In the beginning, there were a few diehards, committed to raising awareness of their vision of the perceived injustices being perpetrated by an overbearing government. They believed that speaking up and taking action was the only way to draw attention to the problems they saw.
Their main weapon was to gain notice, but they needed an outlet to gain the attention. So staging rallies and protests, all under their recognized 1st Amendment right to “assembly and petition” their government, was at first small. But as time marched on, so did their numbers and strength.
This scenario sounds like the current campaign tactics of the “Moral Monday” initiative, sponsored by a growing network of left-leaning groups in North Carolina. But these same dynamics came about in early 2009, when small groups of individuals, spurred by a CNBC financial analyst’s infamous “rant,” began the movement now known as the Tea Party.
Throughout American history, social movements have often served as outlets for the heat and passion found within the American political system. From the original Boston Tea Partiers of 1773 to the abolitionist movement, from the progressive reformists of the early 20th Century to the modern civil rights movement, the need to stimulate and motivate a group of individuals into action comes about due to changes in society, or to bring about changes in American society.
Ultimately, the political system reflects these changes, and subsequently can lead some individuals to feel “threatened” by the political system.
This was the case in the rise of 2009 Tea Party movement, which saw the Democratic control of the national government as a threat: the change from a history of white males as president (in one study, respondents holding racial resentment and dislike for Barack Obama were significantly more likely to support the Tea Party*) to the stimulus legislation, followed by the Affordable Care Act (derisively referred to as “Obamacare”). But the Tea Party movement was more than just a conservative reaction to the changing political dynamics of the nation as a result of the 2008 election.
Two scholars describe the Tea Party movement as a “combination of three intertwined forces:” that of grassroots activism fueled by angry, conservative-minded citizens; national funders who use the anger to reorient the Republican Party towards “ultra-free-market” principles; and finally, the needed mobilization by conservative media hosts.
Ultimately, scholars find what sustains the movement is that the “Tea Party people [are] in a constant state of anger and fear about the direction of the country and the doings of government officials.”
Flash forward past the 2010 Tea Party Revolution and its solidification into the GOP in 2012’s election and you hear the echo of the same concerns, except the voices are coming from the opposite end of the political spectrum.
Since the end of April, the “Moral Monday” movement that began with 17 arrests has grown in size and is now bringing in a broader coalition of citizens into the fray. And the actions have apparently gotten under Republicans’ skin, with one state senator calling the activities a “circus” and “Moron Monday.”
Descriptors of that nature are uncalled for in a society that values free speech, freedom to assembly and the freedom to petition one’s government, no matter the political persuasion the protests originate from; to debase a group, from either the left or the right, does nothing but intensify the abrasiveness of our polarized political discourse.
Interestingly, both the Tea Party movement and the “Moral Monday” gatherings share the commonalities of feeling threatened in their own right. The unfortunate aspect is they both believe it is the other side that causes that fear.
Perhaps the ultimate truth from both sides is that the only thing we have to fear is, indeed, fear itself.