On April 15, I stood on the grass in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. alongside some of my fellow tea partiers, calling for our nation's lawmakers to listen to our pleas of reduced government spending.
The crowd was a few hundred strong, and some stood in line to speak through the megaphone one of the tea partiers had provided. Everyday American citizens waited to address the protestors and the white dome of the Congress rising above us. At one point, a handful of senators came out to stand on the steps and wave at us cheerfully. There were no newscasters, no reporters - there was no media coverage of any kind.
Across the National Mall at the foot of the Washington Monument, mics were being checked on stage and giant screens were being turned on. Eight television news trucks extended long satellite antennas towards the sky and reporters from all over the world roamed freely through the crowd of a quarter million strong. The backstage area was gated; you needed to be an invited speaker to get in and have stage access. The speakers plugged their campaigns for Congress, their blogs, their radio shows and, occasionally, Sarah Palin. This was the Tea Party that America saw, but it was not the real Tea Party.
The neoconservatives of the Republican Party have hijacked the Tea Party Movement. What started out as a genuine bipartisan grassroots movement objecting to the 2008-2009 government bailouts has turned into a vehicle for Fox News-endorsed personalities and candidates to garner votes. Having heard rumors supporting this argument and others saying that the movement is full of racists and militiamen who want President Barack Obama impeached, I decided to go down to Washington and observe the tea partiers for myself. I did not find racists or militiamen, and there was one man handing out "Impeach Obama" stickers, but on the whole I found myself surrounded by Republicans that fit party stereotypes fairly well.
A sense of disappointment overwhelmed me. I have been a tea partier since the movement started, and I attended the Rochester Tax Day Tea Party on April 15, 2009. There, I was engulfed in an atmosphere not unlike the one I found below the Capitol steps. Regular Americans from all parties met to express their displeasure over a singular issue in a positive and peaceful way. The scene that confronted me in front of the Washington Monument, however, was not a Tea Party rally at all; it seemed more akin to a Sean Hannity fan club meeting. The event lacked bipartisanship and focus.
This country does not need extreme partisanship. We don't need more "new" Tea Parties; we need more "old" Tea Parties. We need Americans to become involved in issues they find important, regardless of their party affiliation. The "us versus them" attitude pervading domestic politics causes more harm than good. When we learn to come together to reach a consensus despite our differences, then we can attain true change for the better.