The Common Thread: A Bird’s Eye View of the TEA Party Movement

The TEA Party movement, which started for most as a small grassroots effort by disenchanted Americans to voice their disapproval with the government, is now growing to epic proportions. The movement has transcended the bounds of simply being events that people have heard about in faraway places, to events happening in almost every town on any given day. In fact, for TEA Party goers, it’s no longer a case of trying to make a single event, but how many events can you actually make. With that said, even though the growth of the TEA Party movement has expanded to the size that even “Bagdad Bob” (Saddam Hussein’s former information minister) would have to recognize, there is still much confusion as to who the people that comprise the TEA Party movement are, and what brings them together.

To properly answer this question, one must attain the high ground. That is, the best vantage point to observe the totality of the TEA Party environment. For me, this bird’s eye view came from the speaker’s platform at the 2009 Wichita, Kansas, ‘American TEA Party.’ Like a growing number of Americans today, the Wichita Kansas event was not my first “TEA Party.” However, it was my first time to speak in front of hundreds of TEA Party goers, and my first time to announce each and every guest, and meet every vendor and organization.

Coming to terms with the bird’s eye view, and the reality that it brings, is somewhat of a double edged sword. From the optimum vantage point, I can now see that there was much less uniformity among TEA Party goers than I might have initially thought.  For example, there were citizens and groups who have economic concerns that are hardly considered by people who were attending to voice their concern over abortion issues. There is certainly no uniformity of overarching policy agreement among the TEA Party crowd members, which included Blue Dog Democrats (of the “Democratic Blue Dog Coalition,” made up of “moderates” and “fiscally conservative” Democrats), conservatives, independents, and libertarians. There were the obvious cultural differences between the seniors (with their folding chairs) and the teens (that would just as soon stand). Other apparent differences within the crowd were the mothers jostling their newborns and the business men who just never seemed to remember to turn their cell phones off. The TEA Party goers were as different to one another as were their political views. I know; I walked the booths, I pressed the flesh (shook hands), and I gave and received an ear-full of agreements and disagreements on the world of politics until my throat was sore and my ears were ringing.

Yet, with all the differences that can separate the people boldly represented among the TEA Party attendees, this motley crew of contradictions stands side by side united, prepared to oppose the current government, under a common cause. What is the common factor that binds American’s together who think so differently? It is the component of “American exceptionalism” that transcends all other descriptions of why Americans are who they are: freedom. It is freedom at its basic core. Americans of all walks of life demand the freedom to decide their own future. They demand the freedom to disagree with their government – even as they demand the freedom to disagree with each other. In reality, it is the most defining, as well as beautifully stubborn, characteristic of the founding fathers that remains within the bloodlines of the greatest majority of Americans today. When a clear and present danger threatens to cut the chords of freedom from the American people, we are galvanized by an intrinsic commonality to act. This valuable point may have been lost on the European journalists who were present at the event, but it is the obvious cohesive factor that gives the TEA Party movement it’s large attendance numbers, and it’s ultimate power, by unifying a common thread among the myriad of specialized concerns found at each TEA Party – from town to town, and state to state. 

Paul A. Ibbetson is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and is currently completing his PhD. in sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of the books Living Under The Patriot Act: Educating A Society and Feeding Lions: Sharing The Conservative Philosophy In A Politically Hostile World. Paul is also the radio host of the Kansas Broadcasting Association’s 2008 and 2009 Entertainment Program of the Year, Conscience of Kansas airing on KSDB Manhattan 91.9 f.m. www.ibbetsonusa.com. For interviews or questions, please contact ibbetson91.9[email protected]