Master of Science in Education student Dan Chinburg was once a full-time intern for the Democratic Committee in Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County.
“I used to be very enthusiastic about their principles, and I always respect people who are very strong-willed and who stick to their beliefs,” Chinburg said.
But last week, he led a group discussion with what he hopes will become Penn’s branch of the Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots.
According to Chinburg, on April 15 — Tax Day — he decided to found a Tea Party branch at Penn. “I realized there was a huge potential for college outreach,” Chinburg said. “As [former President Ronald] Reagan said, freedom is just one generation away.”
The Tea Party, a decentralized political movement that first appeared after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, has been featured prominently in recent news. According to Chinburg, the group has not been portrayed fairly by the media.
“It’s kind of this gradual progression,” he said, regarding the Tea Party’s portrayal in the news. “First, we were an angry mob even though no violence was ever carried out. Then we were called unintelligent. Then we were called racist on grounds I didn’t see.”
Another misperception, Chinburg said, is that the group doesn’t take stances on anything but economic issues.
“We can say, ‘look, with social issues you can go out as individuals and join whatever group, but this is our united front against excessive taxation and the encroachment of big government,’” he said.
Both Chinburg and College sophomore Cameron Mathis agree that the Tea Party is a “nonpartisan” group. In an e-mail, Mathis would not describe himself as either Republican or Democrat, but “American, concerned for our future.”
The goal of the Tea Party group at Penn is “to make young persons more aware of America’s political and governmental system,” Mathis wrote, adding that anyone can join. “The differences in liberal, conservative and moderate political philosophies are well known and noteworthy, but the commonality of ‘American Exceptionalism’ is even more so,” he wrote.
Despite the group’s inclusiveness, Penn Democrats President Emma Ellman-Golan doesn’t see a place for the Tea Party at Penn. “I think the Tea Party is made up of people who use fear tactics and have no sense of intellectualism,” Ellman-Golan said. “I don’t see why that would resonate on an Ivy League campus.”
According to Ellman-Golan, “the Tea Party is made up of people who think Obama was born in Kenya, that Democrats want to kill the Constitution and that the health care reform bill is going to kill Grandma,” even if the group will not lay claim to those ideas. “I don’t care if the idea isn’t espoused by the Tea Party, it’s still a misconception held by pretty much everyone in it,” she said.
However, Ellman-Golan also added that no free expression should be opposed. “They have every right to be here. I just think people here are too smart to fall for it,” she said.
According to Penn College Republicans President and Engineering junior Peter Terpeluk, on campus, “the more political platforms, the better.” He added that the Tea Party is “relevant and important, and there’s a clear similarity in the goals of the Republican Party.”
In recruiting for the group on Locust Walk, Chinburg was surprised to see little hostility. “I’ve only gotten two ‘no’s, one ‘hell no’ and one ‘are you serious?’” he said.
Among the issues discussed at the meeting was the attraction of more members. “We discussed different ways to reach people, and whether it was possible to reach them at all,” Chinburg said. “I think we can — through the use of logical reasoning and evidence.”