I was reminded this week, upon reading the vapid blatherings of Alexandria Occasional-Cortex, the freshman dunce of the House of Representatives, of an acrimonious exchange some years ago on the now-defunct Open Salon website. Ms. O-C Full Stop had opined that the Tea Party was racist, reactionary and funded by the Koch brothers. Yes, that old canard comes around yet once more. And I know that it is indeed a canard in the mouths of progressive fools because I was involved almost from the very beginning in a big-city local Tea Party chapter.
A little history to explain this:
I was contacted by a fellow blogger – also a military veteran – who had taken on the task of organizing fiscally-conservative constitutionalists. The prospect of the Obama deficit had appalled and horrified a growing number of people, who first connected through a Facebook group, and then, as the numbers grew, this fellow blogger thought of me. “Ah, ha! She was a broadcaster-Public Affairs type! She can do our news releases!” Assuming that this would involve maybe a small rally in a city park, with all of a couple of hundred people – I said yes, I would. And within a very short time, a matter of weeks – I found myself on the local Tea Party board, their official media representative, and helping to pass the hat for donations at our open meetings. Which were held in a local restaurant’s roomy back bar on Sunday afternoons, every two weeks – courtesy of the owners, who were Tea Party-sympathetic. (As were the owners of a good many local small and medium-sized businesses, as I would discover in the course of my stint.) Thanks to the interest generated by a certain member of the (then) conservative TV commentariat, the resulting rally turned out to be a huge event. And a rather jolly one, as it turned out, rather like the biggest, friendliest block party in the world. And yes – I worked the crowd, and interfaced with considerable media interest.
But the acrimonious Open Salon exchange fell along the same lines espoused by Ms. O-C Full Stop – that the various Tea Parties had been funded by an assortment of nefarious parties with deep money-bags. I argued vehemently against that, citing my own experience. No, nobody funded us, I said. We passed the hat. Our website and email subscriber list was hosted by a sympathizer for a token fee (not very much, IIRC – and my own websites are hosted for about $100 a year from a local provider.) Another volunteer created the site itself, yet another volunteer contributed some amazing artwork, yet another who had a small production business generated video and video spots for us … and so it went. Small and not so small donations of cash and kind from fellow small-government, fiscally-responsible strict constitutionalists, about which I could give chapter and verse. To no avail – the exchange finally ended by me being called stupid or a liar by my chief OS opponent, who had gotten quite hysterical at that point. Ah well – Open Salon. It had devolved into a stupid place, inhabited by the insane by the time I finally gave it the big kiss-off. Now it is no more, although the most deeply insane and stupid appear to have moved on to permanent roosts in that spittle-flecked tower of inanity which is Salon.
What I came away from this experience, and a good few others besides, is an understanding that functioning communities self-organize – from something like a massive Tea Party rally to the Cajun Navy responding to disastrous floods, to something as minor as a traffic accident where those were merely passing by turn out to rescue the trapped and render first aid and comfort until the official responders turn up. It’s not a strictly American thing, but because of our history, experiences, expectations and culture. It’s a thing in our social DNA. Communities – successful communities self-organize. It’s the dysfunctional ones which cannot – for whatever reason, mostly learned helplessness, or even an ingrained expectation that someone else will step forward and do the needful. Those are the communities which are the meat and playground of professional community organizers, and the presence of a funding money-bags, preferably one with very big money bags. Presumably that was the kind community that my Open Salon accuser was most familiar with. She just could not wrap her mind around the concept that self-organizing is a natural, spontaneous thing among a people who feel themselves to be free and in control of their lives. Discuss, as you wish, the topic of functional and dysfunctional communities, and what makes the difference between.