The Boston Tea Party, 1846 Nathan Currier depiction
The 1773 incident now known as the Boston Tea Party was a truly spontaneous demonstration of immediate anger. It stemmed from the imposition of a royal tax on the tea, and was the result of a situation specific to Boston. Taxable tea was arriving from Britain in all 13 American colonies, but in the other 12 colonies protesters sent the tea on a return trip with their visible protests alone. It was a less simple matter in Boston, where the governor of Massachusetts had an insider business arrangement with the providers (two of them were his sons). And so a standoff. A meeting to consider options was called by the rabble-rouser Sam Adams, and in the midst of it some of the fed-up simply stalked out and (there are differing reports over how many were actually dressed as Indians) boarded the ship and tossed the tea into the harbor.
Some contrast with what's happening in terms of current "tea parties," aimed as criticism of the Obama Administration's financial policies, is worth a note. A string of tea party events are scheduled - for the 15th, of course - in Idaho (Boise, Coeur d'Alene, Council, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Priest River, Rexburg and Twin Falls), in Oregon (Astoria, Beaverton, Bend, Coos Bay, Corvallis, The Dalles, Enterprise, Springfield, Forest Grove, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, La Grande, McMinnville, Medford, Milton Freewater, Newport, Oregon City, Portland, Reedsport, Rogue Riven, Roseburg, Salem, Tillamook) and in Washington (Anacortes, Bellevue, Bellingham, Colville, Everett, Grays Harbor, Issaquah, Kennewick, Moses Lake, Mount Vernon, Oak Harbor, Okanogan, Port Orchard, Pullman, Olympia, Shelton, Tacoma, Port Angeles, Redmond, Seattle, Spokane and Yakima).
That's a lot of scheduled spontaneity.
Some of what's happening is coming out of conservative blogs and networking. But there's a good deal more going here.
The central Tax Day Tea Party web site is well equipped with Resources, Media/Press, Team Wiki, Media Wiki, Social Networking and Store functions. Someone centrally put this up and organized rapidly and at considerable cost.
It turns out to be a lobbying astroturf project of Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity. The liberal site Think Progress pointed out how
– Freedom Works staffers coordinate conference calls among protesters, contacting conservative activists to give them “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country.”
– Freedom Works staffers apparently moved to “take over” the planning of local events in Florida.
– Freedom Works provides how-to guides for delivering a “clear message” to the public and media.
– Freedom Works has several domain addresses — some of them made to look like they were set up by amateurs — to promote the protests.
– Americans for Prosperity is writing press releases and planning the events in New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states.
Freedom Works was "founded in 1984 and described as a 501c4 "grassroots organization," is chaired by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey. . . . FreedomWorks was formed in 2004 when Citizens for a Sound Economy merged with Empower America." It has worked on a number of policy matters, notably on Social Security, closely with the former Bush Administration.
There's nothing wrong with any of this - free speech is everyone's right, and everyone has the responsibility to protest government actions they disapprove of - but the parties shouldn't be described (as they are in some quarters) as an uprising from below. That would be a significant mischaracterization.
Side note: A distinction of core message. The message behind the first was, "No taxation without representation." Today, we pretty much have the "representation" part covered, which leaves the new message a tad unfocused. (The national tea party site doesn't focus on a specific message; the words on its core graphic are, "Silent Majority No More." That may give a clue as to the point and purpose.)