04 October 2010

Wither The Tea Party? - Part I.

I went to the Baton Rouge Tea Party (BRTP) regular meeting last Thursday night after being away for a few months. And after much soul-searching, I think a painful reality needs to be acknowledged: The viability and power of the Tea Party movement long-term here in Baton Rouge, seems to be passing away.

The crowd at Thursday’s gathering was less than 50, where it once pushed 100 or more. Part of that has to do with the meetings now being held in a rather obscure location (a country club buried deep in a local subdivision with very little parking). But the other part is, well, there is nothing going on to energize the members.

With one of the most important elections of our lifetimes less than month away - the first time we as a nation can express ourselves at the ballot box over the very issues that created the Tea Party movement – the only BRTP events currently scheduled between now and 2 November are… flag-waving once a week on a street corner. A good idea but, that’s it? (Well, there is selling all those T-shirts, buttons and other BRTP paraphernalia...)

Is this the same organization that stopped a billion-dollar bond initiative? The same group who put thousands on the steps of the State Capitol? The same group whose members appeared regularly on Neil Cavuto and Sean Hannity? Sadly, no. The fire that drove the BRTP engine seems to have left it. (As have most all the people who built that fire. Not a single person from the original leadership core that got together to rally on steps of the State Capitol in April 2009 - 18 short months ago - remains.) And if another fire isn’t built, and soon, BRTP will end - not with a bang but a whimper, buried in a pile of T-shirts and buttons.

A telling point is the recent primary election had on Saturday here in Louisiana. BRTP held several debates and candidate forums prior to it, but going forward to November’s pivotal vote, they do not seem to be involved at all. If BRTP doesn’t want to endorse candidates, fine. But at least stay in the political game somehow. There were several non-candidate State Constitutional Amendments on the ballot Saturday, as well as a parish-wide transit tax. Other than arguments about what they meant there was nothing offered. No organizing. No get out the vote. Nothing. In the School Board races, which were ripe for Tea Party members to run (one did, and won her 4-person primary outright), all that seems was done was a questionnaire sent out to the candidates. Only a few returned it – which should have been news itself, but I saw no BRTP press release. If BRTP is going to become little more than a conservative League of Women Voters, then how about a candidates debate or town hall before 2 November?

I think Josh, the new President of BRTP, and Cliff, the new Legislative Director (with whom I appear to be mistaken for online sometimes) can still save the organization. They are bright, articulate, capable, and have vision. But they are a minority within a leadership core who seems to think selling signature tote bags and waving flags is all there is to achieving political change. (Blogger’s note: I initially tossed my hat in the ring for the open VP’s slot on Thursday, but quickly withdrew it – my wife said she would kill me (once was enough), and, well, what’s the point of being in a political organization that eschews politics?)

In politics, the perception of power IS power. If you do not wield it, you loose it. The harsh reality is that an organization’s political power comes from two things - money and votes. If you are perceived as being able to influence the electorate by delivering either, politicians will listen to you. If you cannot, you have no power to influence outcomes, amnd politicians will act toward you accordingly – no matter how many people you get show up to a Metro Council meeting in red T-shirts.

I pray Josh, Cliff, and Rebecca - the apparent incoming VP - learn this lesson quickly and get BRTP back involved and back on track. Many people have turned to BRTP in the last year as a way to make their opinion known to the current political establishment, and to ignore engaging the current political establishment is to ignore making those opinions heard. You can’t change the outcome of the game if you refuse play. Or, just wave flags from the sidelines.

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