“Tea Party at critical stage” (Part 1)

Late July can be an odd time in an election year. A lot of things appear to be on hold, although with the bigger campaigns the decisions being made behind the scenes are as important as ever. The fundraising never stops, of course, and then as August gives way to Labor Day it is game on.

This year, 2010, is the first election year for all those new tea party and 9/12 Project activists and so many of them are experiencing the mid-summer strangeness for the first time. Glenn Beck’s website even had a post with the title “Tea Party at critical stage.” It might be – but it’s also no time to panic.

Beck himself lost his composure a bit last week on his TV show when he tossed a stack of paper (a thousand-page-plus piece of legislation) towards the camera. He had been expressing exasperation at the fact that more Americans aren’t furious at what’s happening in Washington, D.C., and that they’re not protesting in the streets as a result.

With headlines like this – “Uncle Sam has worse woes than Greece” – it’s hard to argue with Beck. (Click on it and read the article – it is incredible. Not the kind of hope and change a lot of people were expecting for sure.)

In Beck’s discussion of the “critical stage” he wrote about what one researcher termed “The Eight Stages of Social Movement Success.” Here are the stages:

Stage One: Critical social program or problem exists. Power holders support the problem. Public is unaware of the problem.

Stage Two: Prove failure of official institutions. Many new local opposition groups use official channels, courts, government, offices, commissions, hearings, prove that they don’t work. They become experts and they do research.

Stage Three: Ripening conditions. Recognition of problem and victims grow. Active local groups form.

Stage Four: The trigger event. Dramatic nonviolent actions, campaigns. Actions show public that conditions and policies violate widely held values. Actions repeat around the country. New social movement rapidly takes off.

Stage Five: Perception of failure. See goals unachieved. See power holders unchanged. See numbers down at demonstrations. Despair, hopelessness, burnout, dropout. Seems movement is ended.

Beck writes:

Then it goes on from there, 6, 7 and 8, where you win. But the critical step is Step 5, perception of failure. And if you don’t make it past Step 5 and this is where he says everything always falls apart because people perceive that they haven’t [achieved enough progress].

People tire of the rallies and meetings and protests. Questions arise: What difference does it make? “We raised our voices and they passed health care anyway.” An accumulation of frustrations easily builds up in politics that cause a person to get sick of the mess and decide activism isn’t worth it. They walk back to their old life or are sorely tempted to.

What kind of frustrations? Odd personalities dominate politics. Petty power plays.  Ridiculous turf battles flare up. Nasty emails circulate. Other more legitimate problems arise. Time demands get to be too much. Or the common difficulty of raising the funds to cover necessary expenses. All of these things are disincentives for continuing the fight.

Up next: Part 2.