by Jim Soviero
On April 4th, 2009 about four hundred people gathered in a park adjacent to Northport Harbor, on Long Island, in New York. The group, some dressed in 18th Century garb, braved miserable, threatening weather to participate in a faux tea dumping ceremony. There were clever signs, and brief speeches. At one point a speaker asked the crowd, “How many of you have never done something like this before?”. Close to 100% of the attendees raised their hands.
Eleven days later there was another “Tea Party”. This one was held along side a packed highway during rush hour. The crowd swelled to about 3,000. There was a common thread joining these people together. They were frustrated by billions of dollars in unending debt, the unchecked growth of government, and a looming, murky, healthcare bill. There was a collective, instinctive sense that disconnected politicians were quickly changing policies in ways that would forever diminish this nation’s greatness and limit opportunities for hard working Americans, their children and grandchildren.
As in the first gathering, “rookie activists” spanned the age spectrum, and were from all walks of life. Perhaps the most surprising demographic was that the two largest subgroups consisted of women and seniors. The latter mentioned probably held the greatest plurality, were quite vocal, and very well informed. Folks chatted and exchanged business cards as they patiently waited upwards of forty five minutes to either register their email address and/or sign a petition reaffirming the Constitution. This scenario was being played out, in hundreds of different locations, all across the country.
Those email and personal contacts created networking that gave birth to a number of organizations focused on halting or reversing the direction of government. These different groups spawned rallies, attended “town halls”, called elected officials, and showed up about one million strong in Washington D.C. on September 12, 2009. The “mainstream media” mocked and misrepresented them, while “ruling class” politicians ignored their pleas. Stimulus, bailouts, then finally a hugely unpopular and basically unintelligible healthcare bill were all forced on an unwilling and increasingly angry public.
The elected elitists simply knew what was best for all, and there was nothing the huddled masses could do about it. Wrong. They badly underestimated the intellect, passion, and resiliency of Tea Party People. Smart candidates running for office against the big government tide began speaking to different conservative memberships, attracting supporters. There were primaries, some ugly, and occasionally people who were selected to run may have been in over their head, but a bunch of newbie volunteers were in the thick of it all. They canvassed door to door, attended fund raisers, sponsored rallies, manned phone banks, placed signs, handed out palm cards, and called elected officials. When it was all over the nation had its second “historical election” in two years. As of this writing, somewhere around 65 House and 6 Senate seats were picked up by Republicans. The GOP gained 680 state legislative seats, booting Democrats from control of 19 state governing bodies. They added 11 governorships. The Grand Old Party hasn’t enjoyed that kind of success in around 80 years.
And here’s the scary part for President Obama and others living, isolated, in their big government bubble. These conservative activists are not going away. They have gained a tremendous amount of real time knowledge working in both successful and unsuccessful political campaigns. That invaluable experience will only serve to make this genuine grass roots force more powerful in the run up to 2012. The irony of it all is that much of what upset the Tea Partiers in the first place was the president and Congress citing a need for rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure as an excuse for their reckless spending. Well they’ve caused the rebuilding of an infrastructure all right, but it’s political in nature. And it’s made up of men and women, teens and seniors, poised, and in place to undo what has been done over the past two tumultuous years.