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Why I do not support the Tea Party

Last Sunday, I, along with a few thousand other people, attended the second annual 9/12 Taxpayer’s March on Washington (aka a Tea Party rally). Up until that day, the Tea Party was synonymous with one word in my mind: crazy.
While many things at the rally fit my stereotype, much of what I saw surprised me. I was particularly caught off-guard by how normal and personable most of the individuals I talked to were. No longer able to write the entire group off as clinically insane, I saw Tea Partiers as real people for the first time, and I listened carefully to what they were saying. However, I still have major problems with their political platform.

Over the past few days, I have thought critically about what it is that so drastically puts me off from the Tea Party, and I’ve boiled it down to three core things.
I believe that everyone deserves an equal chance to prosper in this life. I talked to about a dozen people who were at the Capitol in support of the rally. Every single one of them told me that the most important issue to them was reducing government spending. When I asked how we should reduce that spending, all but one told me that we should cut entitlement programs. Welfare. One middle-aged man told me that “in this country, we get what we work for.” If that were true, I might also support cutting welfare – but that is not true. Millions of people in this country work and work and work and work, yet will never make enough money to afford their basic needs because they were born into disadvantage. On the other hand, people like Brody Jenner or Paris Hilton have every imaginable worldly comfort, simply by right of birth. To me, welfare is about giving people a fair chance to achieve their potential – the most worthy cause for spending there is.

I believe in trying to understand others and find common ground. I was shocked by how much anger and hatred was directed at our current administration during the 9/12 rally. If a speaker said the names Pelosi, Obama or Reid, even just in passing, the entire crowd of thousands would erupt into a roaring chorus of boos. I saw signs depicting Pelosi getting flushed down the toilet or stomped on by a boot. Seeing the virulent attitudes attendees of the rally had toward our government served as a powerful lesson to me. Regardless of whether or not we see our politicians as successful, they are trying to do good for this country. I think I might have forgotten that truth during the Bush administration, just as the people at the 9/12 rally seem to be forgetting it now.

I believe in racial, ethnic and religious equality. The Tea Party’s principles are proclaimed as primarily economic, but around a quarter of the signs I saw had to do with race, ethnicity and religion in this country. I saw numerous signs supporting Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, which allows police officers to stop suspected illegal immigrants and ask to see documentation of legal status. One sign read “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” The maker of that sign and others like it fail to realize that opponents of SB 1070 are not so much concerned for the illegal immigrants who could face deportation as they are with the thousands of legal United States residents who might be stopped, simply because of their race. A large number of signs made reference to Muslims and the “Ground Zero Mosque.” One truly scary sign said “Build the mosque in New York and see what happens!!!” My only hope is that whoever made that sign is among a very small minority of Tea Partiers who find making such a threat acceptable.

At one point during the rally, a speaker attempted to address allegations that the Tea Party is intolerant of diversity by asking the crowd to look around and see all of the African Americans and Hispanics in attendance. Of the several thousand people I saw that day, I noticed six African Americans and one Hispanic man (a speaker at the rally). That means that, although blacks and Hispanics together make up over 60 percent of D.C.’s population, fewer than one percent of the people at the Tea Party rally were black or Hispanic. And what about all other racial and ethnic groups that were not even addressed? Clearly there is some racial disconnect that Tea Party organizers are either not seeing or choosing to ignore.

The Tea Party likes to claim that its members are the real American patriots. They assert that Tea Partiers embody the true spirit of this nation, but I know that is not accurate. This is a country where everyone should have access to the tools for success, not just those who were born with them. This country – “the world’s experiment in diversity,” as some have called it – has learned, after years of costly mistakes, to embrace plurality, not to create artificial separations along racial, ethnic and religious lines. Tea Partiers can try to say that they represent the essence of this country, but I know that Tea Party values do not come close to representing me or what this country means to me.

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