoes, codes of conduct or mission statements to ensure that the leaders, employees and customers all know the values of that organization and regard it accordingly.  Goals and ideals are established for everyone to achieve and follow.  Google’s mission statement clarifies its purpose: “…[O]rganize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”  Every time Google adds a new application, product or service, it is related to this mission.

The Tea Party movement seems to be better off without such a thing.  Defining this sentiment to merely be anti-tax or anti-regulation or in favor of small government seems simply too narrow and takes away its power to effect real political change.  For years, Pepsi was driven by its mission statement to “Beat Coke.”  Then it did, and no one knew what to do next, giving Coke the opportunity to take back the lead.  Giving the Tea Parties such a single-minded mission seems just as short-sighted.

If the Tea Party establishes the movement to “lower taxes” or “end Big Government,” I fear it will lose its power before it changes anything.  It is enough, I think, that the politicians know that we, the People of the United States of America, are angry and tired of expensive, ineffective and unresponsive government.  That while we want change, change for the sake of change isn’t enough.  That we are tired of a government that seems more interested in interfering in our daily lives than in providing an environment where we can achieve for ourselves.  The politicians have to know now that simply claiming to be “conservative” or “liberal” are not enough any more.

We are watching what the politicians do, no matter their party affiliation or campaign promises.  If they discard those promises whether it is time to vote or to veto, then We The People must discard of them.  That is the power of the Tea Parties, and that is what the politicians fear.

With literary assistance from The Angel.