What Tea Partiers Can Learn From The Linux Movement

A lot of TV talking-heads like to point out that the tea partiers aren’t organized and hint it is some fatal flaw. (It is worth asking why liberals are giving advice to their enemy. Perhaps it makes their job easier because it gives them someone to demonize, or gives them a way to take over the movement by nominating one of their own to lead it. To be fair, maybe their hero-worship and fascistic tendencies just cause them to think everything should have a leader!) As I am also a part of the Free Software movement (which is fully compatible with the free market) comparing the goals and challenges of these two movements can be illuminating.

One interesting difference is that the free software movement needs to do a number of specific technical tasks to maximize its potential. For example, a lot of free code today is written in C and C++ which are old and kludgey programming languages, so there needs to be made a concerted effort to move code to better languages like Python. (The original tea party only needed a few hundred people to accomplish its task.)

By contrast, the tea party movement doesn’t have any complicated tasks like this, which is why the tea party movement doesn’t actually need a leader. The goal of the tea party is to elect conservatives, so the only required action takes place at the ballot box. In fact, electing conservative gives one nothing to do until election day, except figuring out who to vote for. However, it is better to have goals that give you something to do on a daily basis. Therefore, I believe the goal of the tea party movement ought to be: to get larger.

Many of us understand what is going on in our country. It is the others out there who don’t, the ignorant or unthinking masses. The good news is that based on the numbers, we are in good shape: polls show that the US is 40% conservative, 36% moderate, and 21% liberal. Linux meanwhile has just 3% marketshare, so it has both technical and significant educational work ahead of it. The tea party should use our growing size to our advantage and go out there and be missionaries for these ideas. Every one of us should be talking to the unconverted. Chat with cab drivers and friends on Facebook. If we all leave impressions on other people, it will sink in over time.

One of Linux’s challenges relates to its switching costs. Even when there is a free program that has the same features as a proprietary program someone is currently using, there are still costs to install and get familiar with the free software. The switching cost for every liberal is different, but can require reading up to 100,000 words. Therefore, it can be very helpful to buy and pass around copies of Liberty and Tyranny, Free to Choose, or another of your favorite books.

But this is only useful if we all do it. That is why I propose we make getting larger the official goal of the tea party movement. It will also thoroughly enrage the liberals who well understand mass movements, community organizing, and that today’s tea party efforts have the potential to be just as historically significant as the original.