The Problems of Being an Organization – or Even a Movement

The various tea party factions are at each other’s throats, according to a story in Tuesday’s New York Times, suspicious of anything that suggests the establishment. Their efforts to work together on planning a convention in Nashville next month are surfacing irreconcilable conflicts and fears. (See, “Tea Party Disputes Take Toll on Convention.”)

The national director of the National Precinct Alliance, Philip Glass, announced his organization would no longer participate in the convention. American Liberty Alliance withdrew as a sponsor after its members expressed concerns about the convention’s finances being channeled through private bank accounts and its organizer being “for profit.” As for FreedomWorks, not a convention sponsor, leaders said their members, for the most part, could not afford the convention or were not interested.

Groups like Tea Party Express, which has held rallies and organized bus tours, has been accused of being related to the Republican National Committee and acting on its behalf. Tea Party Nation, begun as a social networking site year, is feuding, its founders, former sponsors and participants now trading accusations. Many are wondering who agreed to pay Sarah Palin $100,000 for her keynote address.

It doesn’t all add up into a coherent picture, and yet the reasons may not be so hard to find.

It was inevitable that differences in their interests and agendas would become more apparent over time. Easy assumptions about sharing the same basic goals were bound to fade. Moreover, planning a national event required that they raise money, establish guidelines, and make decisions, becoming more and more like the establishment organizations they set out to protest in the first place.

Their anti-authority disposition would inevitably come into conflict with the authority they needed to establish and to plan and carry out a complex event. But I also suspect that the underlying suspiciousness they share towards big government, the fears that brought them together, could not be contained once they had to set up their own organizations. They began to suspect each other.

It is an interesting and instructive example about both the need for and the difficulty of creating an organization, especially when the focus us anti-authoritarian. It is a big step from the motivation of rage to the problems of cooperation and compromise inevitable in actually carrying out any agenda. What they didn’t know they knew were the complexities of organizational life.

What started out looking like a grass-roots movement, now looks more like a sporadic set of brushfires.