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Who are the Tea Party members?

A View From the Edge

Part 1 of 2

Tea Party members were once, mostly, faithful Republican Party members. They felt, increasingly, that the way of life they had become accustomed to was under threat, economic and cultural.

They became filled with a sense of governmental injustice against fellow citizens, the loss of the U.S. manufacturing base, increased involvement in free trade spending, the loss of U.S. jobs, a dwindling sense of respect among the young and the creeping spread of everything politically correct, all of which they believed was happening without the people’s consent.

These are not trivial matters. These are passionate matters. The Tea Party members see these as survival issues, survival of their people, their country and their very way of life. And when you ask, most Tea Party members will express, with anger or sorrow, that they waited for years for someone in government to do something about this.

And when they realize that, they vocalize that unless they themselves do something about it, no Republican or Democrat is going to. There is no use waiting anymore.

Tea Party members have been dismissed alternately as neo-fascists, idiots and bigots, lunatics, poorly educated thugs or politically naïve. The problem is, the media has portrayed them as a fringe minority, irrational thinkers, people with psychological problems, and, in the end, they are portrayed as nothing like the rest of us.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When you talk to Tea Party members they come across as regular people, well connected to their local communities (not fringe members), and rather than irrational, they joined the Tea Party to pursue a clearly defined set of goals. They are, in short, focused, articulate and determined. Hardly the attributes of a lunatic fringe.

OK, there are clearly some exceptions. And you can expect those exceptions to make the news. But go beyond the sensational 2 percent of the Tea Party faithful and you will find serious, determined opposition to most of what the Democratic, Liberal, Conservative and Republican parties stand for.

More than anything, most Tea Party members are concerned about immigration. They are deeply anxious about the speed and scale of immigration and label immigration as illegal principally because they feel so-called legal immigration was, again, done without the people’s consent.

Immigration is not just about economic worries — although it is easy to pretend that is the prime objection. The real concern is about the change of the American way, that the national red, white and blue ethic is under threat. They quote birth rates of immigrants being more than “regular Americans” and because the main immigrant target is from Mexico, they lump the minority, especially Hispanic, birthrates into their argument as proof that immigrants have children faster “than we Americans” and will soon “outnumber us.”

Given that immigration is the core issue on their battlefront, the eight fruitless years under Bush pushed them over the edge. These people rebelled as only the previously faithful could. The media thought they were rebelling against Obama when, in fact, their rebellion was born under their previous hope, the Republican Party. Is it any wonder that the Republican Party is now so desperate to re-enter them into the conservative fold? As a loose cannon targeted against the left for now, given the failure of the right, the Tea Party loyalty to the Republican Party is very much in doubt.

And Tea Party members have more alienation to deal with. The more they are vilified in the press and by neighbors, previous friends and employers, the more they have nothing left to fall back on — and become like the tiger against the wall, dangerous.

Often I have heard this phrase from pressured Tea Party members: Doing nothing is not an option, I am fighting for the survival of the American way. That is how they see themselves and, as you can imagine, they are made angry when critics do not simply thank them instead of questioning their motives.

Peter Riva, formerly of Amenia Union, lives in New Mexico.