Not So Different After All? The Tea Party and the Progressive Grassroots

In today’s Morning Call, Scott Kraus takes a closer look at the Lehigh Valley’s Tea Party movement. What he found probably won’t surprise anyone. The Tea Party members he interviewed voted Republican before becoming involved in the Tea Party. They are concerned about government spending. And, like this Orlando Tea Party member, they are not fans of President Obama.

One person who might have been surprised last Tuesday night was Charlie Dent, who saw Mathew Benol, a Tea Party member who ran against him the primary, garner 17% of the vote. Benol had, by all accounts, no money to speak of and little organization. Given that, his performance was remarkable.

If you follow the Tea Party locally, you’ll know that they have an active email list and regular meetings, including book clubs discussing everything from Ayn Rand to the Federalist Papers to Saul Alinsky (!) and have even started a fledgling youth group. According to Kraus, several ran for spots as Republican Party Committee persons. In short, they are building an organization that they see as both running parallel to and intersecting with the Republican party.

This model isn’t unique, of course. Progressive groups like Democracy for America pioneered the use of Meetup. Organizing for America’s (OFA) local groups continue with varying levels of activity, and have a similarly close-but-wary relationship with the official Democratic party. In Bethlehem, the very strong OFA group opted to re-name itself Organizing for a Better Bethlehem (OFFAB) in order to maintain local control and identity. And, as with the Tea Party, at least one Bethlehem OFFAB leader ran for and won a slot as a Democratic Committee person in Lehigh County this year.

Both groups also struggle with questions of endorsements and which issues should take precedence given the limited capacity any grassroots group has for organizing.

Only time will tell if the passion and commitment of the local Tea Party and OFA movements will continue, and whether that passion will yield more primary challengers or coalesce behind establishment Republican and Democratic leaders.

Our Constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly have created a nation in which these two groups offering such different views of the world can use the same advocacy and organizing tools toward their goals. Both groups would probably agree that this is a very good thing.


  1. Did a quick google search on Organizing for a Better Bethlehem and it appears to be a chapter of Obama's Organizing For America.

    If the local Tea Party became an arm of a politician's organization it certainly wouldn't have the same membership it has today.

  2. Anonymous says:


    V. LENIN

  3. Anonymous says:

    wayne, if you read what hillary wrote, organizing for a better bethlehem is its own group that sometimes works with organizing for america when they have the same agenda. just like most/all tea party groups work directly in concert with organizations like freedom works.

  4. I'm puzzled, came home from work and did a little more googling on OFA.

    From their website:

    "Organizing for America, the successor organization to Obama for America…"

    And there's the Obama campaign logo and a prominent link to the Democrat party website.

    I wish for the author to explain how she can compare the two organizations as she has done. One is simply the president's campaign in (barely) different clothes the other is a hodge podge of grassroots alliances that has a genuine "struggle over questions of endorsement."

  5. OK, just read Anon's post after I posted mine. Is there a local website/blog?

    Here is the local Tea Party blog

  6. Donna Rovito says:

    Wayne's on target – most of the "for America" titled groups are outgrowths of the Obama presidential campaign. Many of them are operated by the Democratic National Committee, such as "Doctors for America," which is basically the Doctors for Obama campaign coalition, dressed up in white coats from the White House custume department and deployed in the Rose Garden or whenever the President needed to pretend that doctors supported his health care takeover….

  7. Anonymous says:

    organizing for a better bethlehem was an outgrowth of the obama campaign. but they are a grassroots group that is led by an all-volunteer steering committee and, like i said, only coordinates with the DNC/OFA when their agendas match up. no website, sorry.

  8. Yes, the only local link I could find was a notice on the LVDC for last Sunday's meeting. I don't think you'll find our meetings advertised on any website with an elephant on it 🙂

    And the Tea Party's are certainly not an outgrowth of any politician's campaign… more like an outgrowth from the disgust with with both parties. So we're pretty different in those respects.

    On a brighter note… I look forward to the day when we can all cooperate together on some venture.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Wayne, be realistic. The tea party people are as much a part of the republican party as hating people different than you and taking money from kids education to hand it to businesses.

    The Republican party paid for the tea party convention in Philly a few months back. Kind of hard to explain that one away huh?

  10. I'm very "realistic"… I don't buy into that hate game. I realize that different people have differing philosophies and ways of reaching their goals. A charge of "hating people different than you" onto a large group of people that you do not know is more a reflection on the person making it than the target.

    As for the Republican's Philly Tea Party paying for their event, you're welcome to produce the evidence… Then maybe you can say," Kind of hard to explain that one away huh?" We are not the Philly Tea Party but the Lehigh Valley one. They do things differently than us. I can only speak for what I see and experience at ours. If you would bother to check us out you would see that there's not much "Republican love" there!

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