The media seem intent on anointing a national leader of the Tea Party, no doubt for convenience’s sake. But despite what people might see on TV or read in various media outlets, the Tea Party movement is not about national groups based in Washington, D.C., or those who have arbitrarily asserted themselves as national leaders.
The movement and its impact on the American political scene always has been and always will be about the local organizers. The national groups could go away and the movement would be fine. However, if the local leaders go away the movement dies.
And right now, something very organic is taking place with the real leaders of the movement: organized very locally in the beginning, the Tea Party is now organizing at a statewide level and beginning to network nationally. The Ohio Liberty Council, with 58 different Tea Party and 9/12 groups from across the state; the Florida Liberty Alliance, with more than 100 groups; and the Virginia Tea Party Federation, with more than 40 groups, are three of the best examples of local leaders uniting into significant statewide coalitions. Other states are in the process of developing similar coalitions, and it would not be surprising to see dozens of states similarly organized by 2012.
The leaders of these statewide groups began as organizers of local Tea Parties, and due to the respect and trust of their peers, have begun rising to the top to create a circle of leadership: they are the credible leaders who get things done. Others might claim credit for things happening in 2010, but if it were not for these local leaders, nothing would have happened.
The encouraging part is that the leaders of the various statewide coalitions are building relationships with each other across state lines, which will result in a very robust national grassroots movement. Though not always in agreement on every issue, the Tea Party movement is becoming more synchronized and coordinated.
A common theme with these statewide coalitions and their leadership is that they realize that they must move past protesting to action if they are going to effect the change they want to see happen. Karen Hurd of Hampton Roads, Virginia, launched the Hampton Roads Tea Party on March 1, 2009, because she realized neither political party was willing to stop the out-of-control spending. She’s since started the Virginia Tea Party Alliance Political Action Committee to focus on recruiting, training, and fielding state and local candidates who believe in free enterprise, lim-ited government, and fiscal responsibility. Hurd has since joined with Jamie Radtke of the Richmond Tea Party, who launched the Virginia Tea Party Federation, which has more than 40 groups now and is seeking to double its membership in 2011.
Chris Littleton of the Cincinnati Tea Party is part of the leadership of the Ohio Liberty Council, and when I asked him about what OLC was working on post-November elections, he replied, “Strengthening state-based resources and infrastructure necessary to secure public policy consis-tent with our principles.” When asked what that looked like, Littleton replied, “Building a farm team of candidates, increasing the number of working activists (not just mail lists), advancing legislation, and holding elected officials accountable while educating the public on core principles.” The OLC has already set the goal of placing the Healthcare Freedom Amendment on the ballot for November 2011 to amend Ohio’s constitution to nullify the federal mandate, and already 300,000 signatures have been gathered.
Jason Hoyt, of the Orlando Tea Party, is also involved with the Florida Liberty Alliance, and much like Hurd and Littleton, Hoyt said the focus in Florida must be on identifying, training, and supporting candidates to run for all levels of office, from school board to U.S. Senate, in 2012. But Hoyt believes, as do many of the local leaders across the nation, that the American electorate must come to a better understanding of what first principles are and what the original intent of the Founders was, and only then can there be the change that is necessary.
ONE OF THE COMMON TRAITS I’ve noticed as I’ve interacted with the local leaders over the past 18 months is that they are passionate not only about ideas, but also about action. It’s not enough for them to talk about ideas, or to propose them; the ideas must also be actively implemented. This mentality will hopefully galvanize the great conservative movement and at the same time massively impact this nation.
These local leaders — who have made the Tea Party movement happen, organizing locally, networking statewide, and then connecting nationally — represent the best chance in generations for seismic change in our country. While still a nascent movement, the Tea Party movement, if it continues on its current trajectory, can achieve what the Progressives did in the early 20th century when they fundamentally changed American government and, quite frankly, American society in a relatively short amount of time. But instead of the regressive statism of the Progressives, the free enterprise and limited government of the Tea Partiers, if and when they succeed, will take America to even greater heights of freedom and prosperity.