Last Saturday I spoke at the Georgia Tea Party Conference. My topic was how the Tea Party can appeal to growing demographics which have historically ignored the GOP. The takeaway was, check your privilege. The talk was extremely well-received and I am intensely hopeful and optimistic after attending this conference about the future of the Tea Party.
The conference was, I believe, the most diverse Tea Party event in the movement’s history. I have to give MAJOR props to Danny Oliver, an employee of Tea Party Patriots, his boss Jenny Beth Martin, and his “sidekick” Lyda Loudon, Danny made this event happen despite major fears of donors and party establishment that it was too radical. The funny thing is, in the end, the event wasn’t that radical at all.
Danny seems like exactly the kind of person the Tea Party needs. When he goes, he goes hard.
He gathered together an extremely diverse lineup of speakers, including speakers representing GOProud, Young Jewish Conservatives, Frederick Douglass Republicans, Green Tea Coalition, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, the Individualist Feminist, Georgia’s first female and Muslim Young Republicans Chairwoman and, of course, Ms. Sex and the State.
The funniest thing about it all is that everyone showed active interest in and the utmost respect for everyone else. The closest anyone came to fisticuffs or drama was when one speaker claimed that Sharia was incompatible with the United States Constitution and the next speaker respectfully disagreed. There was another instance where a man asked the GOProud speakers why there was a need for a gay Republican group and the speakers respectfully explained. Privately, one gentleman took issue with my use of the term “African American.”
But the overall tone of this conference, and I believe the future of the Tea Party is that America’s fiscal situation is too dire to fight over stupid stuff. Not to say social issues and demographics are stupid. I think they’re incredibly important and a big reason why, until now, the GOP and Tea Party has been ignored or derided by the majority of non-white, non-male, non- middle-class Americans. My point is and was that white, male, middle-class people must, and I think are ready to, put aside their preferences on social issues to begin attempting to appeal to the demographics which are beginning to constitute a majority of American voters.
My point is and was that this does not in any way require sacrificing small-government ideals. In fact, I believe we can appeal to single women, poor people and ethnic minorities by hewing closer to a small-government ideology. My examples of policies which both can appeal to those demographics and actually shrink government were ending the drug war, school choice, making birth control available over the counter and opposing E-Verify.
None of the proposals are panaceas and I’m sure people will be able to come up with better examples. But the other, more important part of my point is that coming up with better policies requires that we first understand the needs of those demographics.
That was the reason I talked about checking our privilege. Because we, as a mostly male, white, middle-class movement cannot know without listening what challenges face people with different identities. And until we fully understand and care about others’ needs, we can’t possibly address them.
And until we have proposals aimed specifically at helping specific people, those people are going to continue ignoring us.
I want the Tea Party to succeed because I believe economic freedom helps everyone.
The idea until now has been that we need to ignore issues of race, class and gender so we can all come together on what we agree on. I would argue that as long as we ignore those issues, the people who care about them, and could right now not care less about economic freedom, will continue to ignore us.
The people who care about issues of race, class and gender are too numerous and the situation is too dire to continue this failed approach.
I’m super stoked that the Tea Party is beginning to get this and I can’t wait to work with them more to create a freer and more prosperous America.