"It's a leaderless movement" former House majority leader Dick Armey
The Tea Party movement in the US is an open source political protest. It emerged due to a substantial loss of government legitimacy (primarily from the mishandling of the global financial crisis) and continues to percolate as legitimacy continues to drain away from the government (health care, banking reform, unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcy, deficit, etc.). Here's what open source means in this context:
- Lots of small local groups (and individuals), with a plethora of different motivations for action.
- No barriers to entry. Anybody can label themselves or their actions as part of the Tea Party.
- Lots of networked activity and cross movement communication.
- Its main value is systems disruption. It can slow political processes. It can say no (the name, "Tea Party" is derived from an act of disruptive, albeit non-violent, domestic terrorism directed at the government).
- There are lots of people trying to control it (grab the baton to lead the parade) and form it into a cohesive whole. All of these efforts will fail. Every attempt at control will be attacked and defeated by a majority of Tea Party groups/members.
- Swarms. Groups will rapidly converge on attractive protest targets (typically signaled by media coverage via stigmergy).
Traditionally, a failure by the government would result in a gain by the opposition party. However, the peculiar dynamics of the two party system in the US works against this. The two parties have converged into a single dominant party with roughly similar agendas. Further, these parties have rigged the system to prevent third party formation. As a result, there isn't a structured process to absorb this movement into the political system. Here are some potential outcomes:
- It will merely damage the political party in power, preventing any action by saying no to everything (regardless of which political party is in power). A future Republican government presiding over more loses of government legitimacy would yield movement growth and mutation.
- The Republicans will run an open source counter-insurgency against it, co-opting some of its member groups (not all) and using them to fight against the rest. The result will be dissipation through infighting which will allow the Republicans to pick up former members.
- A new plausible promise emerges that allows it to grow and morph into something else (more of an insurgency than a political protest). It's unclear if the environment is ripe for this yet. A second financial crisis or recession downdraft may afford it. Once it is ripe, all it takes is for one subgroup to demonstrate the plausible promise through action (for example: a real and not a metaphorical Tea Party).