Grassroots Success: The Tea Party Movement

Grassroots movements have become increasingly common due to the prevalence and utilization of social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. Of these movements, many have succeeded, some have fizzled, and others are still ongoing. In studying these movements, I’ve been particularly intrigued by the Occupy and Tea Party Movements.

In my last post I spoke about how Occupy Wall Street should be viewed as a success, and argued against the notion that the movement fizzled and faded without any real accomplishments. The eventual goal is for me to write an article directly comparing these two movements, but for now I want to speak to the success of the Tea Party Movement, and how it can serve as a model of grassroots success.

The Tea Party Movement has been very successful in that it has attained numerous, tangible victories and achieved exemplary political success. In learning about the Tea Party, I noticed three aspects of the movement that I believe can help explain its success.

  1. Dedicated social-networking sites/platforms

The Tea Party Movement, early in its lifecycle, began using the website TeaPartyCommunity.com. This website was created to “serve as a safe haven for conservatives.” It was important in that it was a place where individuals could express their sentiments to a like-minded audience, while avoiding the conflicts that might emerge from divulging their [potentially unpopular] opinions on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, where friends, family, and coworkers converge.

Although movement-specific social-networking sites/platforms might not be cost or time-effective, they serve an important purpose by allowing individuals to share their opinions with a degree of privacy. In the case of the Tea Party, it has also been effective in coordinating events and protests. TeaPartyCommunity.com and other sites like it have played an instrumental role in procuring and maintaining support for the movement and its ideologies.

2. Core Values

Another reason the Tea Party Movement has been able to achieve so many tangible goals is that it has a very clear and narrow focus. The movement’s ideologies can be summarized by three core values: individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, and a constitutionally limited government. Maintaining these values has prevented the movement from getting sidetracked, and has allowed it to focus on high-impact priorities.

In addition, the three core values help individuals easily identify if they align with the movement by clearly outlining what the movement stands for. Colin Lingle, from the Sightline Institute, best explains the importance of this; he expresses how this stripped down approach helps avoid alienating people over inevitable differences – that occur in every social movement – and instead highlights the areas where the coalition is united (the three core values).

3. Building Momentum Through Small Victories

Momentum is crucial not only for growing social movements, but also in maintaining them over time. The Tea Party was able to score some major political victories early in its history by beating incumbents and electoral favorites, in places such as Utah and South Carolina. These wins energized the movement, established its credibility, and quickly earned its supporters influence in the country’s political landscape.

By focusing on local electoral victories, the movement was able to build momentum early on. This momentum reinforced support in the movement, and compounded, leading the Tea Party to have a bona fide voice in every major election cycle since the 2010 midterms.

This momentum has brought the Tea Party to the point where it now has numerous elected officials with affiliation to the movement. In addition, Tea Party supporters have become a faction that that the Republican Party cannot afford to ignore.

Final Thoughts

The Tea Party Movement is unique in that it operates through a decentralized grassroots network, but maintains influence in traditional areas of power. The movement continues to utilize modern mediums (i.e social media and online forums) but clearly sees our traditional, political system as the best way to satisfy its mission and goals.

Whether or not you agree with the Tea Party’s values, I think it can serve as a model of grassroots success in which participatory democracy converges with our longstanding form of representative democracy. The success of this movement is exemplified by the length of time that it has maintained relevance – the movement is undeniably still relevant in 2017, roughly seven years after its inception. To achieve similar success, future grassroots movements should try to replicate three important aspects of the Tea Party: dedicated platforms, core values, and momentum.


I hope you enjoyed the post. Be sure to check out and clap my previous posts as well!

Sources:

Agarwal, Sheetal D., Michael L. Barthel, Caterina Rost, Alan Borning, W. Lance Bennett, and Courtney N. Johnson. “Grassroots Organizing in the Digital Age: Considering Values and Technology in Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.” Information, Communication & Society 17.3 (2014): 326–41. Web.

Lingle, Colin. “Five Secrets of the Tea Party’s Success.” Sightline Institute. N.p., 25 Aug. 2016. Web.

Timms, Jeremy HeimansHenry, and Rachel Botsman. “Understanding.” Harvard Business Review. N.p., 01 July 2015. Web.

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