The tea party: From rant to relevant

Dawn Wildman, national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots and Mark Meckler, Patriots co-founder.

As the inaugural presidential tea party debate gained the attention of a national audience Monday night, the Boca Raton chapter of the Palm Beach County Tea Party provided members with an in-depth look at how the movement surfaced two years ago, and what fellow tea partyers are achieving around the country today.

In doing so, the group gave a backdrop to these important words, from Tea Party Express Chairwoman Amy Kremer, the co-sponsor of Monday’s tea party debate televised from Tampa:

“We are going to choose the next Republican nominee for president, not the Republican Party.”

Guest speakers Dawn Wildman, national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots — one of the nation’s first and largest tea party groups — and Mark Meckler, Patriots co-founder, gave personal accounts of the movement’s beginning in March 2009. They also recalled some of the more interesting encounters they have experienced with the media and the elected officials along the way. (see videos below)

Meckler pinpointed the now-famous Santelli rant as the spark that set off the widespread movement. On Feb. 19, 2009, Rick Santelli, an on-air editor for the CNBC Business News network, accused the government of “promoting bad behavior” with regards to the Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan. With his contagious excitement provoking the staff in the CME Group office, from where he was reporting, to enthusiastic cheers and applause, Santelli then suggested organizing a protest by throwing a “Chicago tea party.” Around the country, disenchanted voters picked up on the idea and began planning tea parties in their cities and towns.

In an email to members on Nov. 4, 2010, the Tea Party Patriots wrote:

“Tea Party Patriots wishes to extend a special thank you to Rick Santelli for his rant on February 19, 2009, which started this entire movement. Without Rick’s rant, this movement would never have started. Many others will try to take credit but don’t be fooled. He was the spark that began this fire.”

Meckler credits the social media mostly for the swift and massive spread of the movement after that. He recalled that the “#teapot” Twitter hash tag and the relatively unknown “wordpress.com” Web platform was used initially to get the word out. Smart Girl Politics, then a still-fledgling, conservative “girl power” group, is remembered fondly as one of few organizations to help spread the word.

“It exploded beyond our wildest imagination,” said Meckler, who has represented the movement on multiple news talk shows on FOX, CNN and MSNBC, among others. Facebook “likes” for Tea Party Patriots are approaching 850,000. While estimating the rapidly growing numbers of group members is impossible, Meckler estimated the total at around 1.2 million.

When asked about the organization of the movement, Meckler said, “It works because it is bottom up. There are no people in boardrooms making decisions for the masses.” Instead, coordinators work together from every state, and weekly conference calls keep them connected. “It is very organic,” he added. That is a sentiment echoed by Kremer on Monday.

“They should feel it,” she said about the GOP presidential candidates during the tea party debate. “What we have is the passion, the fire in the belly. That’s organic. It can’t be bought and can’t be created.”

The impact the movement will have on the 2012 election is yet to be seen, but evidence is mounting that the tea party, though its origins are humble, intends to have a significant role in future American politics.

 

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Michele Kirk

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