Commentary by Emery McClendon, a member of the Project 21 black leadership network
WASHINGTON - As a tea party organizer and black man, I am often asked how a movement with the critical mission of saving and restoring our republic can attract minorities currently weak in numbers in tea party ranks.
The mainstream media and civil rights lobbyists have perpetuated the myth that tea partiers have racist tendencies. These untrue accusations must be countered.
Tea party activism is born out of concerns about the direction our leaders are taking this country. Excessive spending, expanded government, ever-higher taxes and government-run health care are driving concerns that are common to every American.
So the tea party began with an open invitation to all, because its base issues concern all of us, regardless of race.
The allegation that the movement against the President's agenda is based on his skin color is merely a "wedge" issue created to divide people from the tea party's limited government, pro-Constitution agenda. This racial allegation generates negative coverage for the tea party from news outlets hungry to establish controversy.
The tea parties are not picking on anyone because of color, ethnicity or race. The tea party is motivated by a conflict with the President over principles, values and beliefs. Barack Obama is viewed by tea partiers as at odds with traditional American values, our Constitution and the principles of our nation's founders.
Tea partiers seek to restore and preserve the values that made America great. They value liberty and individual freedom and assert their origin from our Creator.
Tea party opponents ignore the fact that conservative values and American principles are driving the movement. They seem to ignore what Obama believes in and his past voting record regarding values. They are the ones viewing things through the prism of race. They are understandably proud of the historical moment that saw a black man elected to the most powerful position in our land, but when Americans disagree with him on policies, as is their right, they only see a black man picked on because of his skin color. Their rush to defend him is based on emotion alone.
How can this false pretense of racial animosity be overcome so minorities might be more interested in the tea party movement?
First of all, it's a two-way street. Critics must have an open mind. We cannot move forward and tear down barriers all by ourselves.
For instance, why do so many minorities hold to traditional Biblical values and high moral standards yet refuse to recognize they share these things with tea partiers? Compare the values that have held the black community together to those espoused by Obama and his supporters.
Look at the civil rights movement. Analyze whether or not blacks have made the progress sought by its founders and whether we are still on the path they envisioned and for which they sacrificed.
It's important to note that, despite profound changes since Dr. King's time, today's black leaders are still focused on many of the same issues as 50 years ago, even as they lead people into a state of government dependency.
Instead of preaching to people to leave the welfare state and pursue the American Dream, today's leaders seem to advocate mainly for their own power and the advancement of their own political allies.
So how might the tea party provide an alternative?
One simple way is to make tea party information readily available in minority communities. Organizers should also be more open and vocal with their simple message of individual freedom to educate those who may not now equate that message with their own core values.
Minority participants already involved must seek leadership positions and be seen as role models.
At the same time, those in the tea party leadership should make an effort to interact more with minority members. This will show that a link between the movement and minority communities already exists. At present, I personally find people in the upper echelons unreachable.
Pictures of local grassroots and high profile blacks in the tea party movement with leaders such as Sarah Palin and Dick Armey would provide an opportunity to show that these leaders are willing to interact with minorities.
The tea party movement is growing, but it shouldn't overlook new ways to reach out to all Americans.
America is a great nation with an exceptional people. If we are to restore, reclaim and take back our nation for future generations, we must reach out to all people who hold to traditional American values and our founding principles and love our Constitution.