Steve G.

A brief history of the Boston Tea Party, part one

In Politics on June 6, 2008 at 8:19 pm

Since the Boston Tea Party seems to be coming back to life (and into the internal conflicts that tend to characterize third parties), and apropos of recent discussions with GE, now seems like a nice time to briefly reprise the party’s existence from the perspective of its erstwhile founder. I’m going to do so as a self-administered Q&A.

Q: What’s with the name?

I don’t remember when I first came up with the name “Boston Tea Party,” but it was one of those “wow, that sounds like a really good name for … well, something” moments, and I registered the domain name not long after (a whois search shows that date as May 3rd, 2006).

At that point, I wasn’t thinking of using it to describe a “real” political party. My first thought was that it would be interesting to set up a web-based advocacy site and maybe even make a few bucks — people who were pissed off at their congresscritter would be able to drop in and pay a small fee to have a teabag, with their complaint printed on the tag, mailed to said politician.

Q: OK, well, things changed. What things were they, and how did they change?

It’s no secret that what prompted me to launch the BTP as an organization rather than as a project was the Libertarian Party’s 2006 national convention in Portland, Oregon. However, the details are probably a little more … detailed … than many might surmise.

There were two main problems with the Portland convention that moved me to start the organization.

The first (and the one to which the most attention was paid) was that the LP’s platform was transformed to what many, myself included, thought was its detriment. Of the previous platform’s ~60 planks, ~45 were deleted outright and others were modified. I wanted to give disappointed LP members a place to go to rethink the platform … and hopefully a place they could come back from to fight for a better one. More on that later.

The second was that participation at that LP convention had been very low — maybe half or even less than the usual number of delegates. The Libertarian National Committee had good reasons for choosing Portland as the convention’s location, but it was expensive to get to. Personally, I had attended the 2000, 2002 and 2004 conventions (and attended this year’s as well), but travel to Portland was just too rich for my blood. So, I was thinking about how the Internet could be leveraged into a mass participation political organization — an organization in which people could actively participate without blowing $900 in airfare to attend a business meeting.

One additional factor facilitated by the above problems:

While most people, including me, consider me a radical, I was actually a member of the Libertarian Reform Caucus until shortly before the Portland convention. I voluntarily left that organization because I couldn’t fully support their de facto agenda for Portland. No rancor there — just a parting of ways because I wasn’t fully invested in the caucus agenda.

Pursuant to my own ideas on how one might create a “big tent” party which could accommodate both “moderate lessarchists” and “radical libertarians,” I wanted a test lab for some stuff I’d been working on — specifically, The World’s Smallest Political Platform and the notion of a separate platform/program structure. The Portland fiasco represented an opportunity to create exactly such a test lab.

Q: Digression — so how did the “party” in “Boston Tea Party” become operative?

That was the members’ decision. The BTP could have re-merged into the LP as an internal caucus, and indeed I introduced a resolution that it do so at the organizational convention. That resolution was defeated by a vote of about 80%-20%.

Even then, it wasn’t until the last couple of months that it became apparent that the BTP would attempt to actually run candidates for public office. I guess we’ll see how that goes.

Q: OK, back to the main narrative. You founded this organization, set up an exceedingly ugly web site for it, and began to promote it. What came next?

I wanted to see what this thing would do, and how well it would do at it. And I wanted it to accomplish something of at least trivial interest. So, acting as “interim chair,” I scheduled an organizational convention for August of 2006, to be held entirely online. To the best of my knowledge, no organization posturing itself as a political party has done a soup-to-nuts online convention before or since (the BTP will do it again this year, only in a split format — presidential and vice-presidential nominations on June 15th, other stuff in October).

By the time of the convention, we had more than 200 members. All of them were eligible to participate in the online convention. Disappointingly, only about 30 chose to do so … but the convention was held, it accomplished all of its assigned tasks, and best of all, I got to turn loose of the reins. I declined nomination for a full term as chair, although I did agree to serve on the national committee.

Q: And after that?

Well, the test of an organization is how active its members are willing to be, and the BTP seemed to have failed that test. By late 2007, the web site was dead to real activity and overrun with spam comments. Most members of the national committee had ceased responding to motions, calls for votes, etc. — the chair had resigned and we’d gone for months without even trying to replace him.

All of that is as much my fault as anyone’s, but I decided to try to fix it … and to try to walk away. I unilaterally declared the national committee moribund, collected resignations where I could and declared seats vacant when necessary, appointed a new chair (Jim Davidson) on my own doubtful authority, resigned my national committee membership and leaned back to see what would happen.

In and amongst those actions, I also tried to clean up the party’s web site of spam commenting, fake members (spambots) and such … and accidentally erased the membership database. Since registration with the web site is the membership criterion, we went from 200+ members to one in an instant. We’re back above 70 and climbing now, and I expect we may be at 100 by the June 15th nominating convention. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see 500 or more by the October program/bylaws/national committee convention.

That covers the period from late May of 2006 to the end of 2007 or so. A lot of stuff has happened with the BTP recently … but as you can see, this article is labeled “part one.” Part two may be written next month, or it may be written in November.

Now that we’re done with my self-serving Q&A, feel free to present your own questions in comments.

  1. Boston Gas Party! LOL
    How about friends in low places!

  2. From an outsider’s perspective, I think there needs to be much more technical expertise within the party if it intends to be seen as an innovative. Erasing the membership database while attempting to ease the spam problem does not inspire much confidence.

  3. Viverrid,

    I agree. However, technical expertise is an evolving thing.

    For example, I’m burning the latest backup of the database to CD right now, instead of just leaving it on my hard drive. More frequent backups, more durable storage. Lesson learned.

  4. […] Party, party founder Tom Knapp has published Part 1 of a “brief history” of the BTP at Last Free Voice. Since the Boston Tea Party seems to be coming back to life (and into the internal conflicts that […]

  5. I’ve never been big on the idea that “radical” and “reformer” are somehow polar opposites.

    I am generally referred to as a “reformer” or “pragmatist” even though I reject such labels. However, I support many of the so-called “radicals” wholeheartedly…I count Paulie Cannoli, Tom Knapp, GE Smith as friends that I’ve spent time with in person. I just made a donation (albeit small) to Tom’s Congressional campaign. Do I care that he’s more radical that I am? Absolutely not! He’s one of the best advocates for libertarianism that there is, and I’m damn proud we have people like him to represent our movement.

    It works the other way, too. In addition to being friends with Paulie, Jason and Tom, I also count Eric Dondero as a friend that I’ve hung out with in person. I’m a man of all libertarian bents!

  6. Thanks Jeff, I agree.

    I’m happy to have you as a friend, and other friends with whom I disagree on many more issues than I do with LP moderates.

    Eric is a different matter. Not because of his schizo politics; I could still be his friend despite that. His disrespecting my privacy was another matter. Given that I’ve received some, what I consider likely to be credible, death threats, I did not appreciate him repeatedly posting my full name at TPW and other places after I asked him to stop.


  7. Tom:
    There already is a Boston T. Party and his name is Kenneth Royce. He is an author with a dozen or so books to his credit and has been using the name since at least 1998. I have his book somewhere on the Y2K crisis.

  8. […] “a brief history of the Boston Tea Party, part 1,” founder Tom Knapp […]

  9. Rocketman,

    Boston T. Party is a person (I don’t have his book on the Y2K crisis, but I have inscribed copies of his novel Molon Labe! and Boston’s Gun Bible, a fine reference work).

    The Boston Tea Party is a political organization.

    Both are named for an historical event.

    I had hoped that the person would be part of the organization, but it wasn’t to be (he has different ideas, including Free State Wyoming, etc.).


  10. It’s almost Orwellian the way this website captured my name and email address for “Leave a Reply” without my doing a thing.
    I just hope there’s not a face-mounted rat cage reserved for me, as well:-)

  11. Bill,

    Last Free Voice is a WordPress.Com blog — if you’ve registered/commented at ANY WordPress.Com blog, there’s probably a cookie on your hard drive to insert your commenting information on any other blog in the same system.

    Tom Knapp

  12. […] of the Boston Tea Party, part 2 Being the second part of a self-administered Q&A session (part one here), covering the history of the Boston Tea Party from the end of 2007 to […]

  13. What is the belief of the party on the Iraq War.

  14. In the Boston Tea Party’s first program, one plank was in favor of unilateral US withdrawal from Iraq.

  15. I was right next to Sarah Palin for the event (stage right) and took some great photos. Here they are:


  16. […] Libertarianism, Small Government, Taxes, Third Parties   The Boston Tea Party was formed in 2006 by former Libertarian Party members dissatisfied with the LP’s “abdication of political […]

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