While I was quasi-concerned that this session might turn into two hours of griping about the Tea Party without actually discussing the heart of the movement, I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. The panel did a great job and gave some much needed insight to the underlying issues which have contributed to the power of the Tea Party movement.
I couldn't help but relate to the story Laura Flanders told of feeling so far removed from the Tea Party, only to find that a relative or close friend feels their ideas might have some merit. We often get caught up in our own political circles and forget that we do have something in common with those who consider themselves members of the Tea Party. A while back I began to wonder just what it was that caused people, who I considered to be incredibly smart and rational, to join a group that I found to be the complete antithesis of these traits. What drew them to this group and why are they so intensely loyal to it?
This question was answered beautifully by Adele Stan as she simply stated: "at the root there's fear...that's the crux of it." I could not have said it better. Fear can hold a powerful grip on us. The fear of change, fear of the unknown; these can serve as powerful tools to mobilize people.
In his book, "The Culture of Fear," Barry Glassner highlights just how influential the creation of fear can be in the political realm. He discusses the ease in which a politician or organization can convince the public that something is dangerous, and then explain who is to blame for that danger. This is precisely what the powerful actors behind the Tea Party have done. They have played on the fears of the American public, and created a storyline that benefits their own interests.
For those concerned about a movement such as the Tea Party, it seems the question must become:
How can we focus not on changing people's political views, but on alleviating the fear that causes them to become so entrenched in a movement they might otherwise find reason to distance themselves from?
Laura Flanders, Adele Stan, Left Forum 2011