A movement spreading through the American discourse right now is the Tea Party Movement: in short, it is a movement opposing “excessive government spending and taxation” (straight from the Mission Statement) Perhaps because it’s a grassroots movement, it allows a lot of space for public discourse – commenting, input, etc. – moreso than other websites. White it is a national movement that has attracted much press and support from influential (please read: loud) voices (ahem, Sarah Palin), its website’s organization is haphazard at best. Interestingly, this disorganization comes from just how much public input is allowed into the presentation. The website is weighed down with, at first glance, a Twitter feed, the option to “Fan” on Facebook, or to sign in and be a “Tea Party Member”.
Still, you have to register with the Tea Party before adding your local Tea Party Group. Local groups include “albany patriots”, “albany vikings”, “albany’s patriotic eagles”, to name a few. The website, then, does have an element of exclusivity; I would have to register with the site before adding another group (I was thinking “albany’s patriotic viking eagles”…). The necessity of membership means that anything fed into the website is pro-Tea Party. The comments on the Sound Off on the Patriot Feed (oh yes they did) page are all pro-Party, demonstrating that the public voice, on this site, is limited to the people who share the Party’s opinions. Still, while the valence is unidirectional, the strength of the agruments vary. Some comments on the feed are lightly supportive, while others are more fire and brimstone and taxes. Additionally, the only feedback option of nonusers is a thumbs-up approval button – no thumbs-downs allowed.
The participation/information combination is fed through a number of mediums: Twitter, iPod apps, blogs, and radio shows (and that’s just the tip of the Tea Party iceberg). Still, the non-user-generated aspects of the website are staggeringly limited: most of the discourse is developed from what the public has to say on the subject (let me reiterate: only in a supportive sense). The radio shows, the blogs, the YouTube videos all set a guideline for the principles of the Tea Party, but the only solid outline of what the Party’s intentions and standpoints are come in the Mission Statement. I think that is possibly what makes this website so fascinating and innovative. Aside from the one link that says, essentially, “This is our premise”, the rest of the discourse comes entirely from the public supporters. That is not to say that the website is entirely representative: the voice of the opposition is muted, but that’s fair for any website whose premise is a clear position in any direction. In essence, the users are guided by the main idea, and then the entire process of support of the ideals is laid into their hands: whether they choose to organize rallies, join local groups, tweet angrily, or passively listen to the views of others, the discourse is shaped entirely by their choices. Given the newness of the movement and the newness of the medium in which it’s developed, that is perhaps the most revolutionary outcome we can expect.