FreedomWorks, the big daddy of the tea party-sponsoring organizations, is the latest to make an attempt at shedding the movement’s all-white image. The group recently announced DiverseTea, a targeted advertising and outreach campaign aimed at extending the tea party’s reach into minority communities. After a summer of attacks on the tea party (most notably from the NAACP, which accused the tea party movement of harboring racist elements — a criticism tea partiers reject out of hand), FreedomWorks is the latest to get on the diversity train.
“We do need to reach out,” FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe told me at a meeting sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor Monday. Kibbe said the new initiative will “build a platform” for tea party leaders from across the spectrum, including “African Americans, Jews, Hispanics,” and others. Kibbe said that though it’s important the group reach out, the talk of diversifying the tea party is more about changing the perception of the movement rather than the reality.
“There is this nagging perception that we are not diverse, and I disagree with that,” he said. Kibbe told me after the meeting that the plethora of diverse voices on stage at rallies like Sunday’s 9/12 meeting in Washington (where a virtually all-white crowd was regaled by numerous African American and Latino speakers) was part of a concerted effort to show minorities that they’re welcome at tea party events.
[TPM SLIDESHOW: Tea Partiers Storm DC For Second (And Smaller) 9/12 Rally]
FreedomWorks chair Dick Armey — the former congressman and bombastic public face of the organization — was a bit more grumpy when it came to discussing the racial makeup of tea party crowds.
“I really get a little tired of diversity talk from liberals,” he said. Armey blames “liberal theology” for keeping diverse crowds away.
Armey said that members “of what the establishment calls the minority identification” face criticism from their friends and relatives if they attend tea party events — or even come out as a conservative at all. The fear of that reprisal is what keeps them away from the tea party rallies, he says.
“The difficulties, the harassment, the intolerance the abuse that they suffer comes from — for example, if you’re a black American at our rally, your own community, your own relatives, your own family,” Armey said. “So it is extremely difficult for black Americans to say, ‘I am a conservative’ because they get beset in the most vicious ways.”
This is a line shouted often by tea party leaders when asked about the often stunningly low turnout of anyone other than white people at their rallies. It’s liberals that scare the minorities from stepping out of line and joining the tea party, leaders say, not anything the tea party is doing.
Kibbe said his group is reaching out with speakers like the lineup at Sunday’s rally, which included impassioned speeches from Hispanic and African American tea party leaders that seemed to be well received by the crowd. He said that with a continued focus on speakers like that, minority attendance will grow. “It takes time,” he told me.
Strangely enough, the outreach program announced by Kibbe Monday also included reaching out to Jews, which Kibbe said was prompted by NAACP accusations that tea partiers are anti-Semitic. It’s worth noting that while I saw nothing overtly anti-Semitic at the events Sunday, there wasn’t much non-Christian prayer at the opening rally, at least that I could detect.
Politico reports on the Jewish outreach plans, which will feature Jewish tea party leader Ryan Hecker, the man behind the tea party’s Contract From America. Hecker will appear in print ads in Jewish-leaning publications promoting the movement’s tolerance of other faiths:
Hecker seldom speaks of his religion at tea party events, but he said “it’s definitely a part of who I am.”
He said he was happy to do the ads because “for me, it was to make a statement that the tea party is not just a one-religion movement — it’s not just a Christian movement. It’s about fiscal issues, not about religion or the color of our skin.”
Though he said “there are a lot of Jews in the tea party movement,” he conceded that “a lot of Jews are traditionally Democratic and traditionally liberal. But there is definitely a contingent of conservative Jews out there, and it’s underrepresented. I think there should be a lot more conservative Jews than there are.”