Posted on 18 May 2011.
A little more than two years ago, I dialed in to a conference call. It was another in a series of calls that a relatively few people joined to talk about how we could stop Congress from passing the Stimulus, and TARP, and the Auto Bailout, etc. But this one was different. I was galvanized by what someone said on a cable news channel the day before. I did my best to tweet and retweet the clip and the conference call details so that as many people as possible could join in. I had a feeling that this call was going to be special. When I hung up a little more than an hour later, I knew my life was not going to be the same for a long time.
The ideas set into motion on that call changed the course of not just my own life, or the lives of the 96 other people who bravely stepped forward that week to help organize a series of rallies; but the shape of American politics. (Maybe one day, if you’re interested, we can talk about it.)
As is often the case when an idea is successful, everyone wants to claim it was theirs. This is certainly true of the Tea Party movement. But before we get too far down the road, I’d like to offer a few corrections to help set the historical record straight:
1. The populist, grassroots movement whose core principals include Constitutionally Limited Government, Fiscal Responsibility, and Free Markets, that is generally referred to as “the Tea Party movement” was born out of the nationwide rallies that were inspired by Rick Santelli’s rant in February, 2009; and organized and launched within a week by 97 Americans across the country who agreed to a general set of operating strategies, many of which are still in practice today.
2. The Tea Party movement is a decentralized movement – an alliance of peers – run most often on the spare change found between the sofa cushions and a lot – A LOT – of volunteerism.
3. There is NOT a national leader, co-ordinator, or spokesperson for the movement. I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
4. Ron Paul is NOT the ‘godfather’ of the movement. Many Tea Party people are small-”l” libertarians, and like very much what Paul has to say on some things; but that’s it.
5. Big-”L” Libertarians tried for YEARS to spur a widespread acceptance of Libertarianism through initiatives named after the Boston Tea Party. For whatever reason, it didn’t resonate with everyday Americans.
6. The Tea Party movement is NOT a third party. In those rare instances where you see a political party called “Tea,” it is often the cynical creation of a political opportunist, and generally not supported by the local Tea Party groups.
7. The heart and soul of the Tea Party does not live in the offices of any national organization. It lives in the hearts and minds of the millions of hardworking men and women across the country who see that the path to lasting prosperity and freedom in America begins at our own kitchen tables.
With its growth and vibrancy over the last two years, I expect a certain amount of situations where people and organizations try to harness, frame, re-frame, lay claim, lead, and otherwise ‘own’ the Tea Party Movement. This list is long and growing.
The American Family Council was the first to try – although their cute little “TEA” acronym, “Taxed Enough Already,” stuck. Next was Newt Gingrich. A few of the original organizers periodically try, building an impressive record of bullying and lawsuits along the way. Matt Kibbe, Dick Armey and their pals at FreedomWorks tried, too – going so far as to write a book about it. #fail
Those on the left, in the media, and especially the establishment right have desperately sought to define, identify, and quantify the Tea Party movement. When they can’t find the leader, they pick one for us. We know their names: Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and the aforementioned Ron Paul. When they can’t find a spokesperson, they’ll take who they can get — which mostly amounts to generally well-meaning people that are not so much “Tea Party organizers” as a guy with an email list. Along the way, a few cunning entrepreneurs and opportunists have made a good living trading on the name and good will of the growing movement.
It’s no wonder. While the Democrat and Republican Parties are losing heaps of membership and contributors, the Tea Party movement is growing by leaps and bounds. All of the excitement and energy in American politics today resides in this well-known, people-driven movement; yet there is a distinct mystery about the movement — an ‘otherness’ that makes the Tea Party seem like something from another dimension. Who is the leader? How do they know what to do? Who is paying them? Are they a political party?
These are all questions worthy of a Voices of the Tea Party e-book. Mark Kevin Lloyd, who’s already written an e-book for the series, wrote a parable that describes the nature of our movement better than anything I have seen to date.
“Consider a tall-ship sailing the high seas. Picture the vessel as it pitches and rolls over the angry swells, its billowing sails straining against the lines. The experts spend their time describing for the rest of us the curve of the hull, the planks of the deck, the stout masts, and the elegant rigging of the ship.
Is the she sea-worthy? What about the crew? Where is the captain? How will they survive with no pilot at the helm?
They predict the inevitable destruction of this grand craft. Surely the inexperienced crew will sail it into dangerous waters and crash it on the rocks. So they begin the tragic tales that are to be told of how the ship and its crew were lost at sea, and the tales will become legend. That may well be the case. But it will not matter.”
You see, the ship and the crew are not the Tea Party. The Tea Party is the wind.”
Mark is right. The Tea Party is the wind. It lives in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans; and it is they who will lead it, by leading themselves.
Christina Botteri is a co-founder of the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, and is the social media strategist behind the successful launch of the Tea Party movement in February, March, and April of 2009. She can be reached on Twitter at ChristinaKb .