By Alexandra Smith
GREENSBURG, Pa. – The Southwest Pennsylvania TEA Party hosted political figure Herman Cain as a speaker during a TEA Party in April 2011, now Cain is facing serious allegations for sexual harassment.
The first local TEA Party event was held on July 4, 2009, and by 2011, TEA Party organizers said that it had grown so much that they were able to secure up and coming political figure Herman Cain to speak at an April event in Greensburg, PA.
Michele Slatt, one of Southwest Pennsylvania TEA Party’s organizers, said that she doesn’t believe the sexual harassment allegations against Cain are true.
“I believe that it is a smear campaign against Mr. Cain,” Slatt said. “The media didn’t really care about Mr. Cain until he became a front runner in the polls and I feel as if the Democrats cannot have a conservative black man run against Obama so they spread lies.”
When asked if she would want Cain to speak at another TEA Party, fellow organizer Melinda Donnelly replied, “Absolutely!”
Liberal Shadra Bruce, who helped to create the blog ethicalrevolutionist.com, has a different opinion on Cain’s recent allegations and the TEA Party movement itself.
“I believe there is merit to the allegations against Cain and I do not believe these women would go out of their way to make such allegations if there were not some hint of truth to them,” Bruce said in an e-mail response. “I do not believe a candidate’s private sexual life is necessarily an indication of his ability to lead, but I do believe a general disrespect for women is a dangerous quality in a leader who would be expected to protect and serve a population of whom the majority are female.”
“I believe the TEA Party movement is an insidious and dangerous shift in the conservative dialogue that gives voice to the least civilized thoughts and beliefs of the extreme right,” Bruce explained. “The TEA Party is at best, misguided; at worst, a cult-like operation hell-bent on destroying America.”
TEA Party organizers, of course, have a different opinion.
“The TEA Party is every day, hard working individuals that believe in smaller government, less spending, an individual responsibility and adhering to the constitution.” Donnelly said. “The more people learn that the TEA Party supports those principles, the more it gains momentum.”
But hosting a TEA Party isn’t as easy as it looks, according to Slatt.
“We have to find a venue, book speakers, advertise, get insurance, have a plan for traffic flow, advertise, plan public safety, and solicit donations,” said Slatt.
Donnelly said that the TEA Party raises money by collecting donations on the day of the event as well as selling merchandise and accepting private donations from individuals and small businesses.
“We sell merchandise during the event to help offset the many costs,” Donnelly explained. “We sell items like t-shirts, hats, books, and bumper stickers and all funds raised go towards covering the cost of the TEA Party.”
To choose speakers for a TEA Party, Slatt and Donnelly said they collaborate with the goal of finding someone with values that match the TEA Party’s goal.
“The goal of the Southwest Pennsylvania TEA Party is education,” Slatt said. “We try to get speakers that are relevant to the events happening at the time of the event and ones who will attract a nice size crowd.”
“Our speakers are individuals that we have either heard or heard of,” Donnelly explained. “Many of our speakers are leaders of conservative groups, for example, Eagle Forum, Pennsylvania Gun Owners, American Family Association, and people that have talk radio shows like Jeff Kuhner and Rose Tennet.”
Donnelly said that the Southwest Pennsylvania TEA Party continues to see growth, and she believes the momentum is so strong that if things don’t change in 2012, there may actually be a third party started.