UC Merced Connect: Book explores tea party's rise, dynamics

There’s a tendency for researchers to study only leftist movements, but a new book co-edited by UC Merced sociology professor Nella Van Dyke analyzes the tea party movement.

“We need to understand them, too. They have different dynamics,” Van Dyke said. “It appeared so suddenly and exploded onto the American political scene, it’s important for us to study.”

The book, “Understanding the Tea Party Movement,” looks at why and how the movement emerged, how it’s related to past conservative populism and asks critical questions about its fate. Recently released by Ashgate Publishing, it is one of the first academic books to explore the movement.

The tea party movement began in the United States in April 2009 as a series of tax day protests. It expanded into town hall meetings about health care reform and led to a national demonstration in September 2009 at the U.S. Capitol. Tea party candidates went on to win seats during the November 2010 election, though President Barack Obama won re-election in 2012.

Van Dyke, who specializes in social movements, organized a session on the tea party at the American Sociological Association conference in 2010, which led to a book deal.

Van Dyke said the tea party shares some of characteristics with the 1990s militia movement, an area of research for her. Both movements were reactive, responding to political threats, and emerged during periods of economic hardship.

With Democratic politicians leading the federal government, conservative voters didn’t have as much direct influence. Van Dyke said creating a social movement is a way people can get their voice heard when they have limited ability to exercise political power through the institutional system.

Protests usually have been tools of leftist movements and disparaged by conservative leaders, so it was interesting to watch the tea party adopt and embrace these tactics, Van Dyke said.

Van Dyke wrote the introduction with co-editor and UC Irvine professor David S. Meyer and co-wrote a chapter with UC Merced professor Paul Almeida that explores the Republican Party’s involvement in the movement and its contribution to the movement’s mobilization.

UC Cooperative Extension positions to connect research, community

Two UC Cooperative Extension specialists are being sent to UC Merced to take advantage of its location at the center of California agriculture and build on ongoing research into agriculturally significant matters related to climate, food security and nutrition.

The specialist, from the UC Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources, will help further connect campus research with local farmers and residents.

One specialist, who will work in the Sierra Nevada Research Institute, will help farmers and ranchers adjust to the problems created by climate change and participate with UC, and state and federal agencies to address climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The other specialist will work in the Health Sciences Research Institute and focus on nutrition research and education and food security to improve the lives of residents. The nutrition specialist will connect with a larger team of nutrition researchers and educators throughout the UC system addressing issues related to healthy food and human health.

UC Merced Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Tom Peterson said even though the campus doesn’t have an agriculture school, current areas of faculty research can and do benefit San Joaquin Valley residents and farmers. For example, research on unmanned aerial vehicles offers more efficient means to monitor soil and crop conditions. UC Merced scientists are also conducting research into factors that affect the flow of water out of the Sierra Nevada and into the San Joaquin Valley.