Scrudato: Going to Tea

No doubt you’ve heard the stories. There’s a political storm is brewing, and it’s based on anger. They’ve taken over our primaries; they’ve overthrown the establishment; and they’re against civil rights.

Yes, I write about nothing other than the Tea Party.

The disdain felt for it is easy to spot. Inevitably, when the topic comes up among my friends, there are references to “those people.” It is cursed for the threat its poses to the legislative agenda and it’s refusal to be tamed. Even esteemed Yale professors, who shall go unnamed, have taken the time in class to attack the “vile” Tea Partiers.

I don’t write today, however, to debate the merits of a particular belief of the Tea Party.

Instead, I have one simple question: Who’s been to a Tea Party?

In April 2009, I attended my first Tea Party and was surprised by what I found. While one can judge the Republican or Democratic parties based on what their leaders say or what policies they espouse, the Tea Party is a decentralized movement with no single leader, no official leadership structure and no party platform. The name itself often trips people up. It’s not a political party at all. It’s a movement whose namesake is the Boston Tea Party. There is no “Tea Party” party (except in a few small towns). References to “Tea Party” candidates are inventions of the media — they are all running as Republican candidates.

Still, I wanted to be sure I wasn’t mistaken. So, with camcorder in hand, I took the train down to Washington and spent this past Sunday talking to and interviewing hundreds of Tea Partiers.

And, folks, you’ve got to get out more because the Tea Party you’re talking about isn’t the Tea Party I found.

I didn’t see a single racist sign or symbol. In fact, there were numerous African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic attendees who all attested to the Tea Party’s incredible colorblindness.

As for being the plaything of a Sarah Palin or a Glenn Beck, well, almost no one agreed with the characterization. Every person I talked to told me the Tea Party was not under the control of a single person or organization. The Republican establishment has tried to harness its energy, but its core remains wild, unpredictable and independent.

I met registered Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and everything in between. Granted, most were Republicans, but they admitted so begrudgingly. They stressed that they voted on principles first, party line second.

What do they want in a candidate? Someone of strong moral fiber who will stand for small government. The much-ridiculed Palin ticket was nowhere to be found. Only two people out of the 75 I interviewed wanted to see Sarah run in 2012. Both of them want her to be vice president.

And they’re not ignorant rubes. I met multiple doctors, educators and individuals with masters’ degrees. They are housewives, mechanics, teachers, engineers, small businessmen — the same as you’d find in any political party.

They are dissatisfied, but they are not disgruntled. They are agitated but not angry.

Their stories are the stories of the middle class. While they cared for their families and struggled to do their part in society, noisy activists with fewer responsibilities and a different vision worked to change the system they knew.

So, you’ve got it all wrong. Worse, you’ve never taken the time to check your facts.

You don’t have to agree with the Tea Party, but you ought to at least find out what it’s about.

After all, isn’t ascribing unflattering characteristics to a group of people on the basis of their membership the sort of stereotyping we are so afraid of in other areas? Who would sit idly by as someone said, “Oh, I’ve heard Mexicans are undereducated and ignorant”? No one would — it’s false and morally reprehensible. So too, to assign a stereotype to an entire movement based upon a few unflattering individuals covered in the media. “Tea-bagger” is no more appropriate than taboo ethnic slurs.

Are there some racist Tea Partiers? Inevitably. Are there some misinformed Tea Partiers? Certainly. Does that mean we can tar them all with the same brush? Heck no.

Understanding is the foundation of civility. If you can’t love your neighbor, at least take the time to figure out why.

John Scrudato is a senior in Morse College and a former staff columnist for the News.

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