Seven Lessons For The Tea Party

What went right and what didn't during the health care fight.By Ambreen AliThe tea partyers who waited anxiously outside the Capitol until House Democratspassed the health care bill late Sunday night were back at work before lawmakerswoke up the next day.Mark Meckler of Tea Party Patriots, the largest coalition in the movement,was already in California meeting fellow activists Monday morning. In Georgia,his colleague William Temple was making calls to Congressional offices.Since last spring, their grassroots conservative movement has grown alongsideand in reaction to the health care debate. Now, with Democrats putting the finishingtouches on the bill, the activists are trying to draw lessons from their first big legislativefight and plan for the next.We asked tea partyers and those who study them what they have learned:You don't always win.Even the best grassroots campaign can't guarantee results. Some activists believethe health care bill would have passed no matter what, but that the tea partiessucceeded by drawing out the debate."We almost destroyed it," Temple said of the bill. He credited the town halldisruptions, national rallies, and Republican Sen. Scott Brown's victory with slowingdown the Democrats' legislative agenda.Brown's victory in Massachusetts special election in January cost Democratstheir Senate supermajority and dampened the momentum around health care.Don't give up.The morning after health care passed, Temple was busy making calls to theoffices of Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) to express disappointment for thelawmaker's yes vote."Let’s not be reactive, let's keep our agenda," he said.Tea party leaders around the country had the same hopeful tone.Some like Julianne Thompson of the Georgia Tea Party Patriots are backingstate initiatives to temper the national health plan and campaigning for conservativecandidates ahead of midterm elections."I believe 1994 will be a mere shadow compared to what is going to happen inNovember of this year at the ballot box," she said, referring to the midterm electionswhen Republicans regained control of the House after four decades.Be part of the process.In the weeks preceding the final House vote on health care, some tea partyersswitched from picketing outside the Capitol to meeting with those inside.Thompson said Members paid more attention to the activists willingto sit down with them."It's easy for them to look outside and see a rally going on and go backinto their office and ignore it," she said. "When you have a line of 50people waiting in your office, that's something you can't ignore."Mark Williams of Tea Party Express in California said his group is focused on"infiltrating the political party infrastructure." He encourages tea partymembers to run for local offices and positions within the political party committees.He is heading to Nevada this weekend, where he will introduce former Alaskagovernor Sarah Palin at a kickoff event for a 40-day bus tour to Washington, D.C."We have to take over from the grassroots up," he said.Vote.Many tea party leaders are setting their eyes on the November election,when they hope to punish the lawmakers who passed the health bill."Elections have consequences. We're where we are at todaybecause of the last election," Meckler said.Dominate the debate.The hundreds of tea party activists who picketed outside Capitol Hillin the final week of the debate may not have swayed enough lawmakersagainst the bill, but they drew attention."[The protest] paints a stark picture in the mind of the American publicthat you have a Congress that's completely out of touch with the people,"Meckler said.That was the idea behind an early tea party success: the town hall disruptions.Conservatives showed up to local meetings with protest signs and angrily shoutedat the lawmakers who were laying out the health plan.Instead of talking about the bill's details, people focused on the protesters."The tea party people were able to shout down what was being said aboutthe health care plan," said David S. Meyer, a University of California at Irvineprofessor who studies protest movements.Control your own.Since there is no official tea party group, pretty much anyone can start a localtea party or show up to a rally. That has been both a boon for the movementand its Achilles' heel.Leaders were put on the defensive when a handful of activists shouted racistand homophobic epithets at Democratic lawmakers last week."We all have an obligation to distance ourselves from any kind of racism or bigotry," Meckler said. He added that his group, the Tea Party Patriots, has zero tolerancefor such behavior."If someone like that shows up to our rallies, they are unceremoniously removed,"he said. Meckler noted that not all tea party groups have that policy.Use resources wisely.Not every activist can afford to leave their jobs and come to Washington, D.C.,to lobby. Nor should they.Modern technology has played an instrumental role in propelling the tea partymovement forward.Whether it is Facebook groups, the Tea Party Nation social network,or the many e-mail lists the groups use to coordinate their efforts,activists have found that they can do a lot from home.Temple said he encouraged fellow activists in Georgia not to go toWashington, D.C., this past week."Rather than tiring out our own people and spending all our money,we've got the Internet. We've got phones," he said.Ambreen Ali writes for Congress.org.
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  • The people presently in power represent no one but themselves.I would not purchase or agree to anything that I did not read and fully comprehend yet that self serving pack of rabble labeled as "congress"seemingly thinks so little of our great nation that they blindly set us all on the road to fiscal oblivion. We truly are stuck with an "Obama"nation.. I Cannot wait till november!!
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