The Tea Party Movement vs. The Civil Rights Movement

Depending on which cable news station you watch, the Tea Party Movement is the greatest grass roots movement of all time or a minority, lunatic, right wing, fringe group that is losing steam. Only time will tell.

The real truth is probably somewhere in between these two extremes.

Let's look at both theories. If it is the most powerful grass roots movement of all time, we should be able to compare it to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

There are sharp contrasts between the two. Although the Tea Party Revolution is in its infancy and its impact has yet to be realized, the Civil Rights movement changed the course of history. It was a true grass roots movement born out of a need to correct a social injustice that oppressed blacks and other minorities at that time. It led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and voting rights with greater opportunities for all minorities. The Tea Partiers fear what they interpret as out of control spending by an over-reaching government that is raising their taxes. They may have a point on the first premise, but not the second. President Obama has actually cut 95% of Americans' taxes this past year through his stimulus package.

The leader of the Civil Rights movement was the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most respected and spiritual men of the 20th century. The Tea Parties have no official leader. (One could argue that is true grass roots-ism, but it may cause the movement to be fractured or rudderless.)

The mission of the Civil Rights protests was clear: equal rights for all citizens. The Tea Party vision is vague. We know more what they are against (big government) than what they are for. From their protest signs, I see their mission as trying to stop President Obama from his programs aimed at saving this country from economic collapse. They see his agenda as socialism. The only right I see them defending is the Second Amendment right to bear arms and that is scary to me. The Civil Rights movement was essentially non-violent preaching passive resistance.

Civil Rights activists had a vision for the future: a world articulated by Martin Luther King Jr. in his "I Have a Dream" speech on August 28, 1963 in DC when he said "I have dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." It could be said that this vision led to the election of our first African American President, Barack Obama.

The Tea Party seems to be stuck in the past. In fact, they seem more like reactionaries than revolutionaries. They dress as founding fathers (who were actually true leftist revolutionaries) and have as a mantra: "we want to take our country back." My question is back from whom and back to what time: the 1770s, the 1950s or even the 1980s when Ronald Reagan was in power? The New York Times did a survey of the Tea Party and found that a majority of them were Republican white males over 45. No wonder they glorify the founding fathers who when they wrote "all men are created equal" meant white male property and slave owners.

Some say these tea baggers want to go back to the time when blacks were oppressed, women were in the kitchen, gays in the closet, and Asian and Latinos invisible. Well, I hate to break the news to you fellas, but times have changed and you can't put the genie back in the bottle.

Although, the Tea Partiers and their supporters may take issue with this, many believe it is a racist movement. It's pretty hard to deny the spitting and n-word name calling used against African American Representatives witnessed on tape when the Health Care Bill was being voted on last March, but it could be argued that those perpetrators are a small minority of fringe members. Well, the NBC TV interviewing of one African American Tea Party member at a recent tax day rally not withstanding, the majority of faces in the crowd seem to be white.

I have just a few suggestions to the Tea Party. If you want your movement to succeed, you need to be more inclusive. You have to have clearer goals and a vision for the future. You need a charismatic leader to rally around that is not part of the political establishment (Sarah Palin does not qualify as she is part of the GOP). You have to "keep your eyes on the prize", whatever the prize is for you. And if it is going backwards in time to a reality that doesn't exist anymore, I would say your movement is doomed.