Can the Tea Party tiger be de-fanged?

On 20 October, the oldest and largest civil rights organisation in the United States, the National Organisation for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), released the report Tea Party Nationalism, now available at www.teapartynationalism.com.

 
"Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights"

Researched, written and produced by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, the 94-page report aims at changing (or enlarging) the public conversation about the Tea Party movement. If the initial reaction to the report is any indicator, that transformation may have just begun.

As noted in the October edition of Searchlight, Tea Party spokespersons like to present their organisations as solely interested in questions of fiscal policy and the power of the federal government. The report, however, found that issues of race and national identity were rife within Tea Party ranks. Since the passage of healthcare legislation last spring, in fact, some Tea Parties have increasingly fused their cause with the anti-immigrant movement. Notably, hardcore self-avowed white nationalists have joined the Tea Party movement to press further for their white power politics.

These findings generated significant support for the report. Speaking at the teleconference releasing the report were: Larry Cohen, president of the 700,000-strong union, the Communications Workers of America; Clarissa Martinez De Castro, director of immigration and national campaigns for the National Council of La Raza; Karen Narasaki, president of the Asian American Justice Center; Rev William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and a historical voice for the NAACP; and Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and executive director of the NAACP. Also presenting were representatives of the IREHR.

The multiracial, multicultural support for the report, and thus for a fuller – less simplistic –understanding of the Tea Parties, is a good sign for the future, as was the widespread interest: over 90 reporters, columnists and bloggers participated in the teleconference.

Predictably, right-wing radio talk show personalities attacked the report, as did Glenn Beck, an oversized television personality who has self-consciously supported the Tea Parties, including calling for and speaking at rallies and protests. Indeed, Beck’s voice is often heard in Tea Party circles, including his jaundiced conspiracy-besotted view of American history. Further, there are many who sneer at the Tea Parties’ middle-American political style, but have yet to grasp the danger presented by the racists, bigots and white nationalists in their ranks.

There is much to be done. The Tea Party movement is an ever-changing phenomenon. After mounting a sturdy opposition to healthcare reform, increasing numbers of Tea Partiers have become fixated on anti-immigrant issues. In addition to opposing the birthright citizenship provisions found in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, they have been building support for the terrifying crackdown on immigrants and Latinos now under way in Arizona.

Currently almost 140 candidates for elected office are running with Tea Party support. The campaigns span the United State Senate and House, governorships and other local seats. Some of them will probably lose. In Delaware, even conservative moneybags have walked away from zany Christine O’Donnell’s campaign for Senate. In Nevada, however, Tea Partiers are hoping to topple the Democratic Party Senate leader Harry Reid.

After the election, the Tea Party movement will continue to change. Significant parts of it will move closer to the Republican Party infrastructure. Some will move further away, however, as even some Tea Party Republicans will not be radical enough for parts of the rank-and-file. These sectors may move closer to the white nationalists.

The Tea Party movement is not going away, however. And anti-racists will have to work harder after the November election, just to keep the country from moving backward.

www.teapartynationalism.com

© Searchlight Magazine 2010