Lena’s presentation made me want to know more about the alt-right. I’m interested in politics myself (as can be seen from my topic selection of the Tea Party), but I find the alt-right to be a highly complex collection of a variety of people. The alt-right is commonly thought of as a group of uneducated bigots, but Lena exposed some less-obvious traits such as willingness to have civil discussion on Internet forums. As the alt-right is such a contemporary issue, I am eager to follow future developments on the alt-right as an activist movement seeking to enact a change in society.
Renee’s presentation was the most educational for me. As a Chinese speaker and writer myself, I understood the basis for many of the ideas that Renee discussed, but I had not previously been exposed to the actual application of Chinese linguistics to activism. Renee did a good job outlining the numerous ways in which activists can take seemingly harmless phrases like “eye field” or “grass mud horse” and use them to resist oppression. Also, I learned about the Wenzhou train incident, a very poignant example of the use of social media to counteract government censorship.
Makena’s presentation had numerous surprising aspects. I was not so shocked that greenwashing is practiced – it seemed obvious that companies would promote their image by trying to appear more environmentally friendly. What was shocking was that the exact opposite of this practice also exists. Brownwashing understates environmentally friendly developments, in an attempt to appeal to shareholders looking for profitable ventures. This revealed that the issue of corporate image is not as one-dimensional as I thought and there are a number of tactics companies use to manipulate their reputation.
Chris’s presentation on love as a force for social justice was the most inspirational for me. Though a highly abstract topic, Chris was able to draw connections to the idea of love in a variety of activist leaders and movements such as the Black Power movement, Martin Luther King Jr., and the modern Black Lives Matter movement, showing how love is used by each of these groups and proposing ways in which love could further the motives of these activists. In addition, Chris was very engaging as a speaker with attractive visuals to convey feeling and imagery.
To what extent is the Tea Party a truly populist organization as opposed to a movement co-opted by corporate and industrial interests?
Though the Tea Party is funded to a large degree by billionaires such as the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch, the Tea Party had genuine origins in populist uprising. In 2009, the conservative response to the Obama administration’s government-expanding policies was one of anger and passion; citizens were ready to take to the streets in protest. These months were a formative period for the Tea Party, defining the movement’s ideals and positions. The Tea Party made a big splash in the 2010 midterm elections, with 32% of the newly elected representatives and senators being affiliated in some manner with the Tea Party; however, I argue that the Tea Party began to split at this point as its outspoken anti-Washington candidates entered into Washington politics.
Grassroots – In the first section, I will discuss the “pure” parts of the Tea Party and its humble beginnings as a movement for the people by the people. There is quite a bit of literature on the early Tea Party as it has been roughly a decade now since the Tea Party first entered the national scene, and I hope to use these sources as examples to paint profiles of the people behind the Tea Party.
Astroturfing – In this section, I intend to focus more on the post-2010 era of the Tea Party and draw comparisons between the Tea Party and Koch brother-established political groups such as Citizens for a Sound Economy and Americans for Prosperity, drawing on information from the documentary The Billionaires’ Tea Party: How Corporate America is Faking a Grassroots Revolution. I will also attempt to analyze voting records if they are accessible enough to see if I can find splits in the Tea Party not only on ideology but also on policy.
Evaluation – For my last section, I will use this research and synthesize it into a cohesive conclusion on the Tea Party’s identity as a populist movement or as a case example of astroturfing. I don’t expect to have a totally clear-cut answer since it is likely that the Tea Party lies on a spectrum between these two poles and that its position on this spectrum is dependent on the era being analyzed, and I will address these caveats in my paper.
The most common piece of feedback I received on my written proposal was that my direction for the RBA was unclear. My proposal provided a fair amount of background information as well as detailed many aspects of the Tea Party movement, but it lacked a separate section to flesh out future directions. Hearing this feedback made me think about what particular facet of the Tea Party movement I would like to pursue further research into. To remedy this issue for my final draft, I appended a new conclusion paragraph that outlined the specific argument I intend to analyze in my RBA.
For my infographic, the feedback was different but somewhat related. Again, I received compliments for the thoroughness and organization of the work, but there were comments about how there were large blocks of text containing too much information for the viewer to process quickly. This feedback convinced me of the importance of not flooding the proposal with excessive background information and rather being more explicit about the juicy part of the proposal – the topic of the RBA.
The Tea Party movement undoubtedly has revolutionized the role that populism plays in the political arena, but were the original populist demands of the movement satisfied, or have the numerous Tea Party-backed elected officials compromised their populist roots in favor of Washington corruption? I believe that for a significant number of the representatives elected with Tea Party support, a small, exclusive club has formed to further the political agendas of wealthy interests rather than to address the demands of the common people, and I intend to conduct further research into voting records, statements, and data to analyze the validity of this hypothesis.
In Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society, Tim Jordan discusses the omnipresence of cultural codes in society and the implications of the existence of these codes. Cultural codes are meant to “persuade … to buy something or be someone” and these codes are usually “controlled by corporations and states … whose ultimate goal[s] [are] a profitable bottom line and … to manage its citizens, [respectively],” effectively allowing a select few individuals with high positions in industries and governments to control the narrative of what society’s values are (Jordan 102). Naturally, society fought back with a technique known as cultural jamming, turning these cultural codes back on their heads. For instance, Jordan describes a political culture jam: a bumper sticker displayed the text “Employ Labour Now,” but after a clever rearrangement of letters, the bumper sticker displayed the text “No Labour Ploy,” a new cultural code with the exact opposite message as it had originally (Jordan 101). After reading that anecdote, I did a mental fist-pump as common people had wrested control of the cultural code from political parties.
Unfortunately, the powerful do not intend to give up their power of persuasion so easily. Later in the same chapter, Jordan outlines a Nike advertising campaign in which Nike attempted to impersonate a culture jam. Nike had just created a new sports footwear, and to promote the supposed superiority of their product, they utilized culture jamming as a novel advertising technique. Messages such as “What next, rocket packs?” and “Fair-Minded Footy Fans say Not Fair Mr Technology” overtly appeared to be populist culture jams, but in reality, Nike was taking advantage of these phrases to promote their own product – to promote their own interests. Nike had even paid off various parties to try and increase media coverage of their product for the sake of publicity (Jordan 112-114). It was disturbing to me that corporations would go to such lengths of deception in order to preserve their sales figures. In this particular case, society ultimately won the culture jamming battle, plastering a genuine message criticizing Nike’s use of slave labor. Not every story has a happy ending though. How many corporations and governments have gotten away with the manipulation of cultural codes for their own selfish purposes? It may never be known who is winning the endless tug-of-war between society and corrupt executives, but the existence of these shadow battles to control culture is frightening.