The Tea Party Movement is an instance of the politics of small things–much like some of the causes I have supported. In their interactions, and through its members’ commitment to their cause, a power has been genuinely created. What changes the Tea Party will cause for American politics as a whole is yet to be seen.
The Tea Party Movement is an instance of “the politics of small things”–a version on the right. I am not a supporter of the aims of this movement, as I was of the Dean and the Obama campaigns and the anti-war movement, and earlier of the democratic opposition in the former Soviet bloc.
In those instances of “the politics of small things,” I was very much both a participant and an observer. I observed how real alternatives to existing practices were developed in ways that I strongly supported, i.e. the development of the Solidarity Trade Union Movement and Democratic opposition in Poland, the emergence of Barack Obama as President of the United States. But even though I am not so involved or supportive of this new instance of the politics of small things, I recognize it for what it is. People have been meeting each other, sharing opinions, discussing strategies, coordinating tactics and becoming clearly visible to each other and to outside observers.
Power has been created in these interactions. This cannot be artificially manufactured. It would not exist unless people willingly and actively took part. The success of this depended upon active participants interacting with others and bringing themselves along. Even if there are powerful forces behind this movement( see Frank Rich’s op-ed and Mayer article), its political power is primarily generated by people acting in concert, as they took part in the Town Hall meetings of the Summer of 2009 and in many other local and statewide movements and campaigns since, and in major demonstrations, such as the one Glenn Beck organized for September 12, 2009 in Washington and now again last weekend at his “Restoring Honor Rally.”
Ordinary people through their interactions with each other, especially as these interactions become visible through various media forms, have constituted a significant force on the American political arena. They may not be in the majority. It is quite possible that the Tea Party candidates are giving the Democrats a second life, notably Harry Reid in his campaign for reelection to the Senate in Nevada. But the movement is a new and significant part of the political landscape, demanding attention, and influencing public life, confirming the power of the politics of small things.
In future posts I will analyze more details of this instance of the politics of small things: the degree to which it is or is not compromised by the powerful forces that support them, the degree to which this is an instance of the power of the powerless gone wrong, promoting ignorance, and the way that the politics of small things linked to demagogic leadership and a new form of media politics presents a clear and present danger, on the one hand, but perhaps a new opportunity for a sensible conservative social movement, on the other.