The Dallas Tea Party Is No Cup of Tea

May 12, 2010  

Rachel Duke
rduke@smu.edu

The cherry blossoms had not yet begun to bloom in Washington, D.C. when hundreds of people gathered outside the Capitol on a chilly day in early March, carrying signs that ranged in size, make and color. The signs were painted with big silent letters that screamed a protest against proposed healthcare reform. Some people were loudly chanting, “Kill the bill!” Others were singing patriotic songs and kneeling in prayer for their nation.

When politicians who favored the bill walked through the midst of them with cameramen in tow, hoping to stir up controversy, the crowd remained calm, focused and polite, according to Ken Emanuelson.

Emanuelson, who was at the Capitol with the other protestors, said that even though the crowd got loud and assertive, he never once felt uncomfortable about it. Despite some news outlets claiming that the Tea Party protestors were racist in some of their conduct, he claims there were no racial slurs and that all the shouts and the aggression of the crowd all pertained to the bill.

Dr. David Buice, who retired from Louisiana Tech University, and is now an adjunct professor of history at Richland College, doesn’t think that is necessarily how all the protests went down in Washington. He said that John Lewis, a black congressman from Georgia, was allegedly subjected to racial slurs when he walked from his office to the House floor to vote in favor of the passage of the bill.

“I have seen pictures of these people going to rallies with pistols on their hip and I’m thinking, my God, these people are crazy,” said Buice. “Anytime the government becomes more involved in the economy, conservatives immediately start yelling ‘socialism.’”

But the people of the Tea Party movement say they are no longer content to remain silent and sit idly. When most people hear the term “tea party,” they think of one of three things: The Boston Tea Party, elegant ladies sitting around sipping the beverage with their pinkies daintily poised, or what happened outside the Capitol in early March.

In response to the healthcare reform bill just passed by Congress, millions of Americans around the nation have banded together to form “tea parties,” to oppose what they believe to be the socialistic programs of their government and the Obama administration, in particular.

To understand the Tea Party movement, one must consider not only what Tea Parties do, but also what they believe in and are fighting for. These grassroots organizations of individuals say they are united by core values derived from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill Of Rights.

The Dallas Tea Party was started about a year ago by conservative, local Dallasite Phillip Dennis. He had never imagined himself starting a movement like this, since he had never been to, or led, a protest in his life. On February 27, 2009, three hundred people flocked to Victory Plaza for the first Dallas Tea Party and in protest of the stimulus bill, where they dunked a copy of it into an aquarium full of tea. Dennis said that they had no idea that the movement would grow legs like this. They started out with 300 people and today they have more than 15,000 members in the Dallas area alone.

“Our goal has been, since we have started this to put many more educated voters in the primary booths; that’s where you really make the change,” said Dennis. “If you end up waiting for the general election, you may end up voting for someone you didn’t want to vote for to begin with.”

According to Calvin C. Jillson, Professor and Chair in the Department of Political Science, at Southern Methodist University, movements like the current Tea Party often flare up when there are major economic crises and the citizens involved feel the threat of bankruptcy in this country and the “mortgaging” of their children’s future. Also, such movements arise when the citizenry feels the threat of big government or if they feel the government is betraying the Constitution in some way and the principles of democracy based on the founding principles of this nation.

“Economic instability such as we have had over the past couple years often brings out a concern that too much is changing too quickly,” said Jillson. “The TARP bill of late 2008, the Stimulus bill of April 2009, and the Health Reform bill recently signed into law are big, expensive, and disconcerting to many people.”

Emanuelson, a Dallas patent lawyer and a part of the steering committee for the Dallas Tea Party, describes his volunteer position with the movement as a “labor of love.” Emanuelson works alongside Dennis on the committee. He believes the American people have learned that the political parties cannot be counted on to provide principled political leadership.

“The Tea Party movement is becoming the voice of conscience in American politics,” said Emanuelson, who attended the rally on Capitol lawn in March. “They are learning that the men and women of the Tea Party movement work hard to advance principle above personality.”

He talked about the five principles of the Dallas Tea Party and how every action they take is determined under these five principles: fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, the rule of law, limited government, and national sovereignty.

While some media, Democrats and people believe that the Tea Party is merely a group of citizens organized by the Republicans, Jonathan Neerman, a Dallas lawyer and Chairman of the Dallas County Republican Party, claims the Republican Party is in no way affiliated with the Dallas Tea Party. He pointed out that while they try to work together and listen to the individual voices of the Dallas Tea Party, they are merely a non-partisan, grassroots movement.

“It’s the people that create the movement of the Tea Party,” said Neerman. “The Tea Party doesn’t create the movement of the people.”

Buice pointed out that the majority of people who participate in the Tea Party movement are Republicans. If they are not Republicans, they are right-leaning Independents. According to public opinion polls he has read, it is a right-winged movement. Buice believes the number of Democrats involved in the movement is a small minority.

“So I see it as a predominantly Republican, right-leaning, Independent movement,” he said. “Certainly it’s not something supportive of the Democratic Party, or of Democratic policies.”

The Dallas Tea Party, in order to more effectively reach its members, has formed small groups called Neighborhood Coordinator Program, each of which has a lead coordinator. Baylor University general business graduate, stay-at-home mother of two, Lorie Medina, is one such person. She volunteers 60 hours a week but feels that her sacrifice is well worth the effort.

“I wanted to be part of the solution,” Medina said. “What I love about it is that nobody told me to do this—no celebrity or politician told us what to do or what to believe.”

She wanted to be a part of the many individuals who decided they were no longer going to stand on the sidelines while their representatives in Congress do the wrong thing. The Tea Party has received national media blame and backlash, with some media outlets accusing the Tea Party movement for alleged death-threats insulting pranks directed against certain Democrat leaders. Yet, Medina says that she herself has experienced such threats and other personal ramifications from her heavy involvement with the grassroots movement.

“What they are doing is what every Socialist thug does, which is trying to deflect attention from themselves and put it on someone else who they make the ‘boogie man,’” said Dennis. “When I hear things like that from the Democrats, I always say to myself, if they tell me it’s raining, I’m going to check before I grab my umbrella.”

In response to hearing his fellow Democrats being called “Socialist thugs,” Buice voiced that it was a gross simplification and an unfair characterization. He pointed out that in the minds of the Tea Party member, if you disagree with what they are doing, you’re basically a thug.

“You can support some facets of socialistic type programs without being a Socialist, who favors the overthrow of capitalism,” said Buice. “I don’t know of anyone in the Democratic Party who favors the overthrow of capitalism.”

What impresses Emanuelson the most about the Tea Party movement is that people are willing to stand up again for their country’s founding principles, take control over their own lives as well as the direction of this nation. This is what he feels sets them apart and makes people take a second look.

“The people have known for years that things needed to change,” said Emanuelson. “The Tea Party movement has provided ordinary citizens with the vehicle to make those changes happen.”

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