Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Beat the Tea Party Fundraising Challenge!

As I did in 2009, I have been planning on using my upcoming birthday as a way to raise money for a good cause. However, this year I thought up a twist that I believe makes the project especially fun and important. My plan is to raise more money for a good cause ($751) than the Tea Party Prop A opposition, from a larger number of contributers (25), and to end with a pro-transit rally with more people (30) than the tea party ever got to attend an anti-Prop A rally. This is partly just a fun way to motivate people to donate to a good cause, but I think it also can help to raise awareness of just how misguided the media coverage of this issue was. If that's all you need to know, please click here to donate to my favorite local group, Missouri Jobs with Justice. If you'd like to know more, please read on.

First of all, Missouri Jobs with Justice is an amazing group. They do not just fight against symptoms, but work to address the structural problems that lead to economic injustice in our society. They led the effort to raise the Missouri minimum wage back in 2006 and have defended it from right-wing attack in the state legislature every year since. They stopped Ward Connerly from even being able to get enough signatures to get an anti-Affirmative Action initiative on the ballot. They helped coordinate the Missouri push for health care reform. And they've trained thousands of people to organize for social change. Any money that goes to Missouri JwJ will be used strategically and thoughtfully to fight for a more just society. I should note that I'm a student/youth co-chair for Jobs with Justice, but I don't get any money from them. In fact, I spend my money to be a sustainer for the organization because I believe so much in their mission.

Second, I've detailed extensively in the last week how the St. Louis media created an anti-Proposition A narrative based entirely on their exaggeration of the influence of the St. Louis Tea Party, and then started using this artificial narrative to predict that Prop A would fail. If it weren't for the hard work of a lot of people and the power of social media, it's very likely that this media narrative could have caused Proposition A to lose.

The local media presented the tea party's John Burns as a sort of folksy hero who went "toe-to-toe" with Chesterfield Mayor John Nations, portrayed the anti-Prop A group as an active movement, and described the tea party opposition as "spirited." Yet they failed to do basic fact checking on the litany of false claims coming from John Burns and the tea party. With the exception of the Riverfront Times, they failed to discuss John Burns' history of unethical activism tactics, including his accusing Washington University of fraud and attempting to sabotage an LGBT rally (these tactics turned out to be relevant as Burns and Gina Loudon tried a similar stunt on election day). They never once used any metric to evaluate the scope or organization of the opposition, and instead took the tea party's word that this was a massive movement backed up by intelligent arguments. John Nations Op-Ed showed the shallowness and falsehood of the tea party arguments, and the massive Prop A win of 63 - 37 showed the shallowness of the tea party's "organization." Yet even now, the media is still all-too-happy to go along with the Tea Party spin of what happened.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident, but in fact is part of a pattern of the St. Louis media exaggerating Tea Party influence, failing to fact check tea party claims, and providing cover for extremist behavior. Recently, we saw the St. Louis media (with the exception of Chad Garrison and Jake Wagman) cover up the fact that the tea party burned pictures of Representative Carnahan at a anti-health care rally. They failed to report on the tea party carrying a coffin to the home of Carnahan for three days until the national media outlet Politico covered it. In fact, in almost every possible instance, they've gone out of their way to present tea party arguments to look as reasonable as possible even while the same people they're interviewing are writing absurd and inflammatory things on their blogs. They have also accepted without any critical thought or search-for-supporting-evidence exaggerated claims about the success of things like the Tea Party buycotts, and have even passed on numbers for tea party rallies that are larger than the holding capacity of the space they were held at! And all of this for a group that has openly stated their desire to put the mainstream media out of business!

So I'm asking you to get twice the bang for your buck. First of all, you can donate to a group that has a proven track record of efficiently using resources to work for a better world. Second, you can send a powerful message about the absurdity of our local media's pandering to the St. Louis Tea Party. I'm not a well-connected operative; I'm just a graduate student who's been in St. Louis a little more than four years. But I'm confident that I can raise more money from a larger group of people, and put together a larger gathering than the Tea Party prop A opposition that caused a media frenzy. We don't need to just talk about how absurd the media coverage of the tea party is: now we can prove it!

It's time to shift the narrative back to reality. Please click here to donate.

Update: found this very nice exception to my media analysis written by KMOX's Mike Kelly.

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