I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past year getting to know our community better through community events, knocking on hundreds of doors, and speaking with our area’s leaders.
One question I hear frequently since the election is, “Where is the tea party going? Is the tea party dead?” Yes. But we can learn from it.
I have been there since the beginning. As a college student in Boston, I stumbled upon the very first tea party meeting on Dec. 16, 2007. In the middle of a heavy snowstorm, a small crowd gathered in Faneiul Hall — a few short blocks away from the original Boston Tea Party — to hear then-ophthalmologist Rand Paul give a stump speech for his father, Presidential Candidate Ron Paul. The majority of attendees were also college students and only a few showed up in festive Revolutionary War garb.
Rand Paul talked about libertarian ideals. The discussion, while passionate, was fairly intellectual. There were no tea bag hats, most of the attendees were young people, and the range of topics included important government functions from foreign policy to the No Child Left Behind Act. After that, the tea party took off most prominently in 2009 when the national movement began endorsing candidates, and like a game of telephone, the movement increasingly strayed from its original priorities the more widespread it became. It became a movement of generalized anger where weekly meetings of people declaring what they feared and protests with “clever” signs were seen as more effective than change through referendums and ballot initiatives.
The movement picked up some steam in the 2010 and 2012 elections, but today?
Everything the tea party in Redding backed failed, except Measure F (sales tax for public safety), which would have likely failed even if the tea party collectively decided not to vote.
Looking at the voting results, the tea party represents less than 5 percent of Redding’s voting base, and even fewer people (80-100) attend the meetings. I hope our local leaders take note of this because it is time to stop entertaining some of the tenets of this platform (e.g. State of Jefferson, chemtrails) if we want to move forward with the business that the majority of the Redding community actually cares about.
So what can we learn from them? The Redding Tea Party Patriots and the State of Jefferson movement have accomplished two important things that the rest of us in Redding have failed to do: 1) establish an identity for the North State; and 2) create a platform of regular meetings centered around certain political and social goals.
Visit Fall River Mills or Mount Shasta and you’ll see an abundance of State of Jefferson flags and signs. Many who fly these flags have no idea how economically dead on arrival the State of Jefferson is, but they promote Jefferson proudly because it gives them a sense of identity. It is our area’s equivalent of a “Keep Tahoe Blue” bumper sticker or rooting for our favorite team.
Furthermore, the tea party meets at Destiny Fellowship Church every Monday, where its leaders and augurs of doom eagerly wager just how rapidly we are headed to hell in our various hand baskets, and all week long their local radio shows proudly launch topics “that will make your blood boil.”
Why is it that the group that is the most civically engaged is most interested in propagating fear and belittling ideas that could help our area prosper? Can you imagine how different things would be if the currently silent majority in Redding had engagement and platforms like these? We could handily establish a better community if we had a holistic picture of who we are and where we want to go; if we gathered weekly, but in a spirit of creativity; and if we flew flags, but about our coming together rather than our seceding from those who disagree with us.
Over the next six months, we will be bringing back REVIVE Redding under a new heading. We will focus on enhancing the economic vitality of our area by establishing a clear identity, and start to bring in new lifestyle assets to make Redding attractive for young professionals. We want to make Redding a place where talent wants to live. The Shasta EDC has often approached businesses on recruiting missions only to come back empty-handed due to Redding’s inability to offer a skilled labor force. By finding our own, positive version of the State of Jefferson identity, and increasing incentives for those who leave to come back, we can create the workforce that will attract the appropriate businesses and industries.
Right now, Redding’s most valuable export is highly qualified high school students. REVIVE will begin with a Redding Fellowship Program, a scholarship concept that delays the awarding of funds: instead of paying for people to go away to school, we will look for qualified college graduates and pay down their debt to come back, making it easier and more exciting for skilled, constructive individuals to contribute to their community. We could have a class of 20 to 30 people participate in this program annually, working full time on projects that help establish Redding as a dynamic and attractive economy.
There will be heavy lifting required to make this happen and this is only the beginning. I have never agreed with the politics of the Redding tea party, but they have accomplished a lot with very few resources. It is time to learn from them and move on.
*This originally appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the Redding Record Searchlight on January 17, 2015.