Today is the 5th anniversary of the 9/12/09 Taxpayer March on Washington. It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since the tea party movement burst onto the scene in a big way and gathered in one place at one time – the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. What started as smaller grassfires of protest in cities across the country in February 2009 became a conflagration of taxpayers’ outrage at big government in September 2009.
I remember the first tea party protesters, Mary and Ron Rakovich, from the Fort Myers area, in Florida. In early February they took to the streets with a dozen or so protesters and told President Obama that they were not happy with his big government assault on our liberty. Only a few days later more protesters gathered in places as diverse as Mesa, Arizona and Overland Park, Kansas, and sounded the alarm that the American people had to wake up from their slumber. The Paul Revere of this movement was a reporter for CNBC, Rick Santelli. On Feb. 19th he went on a rant on live television as he railed against the big government policies of the Obama administration. Thousands of folks around the country were watching, including me, but within a day more than a million people had viewed the rant on YouTube. Santelli called for a new tea party protest, in the spirit of the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Some of us reached out to CNBC through our producer contacts, but they made it clear that they would not be organizing any tea party rallies. So, a few dozen of us got together on a conference call to discuss how we might go about organizing a national protest the next week, on Feb. 27th.
I wrote a blog post with instructions on how to organize a tea party protest, and posted it on my blog The Conservative Revolution. I emailed it over to Michelle Malkin and Glenn Reynolds, who both linked to it on their blogs. My site nearly crashed in the next week but I was able to give guidance to hundreds of tea party organizers around the country. It was pretty simple, actually. I just told people to show up, bring signs, make them legible, bring friends, family and co-workers, contact the local media to cover it and be sure to collect email addresses. The first tea party protests occurred in more than 50 cities across the country, and I gave a speech at the event in DC. Some liberals snickered when I said that this was the start of a grassroots revolution that would sweep around the country, and even around the world, but that’s exactly what happened over the next few months.
Much has been written and said about the so-called GOP civil war between the tea party and Republican Party regulars. The media and the Democrats are salivating over the prospect of a permanent war between the tea party and the GOP. As an active member of both the tea party and the GOP, I submit that we cannot let this happen. Both of these political entities need each other to survive and thrive.
The GOP needs the energy, innovation and dedication to first principles of the tea party. And the tea party needs the infrastructure, resources, institutional knowledge and name identification of the GOP. Sure, many tea party folks are independents, and many independents fall outside the GOP. That’s okay. Many independents also identify with the GOP. This healthy mix of different people and ideas is normal within our two party system. And these folks who share a common belief in limited government, fiscal responsibility and free markets have more in common than that which divides them.
Now, admittedly it is fair to say that the tea party would not exist but for the fact that the GOP strayed from its principles. But it’s also fair to say that the tea party would not have made such a huge impact in the 2010 elections were it not for the infrastructure and resources of the GOP. The tea party is there to remind the GOP of its principles, and the GOP is there to remind the tea party that only candidates from one of the two major parties actually wins elections.
Brendan Steinhauser is a national political strategist focused on campaigns, media, and public policy.