Activism

Tea Party activism, electoral success, and terrorism

Eric Cantor, as you know by now, lost a primary election to economics professor Dave Brat. Brat is, by all accounts I’ve read, “Tea Party backed.” The Tea Party isn’t a political party like we typically think, but rather a well funded social movement of sorts. Not being a party like the Democrats or Republicans, its organizational structure is rather diffuse, with a number of small, local organizations across the U.S.

In general, Tea Party organizations that identify as such promote small government and lower taxes. They don’t like ‘Obamacare’ and want it repealed. Many websites of ‘Tea Party’ groups promote strong defense of the 2nd amendment (well defense of one interpretation of it, really). Many Tea Party groups (though not all) oppose recent proposals for immigration reform that call for amnesty – forgiving entering the country illegally for immigrants who are already in the U.S. (see an old post of mine about why borders are bad – this professor won’t be getting any Tea Party backing).

The Democrats have the Donkey and the GOP the Elephant. Does the Tea Party have a symbol? Again, because the movement isn’t strongly centralized, there isn’t an official emblem. However, the Gadsden Flag, or the ‘Don’t Tread on Me Flag’ commonly appears at Tea Party rallies and on web pages, etc. Fox News ran a story last winter about the popularity of ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ license plates in Virginia demonstrating the strength of the Tea Party movement. It’s not unreasonable, it seems, to give the Tea Party the rattle snake.

Brat does seem to walk the Tea Party line. A look at his issue positions shows he wants to defund Obamacare, wants a balanced budget amendment, wants to ‘secure the borders’ and rejects amnesty, and calls himself a strong supporter of gun rights. He told Fox News (I think Sean Hannity) that he was happy for Tea Party support. A web forum at ‘The Last Refuge’ was full of celebratory posts cheering the Tea Party victory, including gifs of the Gadsden Flag and hopeful calls for the end of ‘amnesty for illegals’ and calling Cantor ‘Mr. Amnesty.’ So, a quick look at responses on the internet seems to show Tea Party folks very happy about the win, Brat was thankful for Tea Party support, and the media narrative is certainly that this is an electoral win for the Tea Party. (To see the page Google search ‘last refuge, Brat wins’- I don’t want to link to it. As of 1 am June 11 the post “Update #4 – Dave Brat Wins!!!!” had 182 responses).

Is the Tea Party just an electoral force? We know the movement is diffuse and its members choose a number of ways to express their displeasure with established authority. Do we see other forms of participation in political and civil society? For example, in Las Vegas last week two terrorists shot two police officers and then draped their dead bodies in the Gadsden flag. Is this Tea Party terrorism? There is not a centralized movement to claim responsibility, and Tea Party activists will certainly deny it. However, terrorism is violence aimed at political ends, and the shooters chose a symbol of the Tea Party movement and representatives of the government as targets. It fits a Tea Party narrative.

Finally, just last week I was driving around and noticed this pair of decals on a car.

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Tea Party activism via decal?

Here we see the Statue of Liberty holding a gun on top of the outline of the United States made up of the phrase “Fuck Off We’re Full.” Never mind the engraving on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

To the contrary, the driver of this car appears to be promoting a well armed defense of America’s borders to keep out, well, anyone not already here. Again, this strikes me as activism, in the civic sphere, that nicely fits the Tea Party tenets of gun rights and secure borders, two of the points that seem to have helped Brat beat Cantor in Virginia.

So, in the last week I’d say I’ve seen Tea Party action in civic life, as terrorism, and now in electoral politics.

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Radical Catholic Activists?

Here in the Diocese of Syracuse, for the last 5 or 6 years, a fairly well organized movement of lay Catholics has emerged to express dissent from the local bishop and the wider Church. Today, this movement is mostly visible in the activities of Faithful Catholics Concerned (FCC), a group I wrote about just under a year ago. FCC’s goals include opposing the local bishop and the USCCB when they become involved in ‘partisan politics’ and are shared by Catholics across the U.S.  A few weeks ago FCC hosted a day long workshop with a keynote address by Fr. Jon Sivalon, who some Catholics certainly identify as radical. At the workshop, Fr. Sivalon quoted Thomas Merton to call for a lay-centered, ‘Vatican II’ Church.  Local activists promote what could be called a theology of community, meaning that they understand God to be active whenever ‘two or more are gathered,’ and hence they see the institutional church as secondary to the substance of being Catholic. Does this attitude about the institutional Catholic Church make them radical? (more…)

Frames of Catholic Conflict

Yesterday in Syracuse, NY, there was a homily given in protest, and a protest of the homily. The homily was given by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham to those gathered inside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and the protest was performed outside the cathedral by Faithful Catholics Concerned, a local activist group organized in opposition to the Bishop’s message. News coverage of the event can be read here and here.

The topic of the Bishop’s homily reflected the USCCB’s ‘Fortnight for Freedom.’ In response to federal health care policies requiring Catholic institutions to provide health coverage for services the Church opposes, including contraception, the Bishops have dedicated the weeks of June 21st through July 4th to “emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.” According to the USCCB, the Fortnight coincides with the liturgical celebration of several saints martyred for defending their faith “in the face of persecution by political power,” and will end with a closing mass to be given in Washington D.C. on U.S. Independence Day. A letter sent by Bishop Cunningham to parishes in the Syracuse diocese on May 23rd tells readers that the “’Fortnight for Freedom’ is in direct response to the federally imposed HHS mandate that will require most Catholic institutions to pay for employee health coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations and contraception,” and closes with the Bishop asking local parishioners to “join me and fellow Catholics as we pray for a new birth of freedom in our great land.” (more…)