Last summer, midyear Mary-Alice Perdichizzi '12 spent a summer and first semester working as a research assistant in the Man Vehicle Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she helped to build a spacesuit prototype. There, while working to redesign an astronaut's garb, she spent her breaks reading the plethora of newspapers and research materials around the office. By the end of the semester, she says she was reading 12 newspapers a day and had gone from having no political affiliation to being a full-fledged member of the populist protest movement, the Tea Party. According to The New York Times website, the Tea Party movement emerged in 2009 in objection to the Economic Stimulus Package, through a series of locally and nationally organized protests.

The official Tea Party website defines the group as "an organization [that] believes in Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government and Free Markets."

Prior to her summer at MIT, Perdichizzi, who has striking black hair and a friendly demeanor, says she had few political opinions. The Burlington, Mass. native says her family did not imbue her with a "political viewpoint" and that she decided to explore the world of politics "all on her own."

Through reading newspapers at MIT, Perdichizzi began to understand politics and how it affects people's everyday lives. Over time, through more reading and research, Perdichizzi began to develop a better understanding of how people and institutions interact with the government, she says.

The Biology major says, "I realized you go to college, you pay for all these things thinking you can leave and do whatever you want, and then you realize that the things going on right now might affect that. ... It motivated me to really be involved [in politics]."

Throughout this time, Perdichizzi began to identify as a conservative and became passionate about the idea of absolute liberty and free-market capitalism. Perdichizzi had also read about the Tea Party movement and felt as though they represented her idea of liberty.

Then, on Sept. 12, 2009, Perdichizzi attended a Tea Party rally in Worcester, Mass. The rally solidified her dedication to the movement, and from that point on, she was an active member of the party.

"The first time I went to a Worcester rally, it was fantastic," Perdichizzi says. "It was very informal; people just [came] and [went]. [The people there were all] individuals but they [were] all standing together saying, 'This is our right as Americans to democratically and peacefully get our message across.'"

In her own words, Perdichizzi defines the Tea Party movement as "a group of individuals ... [who are] just trying to hold people accountable [and] maintain this idea that people have a liberty to be as successful as they can, there shouldn't be any one person telling anyone how much they can make or what they can do."

She adds that the Tea Party movement "is all based on this one idea of America and what we think makes it exceptional, that we have this opportunity to achieve whatever we can, no matter who you are, to the best of your ability. There is no limit on your success."

Perdichizzi stayed involved with the Tea Party movement once she got to Brandeis. Perdichizzi independently goes out and talks to political candidates who represent the movement's ideals.

She also meets up with other local members of the movement in order to stay "connected to people." At Brandeis, she is a member of the Brandeis Republicans, although she describes herself as the most "conservative" one in the group.

President of the Brandeis Republicans, Nipum Marwaha '12, says of the Tea Party movement, "We think the Tea Party movement is a good thing. It has its flaws, but the people who are really involved, like Mary, know how to advocate the real ideals of the Tea Party and not just the radical propaganda that you stereotypically see coming out of it."

Marwaha added that he thinks Perdichizzi is " an active and very valuable member [of Brandeis?Republicans] and she does a lot for spreading conservative ideals on campus."

Perdichizzi spoke about politicians who are affiliated with the Tea Party, such as Sarah Palin.

"Well, most people say she doesn't represent us. I think she's interesting. I've read her book and what she's done, [but] there's no one person that represents [the movement]. It's an idea and represented by individuals, not a collective," Perdichizzi says.

Perdichizzi thinks that there are common misconceptions about the Tea Party movement and what it represents. Perdichizzi says that one such false belief is that "we're just racist homophobes and bigots. We're actually the complete opposite. We don't define people based on who they are; we just think everyone should have opportunities. It's not a matter of pinning anybody above the other."

Perdichizzi says she receives a range of responses when people find out she is active in the Tea Party movement.

"Some people are very open to the idea and recognize that people are trying to speak their views and be informed. Other people are just obviously like, 'Oh, you're a bigot and a racist,' and I'm like, 'I'm not any of those things,'" she says.