Late to the Party

The Tea Party movement has found its way into national headlines and the North Country


Story By Adam Patterson
Photos courtesy of Nancy Foster

News images show people protesting and holding signs, some saying things like "Teabag them before they teabag us." Some people have signs that show outrage over the new health care bill. Others ask for the President's birth certificate. The protest is getting unruly, and signs comparing our president to Hitler can be seen through the masses.

The political landscape is beginning to show a Grand Canyon-sized divide. The Tea Party movement has become a highly publicized, popular protest movement among U.S. citizens. The feelings of dissent and unrest can be felt everywhere, including the North Country.

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Protesters often use humorous signs or puns during their demonstrations

It did not take long for one citizen to realize that the presence of the Tea Party movement in the North Country was negligible at best.

"I was going to go to Syracuse for a Tea Party meeting there, and I sent an E-mail around asking about the movement up here (in the North Country)," says Nancy Foster, organizer of the North Country Tea Party Patriots. "They said there was nothing around." For Foster, finding the motivation to start the chapter was that easy.

"At what point does debt to a foreign country dictate our policies to foreign countries?"

"The question emerges whether the [Tea Party] is more a negative and reactive movement of people fearful of loss of status, like the 1920s KKK and 1930s fascism, or whether it is more like the great social movements of American history that put so many broad reforms on the books," says Mildred Sanders of Cornell University. "I think it's too early to know."

The movement takes its name from the famous Boston Tea Party of U.S. history and was started in 2009 as a protest against governmental policies and, sometimes, President Obama specifically. The Tea Party movement has also been linked to conservative activist groups.

According to an New York Times' article on September 12, 2009, the largest protest against Obama that took place in Washington of that year had protesters that "numbered well into the tens of thousands," with "signs and images casting Mr. Obama in a demeaning light."

However, the protesters also took aim at the government in general, and "other signs did not focus on Mr. Obama, but rather on the government at large, promoting gun rights, tallying the national deficit, and deploring illegal immigrants living in the United States."

News media like Fox News and CNN are also at war over the movement, with typically conservative news programming like Fox embracing it, while other mainstream media outlets like CNN show their own feelings against it.

 

In an article for the Christian Science Monitor, Patrik Jonsson wrote that "online publisher Andrew Breitbart... exhorted a widely held view among those in the Tea Party movement: Liberals and media organizations 'can no longer control the narrative.'"

Even with the criticism levied at the movement nationally, the core values of the protests, having a smaller government, less taxing, and concerns over healthcare are what Foster is holding onto. "At what point does debt to a foreign country dictate our policies to foreign countries?" Foster asks. "This country can't afford the path it's on."

"What I heard is just dissatisfaction with the government in general."

Sanders points out her concerns about the Tea Party's embrace of militia groups to gain support, saying that most other social movements, like populism and women's rights in the past, had the purpose to promote peace, not a "'we own this country, and you are not really apart of it' kind of attitude," like the Tea Party.

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Tens of thousands of people rallied at Washington D.C. on 9/12/2009

However, Foster seems mostly unconcerned with the charges spelled out against the movement she belongs to, and she maintains that the Tea Party movement is very respectful and decent and is just about "people who share a common concern."

The movement has garnered so much media attention, especially from the likes of pundits Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin, that a counter-movement has been started recently over the social networking website Facebook.

The Coffee Party, a group of "voters and grass roots volunteers" according to their official website, represents an alternative to the increasingly popular Tea Party movement. However, the Tea Party movement, at least in the North Country, appears to be running unopposed.

Foster says she hasn't even heard of the Coffee Party, and, outside of what he hears in the news, Massena Town Supervisor Joe Gray says, "I don't know much about the Tea Party."

"I heard things before the whole health care thing," Gray says. "What I heard is just dissatisfaction with the government in general."

Dissatisfaction with the government in regards to how it treats its constituents was one of Foster's motives in organizing the North Country chapter of the Tea Party Patriots. "There's a total lack of respect for constituents," Foster says.

Even though the Coffee Party is not being heard in the North Country where the Tea Party is gaining ground, the Coffee Party is still taking aim at the movement, emphasizing on their website that the organization is "made up of people acting independently of political parties, of corporations, and of political lobbying networks."

They also note that they are ethnically diverse. Charges of anti-diversity are another drawback of the Tea Party movement.

As debate over the administration rages on, only time will tell whether the Tea Party will go away, but this is one party the North Country will not miss out on.

"We're just people who share a common concern," says Foster.

What do you think of the Tea Party in the North Country?

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