All posts by stevencheng23

Blog Post #5

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.

Road-Mapping the RBA

Research Question:

To what extent is the Tea Party a truly populist organization as opposed to a movement co-opted by corporate and industrial interests?

Thesis Moment:

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.

Road Map:

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.

Looking Ahead to the RBA


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.

Activism comes in all shapes and sizes

  1. Environmentalism: In recent history, environmental movements have grown rapidly in numbers and membership as climate change becomes an increasingly worrying issue. These groups have consistently lobbied against actions that would potentially disturb the environment, e.g., Dakota Access Pipeline, Keystone Pipeline, and deforestation. With seemingly conflicting events such as the election of Donald Trump (whose policies and cabinet appointees in general seem to oppose environmentalism) and the Paris Agreement, environmentalist movements face a unique challenge moving forward.
  2. Black Lives Matter: Though America has gone through significant milestones regarding race relations such as the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racially charged conflicts still are commonplace in news cycles. In response to a number of African-Americans being wrongfully treated and in many cases killed, the Black Lives Matter movement arose and has since found itself embroiled in controversy due to radical methods and misunderstood messaging.
  3. Tea Party Movement: Shortly after Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the Tea Party arose as a political movement, taking its namesake from the Boston Tea Party in 1773, an event in which a few revolutionaries dumped British tea in response to Britain’s taxation without representation policy. The Tea Party initially arose in support of fiscally conservative policies and opposition of Obama’s more liberal policies, most notably the Affordable Care Act. In the 2010 midterm elections, the Tea Party proved itself to be very influential, with numerous Tea Party-backed candidates being elected into the House of Representatives and the Senate. At this time, the Tea Party was a significant force in American politics: the Republican Party seemed to be splitting into sects and large protests attracted the attention of many.

    The recent election of Donald Trump seems to suggest a repudiation of the Obama Administration’s work, as Obama’s chosen successor, Hillary Clinton, was not able to win a majority of the electoral college. Due to the divisive and controversial nature of the Trump campaign, many liberal-minded Americans are considering their options for how to prevent Trump’s vision for America from coming to fruition. One common saying calls for congressional Democrats to take a page from the “Tea Party playbook” and show the same strength of opposition to Trump that the Tea Party showed to Obama. I became interested by this saying – what exactly might one find in the “Tea Party playbook”? The calls for Democrats to mimic the Tea Party imply the success of the Tea Party in accomplishing their goals, so I am also interested in identifying exactly what goals the Tea Party movement has and what results did they obtain through their strategies. Moreover, I am interested in contextualizing the Tea Party in the myriad of activist movements. Tim Jordan defined an activist movement based off of two ideas: transgression and solidarity. Through my research, I would like to explore how these two ideas relate to the Tea Party and how the Tea Party might differ from or resemble more “traditional” activist movements.

  4. Slacktivism: On social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, billions of users are exposed to the concerns of their friends and followees. Often times, these websites are used as a megaphone to convey opinions and spread messages; many activists have done this, changing profile pictures to show solidarity with a group or posting statuses to spread awareness of an issue. Yet fundamentally, slacktivism is an indirect method as tweeting support for Standing Rock does not provide any capital that the people of Standing Rock can immediately use. Social media messaging can reach wider audiences, however, if used by celebrities and politicians. Thus, the effectiveness of social media activism is a spectrum – how effective is it really to change my profile picture?
  5. Activism on college campuses: In American history, I would most commonly hear about activism in the context of Vietnam War protests on college campuses in the 1960s. College students in this time period took up numerous other activist movements such as the civil rights movement. One possible explanation of the uprising of student activism is counterculture – a desire to “stick it to the Man.” Today, student activism remains incredibly popular. For instance, Stanford University has student organizations such as Fossil Free Stanford, Who’s Teaching Us, and Students for a Sustainable Stanford.

Tit-For-Tat: Manipulating Cultural Codes

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.