The Tea Party protest movement—peaceable grassroots demonstrations against federal government profligacy—has caught fire in recent months, and a series of demonstrations is scheduled for April 15 nationwide and around Arkansas.
Rob Richard is one of the co-chairs of the Central Arkansas Campaign for Liberty (CAC4L), which he describes as a “nonpartisan, non-sectarian grassroots movement of political activists.” He’s one of the organizers of the Arkansas Tax Day Tea Party demonstration slated for April 15 in Little Rock, and he was kind enough to answer some questions about the movement for The Arkansas Project.
How did you get interested in the Tea Party movement?
RR: It’s funny you should ask that, because I’ve always thought of the whole “Tea Party” thing to be really cliché, and to me a Tea Party—if that’s what you want to call it—is really just another protest. So, when I decided that I wanted to get a group together to protest Blanche Lincoln and Joe Biden being in town, I was unknowingly diving head first into the “Tea Party movement,” because there were others in the state with the same idea calling it exactly that, a Tea Party.
Since the Blanche Lincoln event I have found that when you say you’re having a “Tea Party” that more people are interested thanks to Glenn Beck and others in the national media, as well as bloggers like yourself, Dave Elswick and others around the state pushing the whole Tea Party movement. People hear the words “Tea Party” and all of a sudden you mean business. To me it is and always will be just another protest.
At your first Tea Party event in March, timed to coincide with Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s campaign kick-off fundraiser with Vice President Joe Biden, 200 people showed up to demonstrate. Did that turn-out surprise you?
RR: Actually it didn’t surprise me at all that 200 people showed up. What surprised me is that there were not more. The event, loosely organized, sparked a little publicity which ignited a wildfire.
If not for local and national blogs like yours, Dave Elswick, Jeannie Burlsworth and Secure Arkansas, some guy on Myspace calling himself the Arkansas Tea Party, the CAC4L and others all coming together, the event might’ve brought out less than 15 people.
Your March 14 event, though successful in terms of attendance, was ignored by much of the Little Rock media. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, for example, did not mention the fact that 200 Arkansans were demonstrating outside Lincoln’s fundraiser in their story. Why is that?
RR: Your guess is as good as mine. I read somewhere, maybe it was on your blog, that a while back a single homeless guy protested Dick Cheney with one sign and a dog and got mentioned in the Democrat-Gazette and maybe we should’ve brought a dog.
Believe you me it isn’t for lack of vigilance on our part that we weren’t mentioned—the Democrat-Gazette got no less than 2 press releases. Had a protester flown off the handle and acted rowdy, I’m sure we would’ve been profiled as a group of anarchists on the front page and not in a positive light. However, we kept it civil and didn’t even make page 6. It is what it is. Channels 4, 7, 11, and 16 all found the protest to be newsworthy and there was video footage on 4, 7, and 11.
In many ways these Tea Parties cut across the conventional political categories of left and right. What is it about these events that people are responding to?
RR: Well, I’ll put it to you like this, most Americans, and I’m talking constituents not elected representatives, do not believe the U.S. Constitution to be a party line issue. It is the elected officials who drive efforts to limit free speech, restrict gun ownership, erode state and individual sovereignty, etc.
Most Americans from all walks of life and party lines disagree with these Constitutional violations. Whether they are of the 200 who protested with us on March 14th or the millions around the United States who yell daily at their televisions and radios, write their elected officials, speak up in town hall meetings, debate with their family and friends, etc., America has had it. The same can be said about our economy. All we, the People, want is a sound economy that isn’t mangled. Opposing unaccounted for and runaway taxation and spending is in the heart of every American. It isn’t a party line issue to most.
What effect do you think these events are having?
RR: Americans are waking up to the fact that they are not alone in the fight. We all have moments when we feel down and out for whatever reason and then something happens; moments when we see something or meet someone and begin to feel hopeful again. In this moment, Americans are seeing the revolution up close with their own eyes and realizing we’re really not alone because we have friends we can stand with.
This is what is happening here with the Tea Party movement. We are coming together. Our First Amendment isn’t so radical after all.
Since you’re a veteran at organizing these events, what advice would you give to others who want to get involved, either as an organizer or a participant?
RR: If you’re trying to organize something, don’t try to do it all on your own. To be effective, you have to collaborate. Set your differences aside, and call everyone you know, starting with fellow organizers. Defer to others as necessary.
I encourage anyone in Arkansas interested in political activism to contact me. I’ll put you in touch with fellow organizers as well as anyone I know near you who shares your views if you’re struggling to find people to work with. Contact me through the CAC4L Meetup site. This will not only get you in touch with me and Jason Young, the chairman of the CAC4L, but provide you with a base of fellow activists in Arkansas.
Whether organizing or just participating, in this movement we are all movers, shakers and producers. It’s what we do.