I admit it. I was a skeptic during the first round of tea party protests.
I didn't think many people would come out; that the protests were a flash-in-the-pan, CNBC phenomenon pushed as part of the Ron Paul movement and lacking in broadbased support; and that the purported "attendees" on Facebook and elsewhere would be about as reliable as any other Facebook Event that didn't promise free booze. I thought when the time came, few people would show up.
Boy, was I wrong. Attendence at the Parties was impressive, with strong non-Paulite contingents. When my parents started talking about tea party protests this past Easter weekend, I realized how big the Movement had become... and how important April 15 might be, both for the movement as well as for the national agenda.
What specifically makes April 15 important?
First there is, of course, the potentially "historic" nature of the event. The initial gatherings were not centrally planned and are, in fact, ongoing; the April 15 protests will probably consolidate these earlier successes into one day. Turnout is important, and it will be interesting to see how many supporters show up that didn't attend the first time.
Second, the tea parties are reaching a point of maturity where organizers need to start crystalizing exactly what the movement wants, and how it intends to get there. Being "mad as hell" and going on an equivalent "Richhunt" isn't going to cut it. Set some goals and an agenda that jive with the libertarian principles of the protest's namesake. Tea partiers need to focus on the core, or else lose its identity to a mishmash of special interests.
It is these special interests, Right and Left, that pose the biggest threat to the movement. Contrary to what the Media Matters crowd might tell you, the tea parties are a grassroots movement that's picked up some power players along the way, and not the other way around. It's the power players that need to be watched. The Founders didn't forcefully disembark a ship full of tea because of gay marriage, abortion, God in schools, or anything beyond the right of self-determination and right to not be taxed without their interests represented, and if "sponsoring" organizations such as the American Family Association try to make "traditional values" a retrofitted part of the movement, God help us, the movement is going to devolve into a diluted, meandering ideological sideshow that does more harm than good to small-government interests. (AFA, unsurprisingly, doesn't show up at the "sponsoring" link at the "tea party" website,a testament to how decentralized this grassroots movement seems to be.)
Likewise, organizers need to keep watch for other, undesirable external groups showing up with their own message. "Nazis" have already been made a corrollary to the tea party's "angry tax payers", and you can bet that many groups are going to be trying to crash these events either as outright saboteurs or as, just simply, legitimate crazies. Hint hint. Don't let these groups, fringe, Leftist, or otherwise, get their grubby hands on the movement and event.
I hope the tea parties are a great success because the underlying principles of small government are extremely important, but I hope organizers are vigilient enough about what they've created to set a coherent agenda consistent with the movement and be prepared to repel the unwelcome visitors, Right and Left, wanting to have their say -- and in some cases, a final say -- on whether the movement will endure, or live on as an example of what could have been, but wasn't.
And remember: The smears against tea party participants and sympathizers aren't just reserved to private sector actors. The Left dost protest too much, and for good reason... the political stakes are high.