As a conservative activist, I was involved long before there was a Tea Party. I wish to thank those who nudge me along. As a retired military officer and university professor, at 60, I had planned to retire (slow down) except for writing/ blogging, speaking, fishing, golfing and enjoying home and family. I never expected that by 61, I would be more active than when I worked two or more jobs. By 2008, I was coordinating team efforts supporting 23 US Congressional candidates. After my preferred candidates for the GOP presidential nomination withdrew or were defeated, I supported Sarah Palin and that "other guy" for president. By the end of the 2008 elections, I was physically exhausted. But as disappointed as I was with the election outcomes, I was encouraged and motivated by the number of young conservatives I met during the year.
William Clark, friend and adviser of Ronald Reagan, related how Reagan gathered his close supporters together after the election of President Jimmy Carter and said something to the effect that Americans can not abide socialism for very long. While he was proven right, Reagan had three years to build a coalition before launching his Presidential campaign.
In 2009, after Democrats took total control of Congress and the White House, a few conservative activists recognized that the American reaction would be more visceral and could be mobilized to respond to the Democrats pushing through their progressive agenda. When approached by these young activists wishing to build on "rant" by Rick Santelli on February 19, 2008, I realized that they were on to something. But, I questioned whether large numbers would rally. History has proved that I had no reason to be concerned. Then later, when large numbers responded and joined local Tea Party groups, I was concerned that the conservative movement would not be able to educate them on the political processes or ways to remain active which could lead to the Tea Parties deteriorating or being viewed as a tentative and short lived - thus ignored or suppressed by those in power.
Even with harassment by the Department of Homeland Security - negative warnings - of conservatives, including Tea Party members and the followers of three presidential candidates, I did not need to be concerned. As with any meaningful effort, Providence provided numerous people, including national personalities, who became nation-wide teachers on the issues, threats to freedom and the processes. Existing conservative research and issue groups increased their communication and brought into their organizations many young conservative new media activists to expand their message outreach. Organizations like Americans for Prosperity and American Majority came along side local groups including the Tea Party groups to provided training, information and opportunities for involvement. In the end, leadership for the grassroots Tea Party was nurtured everyday grassroots Americans who adapted and learned as they organized.
A young man approached me about his holding a TEA Party in the Ozark Mountains. On April 15, 2007, Richard Caster, age 17, held the first meeting of the Ozark Tea Party which went on to have as many as 3000 people attend their events. Caster can be identified as one of the "early adopters" discussed later. As an aside, two years later in the 2010 elections, Caster was elected as the youngest Arkansas County Justice of the Peace (County board member) in Arkansas.
The above is just one of literally thousands of stores of people who for varied reasons got involved mostly via the Internet in holding their first Tea Party. So, who were these people, what was their experience in politics, and why did they get involved? Then who joined the Tea Party after they were launched ; what were their interests and why did they join?
Sam Adams Alliance has completed research on Tea Party members. The below will present a summary of their findings in two categories: The Early Adopters and The Next Wave. All statistics below are taken from their reports which are available at their website. Sam Adams Alliance was the first to explore through in-depth research and survey data, the motivations, priorities and points of view of Tea party leaders.
The Early Adopters report reveals that:
- A large number of Tea Party leaders are politically involved for the first time. 47% of activists surveyed said that they were "uninvolved" or "rarely involved" in politics before their participation in Tea Party groups.
- When asked which issues were "very important" to them, 92% said "budget," 85% said "economy," and 80% said "defense."
- No respondents listed social issues as an "important direction" for the movement.
- 86% oppose the formation of a third party.
- 90% cited "to stand up for my beliefs" when characterizing their initial reason for involvement.
- 62% identified as Republicans, 28% as Independents, 10% as "Tea Party"
The Next Wave report reveals that:
- Tea Party momentum is building: 74.5% of Next Wavers said the movement is "gaining active supporters" and 66% indicated that the movement is "more enthusiastic."
- There was a nearly 30-point drop among Tea Party activists in their affiliation with the Republican brand.
- There is a decrease in Republican sources of entrants to the Tea Parties and an increase in independents: 20% of Next Wavers were independents prior to the Tea Parties (compared with 12.6% of Early Adopters that were independents) and 74% of Next Wavers were Republicans prior, compared to 81% of Early Adopters.
- The longer a Tea Party activist is in the movement, the more likely they are to be optimistic about the political landscape
- Of those who were inspired by an individual to join the Tea Party movement, 63.6% -the largest number- cited a friend as being instrumental in their involvement." Only 37.5 percent of Early Adopters were recruited by friends. Rather, media personalities brought the highest number into the movement.
- 89.3% of Tea Party activists have been active in introducing new people into the movement.
- Both Early Adopters and Next Wave activists were new to politics; 40.5% of Early Adopters and 43.6% of Next Wave activists said they were uninvolved/rarely involved with politics prior to their Tea Party involvement.
Looking back at the November 2010 election, even the biased media noted the reaction by the American voters. Setting aside liberal strongholds, in less than two years, voters voted to remove from office or to rejected the elections of new candidates who were liberals / democrats. As a result, major shifts occurred in the US congress and in State and local governments. Tea Parties activists put both voice and feet to the citizen dissatisfaction and were willing to get out and motivate others to vote conservative. Tea Party members and other did not wait four (4) years for a leader like Ronald Reagan to lead them to victory; instead they acted.
We can only imagine at this point in time the impact that Tea Party members will have in holding the new Congress accountable. And come 2011, if a responsible, honorable, conservative candidate with good communication skills runs for President, the America voters will have the opportunity to sweep liberals from the control of State governments and the US Congress and the White House. From a dream on Jan, 2009 to a real possibility on Jan 2011; let's make it a fact on Jan 2013! Remain faithful, be involved and remember that being a conservative is not for the faint of heart.
Dr. Bill Smith is a retired Air Force officer and former director of the $2.2 Billion European F-16 Co-production Program. He is a retired professor and is the editor of the ARRA News Service, Blogs For Borders and Conservative Voices. He is a conservative political activist, writes for several other sites and can be followed on Twitter (@arra).
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