The campaign of President Barack Obama was about hope and change, but a growing group of Americans don’t buy his message. They call themselves the Tea Party. The Chicago chapter has created a Contract for America, which spells out their ideals and goals. It includes protecting the constitution, rejecting cap and trade, demanding a balanced budget, and repealing the health care bill. They hope to shake things up in Washington on Election Day this November.
At a meeting at Blackie’s Restaurant on May 4, around 20 Tea Partiers gathered to organize, socialize and talk about the issues. Most Tea Party members describe themselves as normal, everyday citizens who have become increasingly worried with the direction the country has taken. Almost all call themselves conservative.
“Liberals are activists. Conservatives are busy raising families and running businesses. We’re out here, though, and that shows how angry we are,” said Margaret Lindsay, 58, a former economics professor who lives in Chicago.
Group members took turns voicing their disgust with Obama’s agenda. They say they want to show that even in the president’s hometown, not everyone agrees with his policies.
Surprisingly, the Tea Party movement has its roots in Chicago. Last February, CNBC’s Rick Santelli gave his now-infamous rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange against the Obama Administration’s plan to help homeowners facing foreclosure.
“Do we really want to subsidize the losers’ mortgages?” he said. “This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?”
He suggested that he would organize a Chicago Tea Party in July, where capitalists would dump “some derivative securities into Lake Michigan.” The video was a huge hit on YouTube, and the Tea Party movement was born.
There has been extensive media coverage of this grassroots organization as it has quickly gained momentum over the past year. Many Tea Party members feel that this coverage has not been fair or accurate.
“They think we’re a bunch of stupid, racist, hillbilly extremists,” said Steve Stevlic, coordinator of the Chicago Tea Party Patriots. He joked at the recent meeting that the members had forgotten to bring their swastikas and pitchforks.
Not all of their media coverage has been negative. Many Fox News commentators have been supporters of the Tea Party, none more so than Glenn Beck. Beck is the host of his own show on Fox, in addition to a nationally syndicated radio show. A large number of Chicago Tea Party members get their information from Fox News and Beck, who is a self-proclaimed conservative.
“He’s an educator. He’s brilliant regarding history and the founding fathers,” said Jeremy Segal, a realtor and member of Chicago’s Tea Party since June. “The mainstream media isn’t reporting what’s going on,” he said, referring to CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN.
“I’ve learned so much from Glenn Beck. Stuff about General Mao, stuff he teaches on the founding fathers that they don’t teach you in school. [The Democrats], they don’t want you to know this stuff,” said Kristen Dawson, an oral hygienist who runs a 9/12 Liberty group in Wilmington, Ohio. The 9/12 Project was started by Glen Beck, and has nearly identical ideals as the Tea Party.
According to multiple Tea Party activists, being conservative and Republican is not the same thing.
“I’m a conservative,” Lindsay said. “We call the Republicans the stupid party. They have the right instincts, but no will power to fight. The left doesn’t bargain.”
Others don’t find it to be a partisan issue. “It’s not about the left or the right. It’s about saving this country!” one man said at the meeting. He declined to be named for this story.
Although the Tea Party doesn’t officially associate itself with the Republican Party, the two share many of the same principles and ideas. They both believe the free market shouldn’t be controlled or regulated.
“We should have done nothing,” said CJ Ford, 33, referring to the bailout. “If you fail, you go bankrupt. That might lead to a depression, but I’d rather have that than government tyranny.” Ford is a former investment analyst and Tea Party activist.
Republicans and Tea Partiers both think taxes should be lower. Many Tea Party groups support Republican candidates. They believe in spending for strong national defense, and not for environmental or social programs. The thing they have most in common is their opposition to President Obama.
“I knew he was a Marxist,” Ford said of the president. “Listen to his policies, his ideas. He said he wants to fundamentally change America. What? The greatest part of the American dream is that you can be rich.”
Other Tea Party activists agreed. “There is a Marxist in the White House. The leftist media, they don’t understand him,” Lindsay said. “We are not a political party; we’re a pressure group. [Obama] is governing without our consent, without the will of the people.”
Most of these self-proclaimed patriots say Ronald Reagan was the best president this century and that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the worst. They say he started the path to socialism that this country is on with his New Deal and other social programs, including Social Security.
“Since the ’30s, the socialist left realized they wouldn’t win, so they went through and infiltrated the colleges and universities. That way they could teach the next generation [their agenda],” Lindsay said.
Many of Chicago’s Tea Party members say they want to save their country from what they see as Obama’s socialist plan. Some say they got involved when they heard about the administration’s stimulus package, others the health care bill.
Their meeting wasn’t all business, however. The group planned a cookout event this July where any “freedom loving” Americans could come eat, talk and possibly get involved.
“The best part of the Tea Party is the people,” Stevlic said.
The organization has big plans for November. Through donations, they plan to fund robo-calls to districts whose congressman voted for the health care bill. Volunteers will also be going door-to-door and informing people of their message.
This isn’t only happening in Chicago. Around the nation, hundreds of local Tea Party groups are taking action. The effects can already be seen. Last week, Tea Party activists in Utah removed Sen. Bob Bennett’s name from the ballot at a Republican convention. The reason: he wasn’t conservative enough.