It’s been almost eighteen months since the beginning of my involvement with the Tea Party movement, and it seems as good a time as any to step back and review as we move into the 2010 election cycle. I’ve spent much of my time in this past year and a half traveling, training, learning, researching, speaking to groups and talking to people both in the movement and outside of it, but it wasn’t until I was asked to speak to a local professional club that I began trying to draw these experiences into a single list of Lessons Learned. Everyone involved in the movement has their own list, which I hope they will share, but my Tea Party Takeaways are these:
1. We have a short window of opportunity – the November election is less than four months away, of course, but I’m also talking about the advantage that tea party has with the current momentum. We want to strike while the iron is hot, and yet there is often such a steep learning curve to overcome. Every minute spent working towards getting out the vote between now and November is also spent working on our credibility as a movement, because in the end, nothing in politics is respected like the ability to provably turn out voters.
Once all the players on the political field see tea parties racking up victories in the election of more fiscally conservative, constitutionally-minded candidates, they will be forced to take the movement seriously. In addition, a few well-placed victories will continue to fuel the momentum into the next few election cycles, proving the movement more than a one-hit wonder. It took years to get into this mess, and it will take years to get out, but the victories have to begin now if the movement will have credibility and energy going forward.
2. Most people are looking only at the national races – It’s exciting to think of robbing Nancy Pelosi of her Speaker position, and Harry Reid makes a great Boogie Man, but the real action, at least here in Texas, is on the local level. In the Texas House, where the 2010 Census will be churned into several new U.S Congressional seats in the redistricting fight in the 2011 Legislative Session , there’s a very precarious balance between Conservatives and Liberals. The majority party in 2011 will steer the redistricting discussion, and so every Texas House race matters. Locally there are more meet-and-greets than I can ever remember for candidates for the Texas House, and that’s wonderful, especially if it translates into increased down-ballot turnout.
As for the other local offices, such as water districts and school boards and city councils, we still have a lot of work to do. The elected officials at these levels have much more ability to get into your pocketbook, and the amount of voters in these elections is usually abysmally low. The upside of that is the small number of voters it takes to gain control of any one of these entities, and so I believe going forward, our efforts need to also be geared towards developing liberty-minded candidates at ALL levels of government. Without this crucial step, I fear we will have won the battle and lost the war, as unchecked local governmental entities will continue their wild spending sprees.
3. People are still disengaged from the process – Rallies and protests are a valuable tool, and bring in many people to hear our message. However, the people willing to take the Next Step, be it setting up watchdog groups, working for candidates, executing Get Out The Vote efforts or starting neighborhood groups are much, much more rare. In addition, often people complain that there’s just too much information to keep up with, and so they don’t even try. And while I understand the overwhelming effort it takes to keep track of all of the bills in Congress and all the other plans leaked from the administration on a daily basis, we have to do it. As Ken Emanuelson from Dallas Tea Party says, “Let’s fight them at every turn!” If we don’t, if there aren’t enough people for whom this fight becomes a compulsion, then there will never be a time when we can wrest our rightful power back from those who have usurped it. THIS is our time.
4. Politics is not a spectator sport – I love to watch baseball, and I love to sit in the stands with everyone else, cheering on my team and enjoying the whole experience without the effort of actually playing. But that doesn’t work in politics. Politics is a contact sport, and it is not confined to the playing field – it’s the only game in which the players can, and will, hurt the spectators, the people in the parking lot, AND the people across town who aren’t even paying attention to the game.
Putting a bumper sticker on your car is a start. Wearing Tea Party or similar shirts around town is also helpful. But the greatest advantage that our team can have is players willing to suit up and go door-to-door looking for conservatives, or surveying people outside of a grocery store and getting them registered to vote, or working on campaigns of good conservative candidates, or researching candidates and creating endorsement lists and voter’s guides. The game goes on whether we participate or not; but even a little bit of time on the field pays huge dividends.
5. Liberty looks like chaos, and that makes people uncomfortable – Perhaps that isn’t apparent at first, but essentially liberty is all about who decides things. And all kinds of people deciding all kinds of things for themselves, rather than some form of government deciding for them, make for an unpredictable mess.
The need in our country for stability is understandable; the desire for a guarantee that the markets won’t fluctuate wildly, that the companies we work for will still be in business next month, that industries, towns, communities won’t dry up and disappear. But economic liberty and free markets mean there are no guarantees. The risk a successful entrepreneur takes to create a viable business is the same risk incurred by an unsuccessful one, and no amount of legislation can bestow viability upon a business, especially if it’s a loser.
In addition, personal liberty looks a lot like chaos, too. People make personal and lifestyle choices we don’t like. We have to know about them, and see the evidence of them, whether we like it or not, and that’s not a popular stance among some conservatives. Make no mistake; the right to engage in a particular behavior is very different from the demand that others sanction, embrace, and subsidize it. Still, eliminating behaviors we don’t like, such as smoking, from among the range of one’s choices is every bit as dangerous as eliminating certain religious denominations. If one is going to fight for liberty, one ought to be prepared for the consequences of other people deciding for themselves.
** Felicia Cravens founded the Houston Tea Party Society in February of 2009, and also sits on the board of Katy Tea Party Patriots and Common Sense Texans. She has been a Guest on FOX New’s, The Glenn Beck Show. When not strategizing for tea party events or conducting trainings, she teaches drama in an after school program and enjoys being with her two very understanding daughters and supportive husband. She can be found on Twitter as @somethingfishie.