The Rise of the Tea Party Movement
The Honorable Colin Hanna, president, Let Freedom Ring (moderator)
Dr. Ralph Reed, Jr., President and CEO, Century Strategies
Mrs. Jenny Beth Martin, Co-Founder and National Coordinator, Tea Party Patriots
Mr. Mark Meckler, Co-Founder and National Coordinator, Tea Party Patriots
We are in for a treat tonight. We really are. The Tea Party movement is transforming America. Those of us who have been in the conservative movement for a long time are grounded in immutable principles, principles which go back to the nation's founding.
But, like any organization, after a while we begin to become comfortable within ourselves. We begin to take on a certain kind of a familial character, and there is a tendency for us to forget that the purpose of public policy, the purpose of politics, the purpose of public leadership is to change minds, to renew America, not simply for us to talk about things that we have been talking about for generations and admire those who happen to have a particularly facile way of presenting them.
We really need to go out and win converts, and what we have seen in this last year with the Tea Party movement is an entirely new wave of interest in the founding principles of America, the things that conservatives hold dear, the things that we have recently restated with the Mount Vernon Statement, and yet they are coming at it from a new and fresh perspective, in many cases from people who have not been politically active before. So it is quite something to observe. It is truly transforming America.
No less a political observer than Pat Caddell, a Democrat pollster of some significance, has said that the Tea Party movement is the most significant political development that he has seen since the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations of the 1960s. Now, I would like to say, then, the Reagan revolution of the 1980s, but he didn't say that. The point is that that is the scale that is the comparison for what is happening.
Tonight, we have got a great opportunity to hear from two of the top Tea Party leaders, Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler, but in order to have it set first in that historical perspective that Bob just spoke of, we have from within our midst a great friend, a brother, a true member of CNP in the person of Ralph Reed.
And Ralph, as many of you know, in addition to having led the Christian Coalition, is Chairman of the Board of Century Strategies. He is currently the Chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. He was the Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, and in 2002, under his leadership, the party elected its first GOP governor in 134 years and a U.S. Senator.
He has been named one of the top 10 political newsmakers in the nation by Newsweek, one of the 20 most influential leaders of his generation by Life magazine. When he was Executive Director of the Christian Coalition, it grew into the nation's most effective grass-roots public organization of its time, with over 2 million members.
He is the author and editor of four best-selling books. He is a columnist whom you can read in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and National Review. He serves on the Board of Visitors for the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.
He earned his BA from the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. in history from Emory University, and it is in that last capacity, in addition to his own grass-roots organizing efforts, that he is able to come before us and give us a really good sense of how what we are seeing today fits into a broader historical context of grass-roots movement through the years.
So I am going to begin by talking with Ralph, just in a conversational fashion here on these chairs on the stage, for about 10 or 15 minutes. Then we are going to bring out Jenny Beth and Mark to talk about the Tea Party movement in the context that Ralph will have set for us.
So please join with me in welcoming to the podium Ralph Reed.
Thank you, Ralph.
DR. REED: Thank you, Colin.
MR. HANNA: It is a joy to have you with us. You are one of the great assets that we have in the CNP family.
Grass-roots organizations through the years, through American history, are not a new phenomenon. It has gone all the way back to things like the anti-slavery movement, the suffrage movement, and the civil rights movement, so many others.
Talk about the nature of spontaneous grass-roots movements through the years, not movements that are somehow generated or spawned out of somebody's strategic development, but instead, the kind of thing that is like touching a nerve, when all of a sudden people rise up and seem to share the same kind of passion for their country.
DR. REED: Well, I have to say, Colin, I think that what we have seen happen with the Tea Party movement is one of the most extraordinary things in American history.
The one thing that I think historians will look back on is could this have even happened on the scale that it has occurred without two technological developments: one, the rise of the alternative media, talk radio and cable and especially Fox News -- Roger Ailes, by the way, is one of the greatest patriots in the modern history of this country, and what he and Rupert Murdock have done with Fox is extraordinary.
The other -- and I am sure Mark and Jenny Beth will speak to this with greater expertise than me because they were helping to do it -- was the Internet and Facebook and social media.
You know, we all rolled out of bed the morning after the '08 elections, you know, I think pretty dejected and depressed about a lot of things, not the least of which was the election results, but what was really frightening was the extent to which Obama and, you know, David Plouffe and his Internet team was able to dominate that medium, recruiting a total of 6 million volunteers, a million and a half of whom downloaded neighbors on the Internet to go knock on doors and call people, 13 million unique e-mails, and when you added in the cell phone numbers they had, that they got at the rallies, they were communicating virtually daily the last 30 days of that campaign with 22 million activists.
Nothing on that scale had ever been seen before, but the Tea Party movement, thank goodness, through Facebook -- I think it was largely Facebook -- this was totally spontaneous.
I was at the largest Tea Party in the country, I believe, on April 15th of 2009, and I was driving down to the Capitol, and Jenny Beth was running that Tea Party. I would like to know her answer to this later. I don't think we knew how many people were coming, frankly.
I was in the car. Sean was doing his show from WSBN in Atlanta. We were e-mailing each other back and forth. He's like, "How many people are coming?" I said, "Sean, I am 10 blocks away, and it's a traffic jam." And this was all done without a national orchestration, all done online. That is very good news. Without cable, without alternative media, and without the Internet, this would have never happened.
MR. HANNA: In the past, we have had other kinds of grass-roots movements, though. This is not the first time that it has happened, and in each case, when they have been genuinely organic movements, they have changed their generation.
So take us through a little bit of the history that preceded the Tea Party movement.
DR. REED: Well, historically, those social reform movements really come out one of two places. They either come out the churches, which, you know, for those of us who know our history, even though our children aren't taught it in public schools, that is where the anti-slavery movement was built. It really came out of the second and the third grade awakening.
The suffrage movement came out of the churches. Mother's Day was created as a result of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and it was the Temperance movement, largely female-led by Christian women, that ultimately led to women seeking the vote, not as modern liberal feminists but as women who were fighting saloons and alcohol and the way it was destroying families.
It either arises from there, or it arises out of the workplace, either the farmers, agrarians, greenbackers with the Populous Party, or in the case of the labor union movement, you know, hourly wage workers who were working for the 40-hour work week and the 5-day work week.
What is interesting about every one of those movements -- and I think this is terribly critical for the Tea Party movement. I would not presume to give them advice. I am just saying what historically has happened. The death of those movements always occurs when one of two things happened and usually both. Either, A, they try to make it as a third party, which is what happened with the Populous with James B. Weaver in 1892 -- he got a million votes, 8.5 percent of the vote, he carried four States. Similarly, the Progressives in 1912 with Teddy Roosevelt, he carried -- I think it was roughly 23 percent of the vote. He basically split the Republican vote and elected Woodrow Wilson. The only Democrat to win the White House from 1892 until FDR was that election where the natural conservative majority was split.
The second thing that happens -- and again, usually both -- I think Perot symbolized this -- is you allow your agenda to get co-opted by one of the parties. You need to speak truth to both parties and not allow one party to co-opt your agenda.
I worked with Perot a little bit in the '90s. I was then at the Christian Coalition, and the Contract with America -- people forget this -- a third of the contract was directed directly at the pro-voter.
There were three things in the contract that spoke directly to the pro people. One was term limits, the other was the Balanced Budget Amendment, and the third was Congress would have to live under the same rules as everybody else. Congress was exempt from a lot of laws, and they vowed to change that.
They were frankly going after the pro people even more than they were going after the social conservatives, although they wanted us. And I told Perot at the time, I said, "The dumbest thing you ever did was run for President as a third party candidate." I said, "What you should have done is maintained a third force and been influential in both parties." And it was our getting two out of every three Perot voters in '94, along with the social conservatives. Nine million additional social conservatives came out, and then we got 66 percent of the Perot vote that really created the '94 landslide.
MR. HANNA: Now, in that context, as you have so nicely laid out for us, talk about the development of the Christian Coalition, its growth, and the lessons that you have learned from that experience that apply not only perhaps to the Tea Party movement but also to your own efforts at starting the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
DR. REED: Well, I have to say, you know, you really have to give credit here where credit is due. I mean, the person who deserves the most credit for the explosion of the Christian Coalition in the '90s was really Bill Clinton.
We went from a quarter of a million members to a million members in something like six months, and, Jim, I don't know if you all experienced similar growth that focused on the family, but I am sure you did.
And it's really funny, Colin, because now it's like déjà vu all over again, only by a magnitude even bigger. I have never seen anyone who has woken up the conservative grass roots of this country the way Barack Obama has.
And let me just give you one example. Let me give you one data point. I recently started a grass-roots venture called the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which is, you know, working not exclusively with but primarily with social conservatives and the Tea Party folks around the country.
In Virginia, in 2009, we built a file of 345,000 self identified fiscal and social conservative households. You have an average of 1.8 voters per household. So we were talking to about 700,000 voters. We mailed them three times, phoned them there times, and then if they lived in a populous county, they get a knock on the door.
The self identified conservative vote in Virginia in one year, from 2008 to 2009, went from 33 percent of the electorate to 40 percent of the electorate. They voted 92 to 8 for Bob McDonnell.
The evangelicals went from 27 percent of the electorate in 2008, when Barack Obama became the first Democratic Presidential candidate to carry the Commonwealth of Virginia in 44 years, and it wasn't even close. He won it by 8 points.
They increased their turnout from 26 or 27 percent of the electorate to 34, and they voted 84 to 16 for Bob McDonnell.
Now, if we can get the fiscal conservatives and the social conservatives to do that all over the country in 2010, I am telling you what happened in Virginia, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, will happen everywhere. It could be bigger than '94. That is what is coming.
MR. HANNA: Well, on that note, that is an encouraging note on which to end because the sense that something big is coming is very much in the air.
The other side sees it as well, and I wish you the best with the Faith and Freedom Coalition. What you did in Virginia and New Jersey was transformational and very much part of this true grass-roots awakening.
There is a new understanding of and appreciation for America's founding principles that I think is driving your organization the same as it is the Tea Party. So I thank you very much for your time.
Anything you want to say in conclusion?
DR. REED: Just real quick, I want you to keep this in mind. Barack Obama's job approval today in the Rasmussen is 45. In the Gallup, it's 46. If you look at every off year election since 1945, if a President's job approval was under 50 on Election Day, the average number of seats gained in that off year is 41.
How many seats do the Republicans need to take the House?
So that is what we are dealing with. Even in the Newsweek poll, his job approval is 46. I think in the CBS/New York Times poll, it is 46. Now, if the New York Times says Obama's job approval is 46, it's lower, okay?
MR. HANNA: That's right.
DR. REED: So this wave is coming. We have had this spontaneous combustion.
If we can figure out for leaders like Mark and Jenny Beth to get those people to the polls, we are going to see one of the most important and transformational elections we have seen in American history.
Thanks so much, Colin.
MR. HANNA: Thank you, Ralph.
DR. REED: Appreciate it.
MR. HANNA: Well, we are now going to meet these two remarkable Tea Party leaders. I will introduce them both, and then I will ask them to come up together.
First is Jenny Beth Martin. She was born in Marietta. She is a Georgia girl, through and through. She is, I guess, in a curious way of saying our own Woodstock generation because she is a resident now of Woodstock, Georgia, but it is not the Woodstock generation of the 1960s by a long shot.
Following her graduation from the University of Georgia in 1992, she had a successful career as a computer programmer, senior information technology manager with Mead and the Home Depot, and then she had twins in 2002. And she left her career to begin working on building her family. That still is the number-one priority in her life.
When her grandmother died of breast cancer in 1998, she began to make charities that helped people raise awareness and raise money for research for breast cancer a high priority. As you may know, many of those drives involve things like Demonstration Walks where you get people to sponsor you for so many dollars a mile. Jenny Beth walked 1,600 miles in that particular pursuit. She has raised thousands of dollars.
She is also involved with Hands On Atlanta where she serves as a tutor for inner city pre-teen girls. She has been active with the Georgia Republican Party where she worked closely with Ralph when he was chair, but she is one of the key organizers of Tea Party Patriots, which is the largest umbrella group of Tea Party volunteers around the country. She is, as Ralph properly pointed out, the principal organizer for what was the largest single Tax Day Tea Party event on April 15th, and she is doing this to promote the ideals of fiscally responsible government, free markets, and constitutional limitations.
We will meet Jenny Beth in a moment, but let's applaud her work now.
Mark Meckler is clear on the other side of the country. He is in North Central California. He is a lawyer. He was an English major as an undergraduate. He practiced real estate law and business law for a decade. For about 11 years, he was a small business person operating a number of small businesses with his wife, Patty, who is absolutely phenomenal. I am sorry she is not able to be with us this weekend because I think you perhaps might understand Mark even better if you saw Patty. She is an inspiration.
But Mark got involved in a very different way. Mark was not involved in the Republican Party. Mark was and is to this day a registered independent, but one day -- and he will tell us the story in a few moments. One day he woke up and said, "Wait a minute. It's time for me to do something. What I see is our country headed in the wrong direction."
So let's now welcome -- let's also applaud Mark and his accomplishments.
And let's welcome Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler. Please come on up and have a seat.
MRS. MARTIN: Thank you.
MR. HANNA: Welcome. We are so glad to have you here this weekend at CNP, and we were so pleased to have you also with us for the Mount Vernon Statement signing.
Each of you was drawn into the Tea Party movement in different ways. So I would like to begin by asking you to tell your personal stories, how you first got involved, and we can start with Jenny Beth.
MRS. MARTIN: As Ralph was saying a few minutes ago, the day after the election in 2008 was a little disappointing for a lot of us around the country, and I did something different than probably a lot of you. I have been involved in computer programming. I was very active online, and I went through all of the people who I have been tweeting with for the past six to eight weeks about the election and figured out which ones were the conservatives and started communicating with them and trying to build a list to communicate with them.
That is important because, about that same time, there was a lady named Stacy Mott and Teri Christoph, and they were starting Smart Girl Politics.
Then, there was Rob Neppell and Michael Patrick Leahy, who were starting Top Conservatives on Twitter.
And so we all let them --
MR. HANNA: How many of you know TCOT, Top Conservatives on Twitter?
MRS. MARTIN: TCOT.
MR. HANNA: That is something that we all ought to plug into.
MRS. MARTIN: So we all started communicating online, and I saw these names. And Eric Odom from what is now American Liberty Alliance, we all kind of communicated a little bit.
That is important because those three organizations helped lay the groundwork for something that we do now.
In the meantime, my husband had had a very successful temporary staffing company. It was the number-four temporary staffing company in Georgia for several years. He had a business partner that went awry, and we had to accept the consequences of that, and we lost everything materially. In February of last year, we had moved from the house that we had had for 11 years into a rental home.
Then, Rick Santelli, who I have learned this weekend a lot of people don't actually know who he is -- he is on CNBC, and he reports about the stock market on CNBC. In February of last year, about two weeks after my husband and I and my children had moved, he was outraged by the stimulus bill that had passed or was in the process of passing, and he had this spontaneous rant on CNBC.
Now, if it happened on Fox News, it really wouldn't have been news, but because it was on CNBC, it made news. He said that people didn't want to pay for the neighbors' houses that they couldn't afford and this is just an atrocity and we need to do something about it, why don't we just have a Tea Party right here in Chicago. He was in Chicago.
That rant, it struck a chord with people around this country. Talk radio started talking about it. People on Twitter started tweeting about it, and we had a conference call the very next day. Those people who I had been tweeting with -- and there were about 22 of us on the call, and we hung up that phone call thinking we would have 5 to 10 Tea Parties across the country the following Friday, which was less than 7 business days -- well, 5 business days, 7 days total.
MR. HANNA: Who actually organized that first call of 22?
MRS. MARTIN: I believe that was Michael Patrick Leahy.
MR. HANNA: Twenty-two people.
MRS. MARTIN: Twenty-two people.
MR. HANNA: A few days after the Santelli rant.
MRS. MARTIN: The very next day.
MR. HANNA: The very next day. You planned events 7 days later.
MRS. MARTIN: Right.
MR. MECKLER: Actually, the reality is they didn't even plan the event.
MRS. MARTIN: Right. We just said we are going to do it.
MR. MECKLER: They conceptualized it.
MRS. MARTIN: We are going to strike while the iron is hot.
I have to give credit to Michael Patrick Leahy because he said, you know, we could wait until July, because that is what Santelli's rant had said, let's do it on the 4th of July, or we can do it right now. And we decided to do it right then. CPAC was about to happen, and we were trying to just take advantage of the moment.
So we did that, put things out on Facebook saying we are having a Tea Party, a protest for conservatives, you know. The next Friday, we had 48 Tea Parties with 35,000 people in attendance from around the country.
MR. HANNA: What was it like to discover that you had tapped into something big? I mean, even though I am sure you did a great job and the others on the call did a great job doing the fundamentals or organizing, you also sensed at some point that you had tapped into something. It wasn't simply a function of good organization.
MRS. MARTIN: I think that there is something much greater at work here than anyone or thousands of organizers. It is something far greater than any one of us.
It was amazing. When I went to the Capitol in Atlanta on February 27th of last year, it was pouring down rain. It was in the low 40s or maybe the upper 30s. It was cold. Most of the men who were there were in ties and suits, and they were holding their umbrellas. And there were a few moms who had signs, with their children who were home-schooled. And I got there, and there were nearly 500 people that day in Atlanta protesting taxes.
It is not something that conservatives do. We don't protest. We sit up straight, and we go to work, and we do the right thing usually, the "right" thing.
MR. HANNA: That's good.
MRS. MARTIN: So it was really, really amazing, and Mark will tell you how he got involved in a minute, but very quickly, we immediately started planning for the next round of Tea Parties, and on April 15th, we had over 850 Tea Parties -- and I will let Mark tell a little bit more about that -- with 1.2 million people in attendance.
Those numbers are -- the question, how do you know how many people you had, we actually picked up the phone and called all 850-plus organizers and took a roll call count. It took us about six weeks to do that.
MR. HANNA: So, while this was going on in your area and more broadly from the other folks on the call, you were 3,000 miles away in California. Bring us up to date on your story.
MR. MECKLER: For me, I was a lifelong Republican. About eight years ago, I just felt like I couldn't identify with either party any longer. I got tired of being at parties and having people ask me how I associated politically and stuttering before I answered.
So I just decided, you know, I don't need to have a label. I am a person who has always stood on principle. My dad was a cowboy, is a cowboy, and I grew up with a cowboy ethos, and that's all about principle. It wasn't about joining anything or associating with anything. So I grew up with a great love of country and a belief in fundamental principles, and I didn't feel like either party represented that any longer.
I have always been interested in politics, followed it, read the news, read books, and never been involved other than voting. It was a little embarrassing in hindsight. We have a lot greater responsibility, but I was one of those people. I voted, and then I assumed that the people that I sent to Washington or the State capital were going to do the right thing.
When the election took place and Obama was elected as our President, I was literally stunned. The night before, I was in denial. As the returns were coming in, I have friends on the left, and they were calling me to harass me, and I was smugly saying, "Just wait until the morning. It's all going to be fine." Really, because I didn't believe -- I knew where the country was heading if we went that way, and I simply didn't believe that Americans would make that choice.
So, when I woke up the next morning and saw what the results were, literally, I was devastated. It affected literally my ability to work. I am an attorney. I work from home so that I can be with my kids all the time, and I was just struggling to pay attention to what I was doing because it was like Alice in Wonderland. I felt like I had fallen down the rabbit hole and nothing was right any longer, and that I must be the person who had gone crazy, because apparently I was the only person who could see.
Literally, I stopped reading the blogs, I stopped reading the papers, and I stopped watching the news, because I just didn't want to know, because I couldn't cope with it. It was keeping me from functioning.
Then Santelli's rant came on, and I heard about it on the Internet. I am an Internet attorney. I stood up and pounded on my desk when I saw it the first time and shouted, "Yes, that's me. That's what I believe."
And my wife came running in the office to see what was wrong. I showed it to her, and she said. "Yeah, that's exactly right." Apparently, thousands of people around the country were doing the same thing at the same moment.
Jenny Beth then had scheduled this conference call. I didn't know about that. I am not as technologically sophisticated as she is. A couple of days later, I saw that they were listing these things on Facebook. So, like the good husband that I am, I asked my wife for permission to participate, and I threw up a Facebook page, and we did one in Sacramento.
We did it on about four days notice, didn't really know what it meant, had never protested. I knew that I would be there with my wife, and I brought my kids. We took them out of school because we wanted them to see the First Amendment instead of just hear about it at school.
I asked my folks to come along, and so I knew there would be six of us that would show up.
MR. MECKLER: At least we had the safety of family.
We got down there and the first thing that happened, Colin, was the police showed up. Now, if you are a conservative and you are carrying a sign, it's embarrassing enough, and then the police show up and ask you what you are doing. It was truly a horrifying moment.
Luckily, my mom is a retired police officer, so I let her handle the police. They were very nice to us.
They gave us a permit, and we thought, okay, now we can legally protest. Then people started showing up. Ultimately, 150 people showed up, and to me, it was liberating to know that there are other people out there who felt like I did.
More importantly, I went around and personally met each of those people. I wanted to know what brought them out. I knew what brought me and my family out, and there were two things that really stood up. Number one was everybody used some version of the word "I was compelled." It wasn't a choice, it wasn't something they felt like they would check out. They said they felt like they had no choice, there was nothing else they could do. They knew they needed to be there.
The other thing that I found most fascinating was the breadth of people who were there. We had teachers. We had retired people. We had kids. We had college students, small business owners, laborers, and we had people from all sides of the social spectrum too, which I found fascinating.
We had literally, standing on the sidewalk next to each other, pro-choice and pro-life people, fascinating to see those people together carrying the same sign instead of yelling at each other.
So we had people who -- at the time, we had Prop 8, Marriage and Family Act, very hot in California. We had gay rights folks out there with marriage and family activists, and they weren't beating each other with signs. They were saying the same thing.
When I saw people from all social groups across all different ideologies who were agreeing, I realized that was magic, and there was something else that was magical to me was in that moment I started to realize that we have been divided as a people for decades, that the politicians have used this as a tool, that if they can make liberals hate conservatives, if they came make Democrats hate Republicans, if we can all hate each other enough, we don't focus on what they are doing. And what they have doing for decades is picking our pockets and taking away our liberties one by one.
So I saw this amazing amalgamation of people with different ideologies, different social backgrounds, and different political backgrounds all coming together around fiscal responsibility, free markets, and constitutional limited government. That inspired me to keep going.
MR. HANNA: Did that derive out of your conversations? Then you were asking them what motivates you, where are your passions, what brought you here?
MR. MECKLER: What party are you part of, you know, what is your background, what is your job?
MR. HANNA: Because the press loves to characterize the Tea Party attendees as angry, first of all, and to a degree, they have got every right to be angry, but angry and ignorant or angry and unsophisticated.
MRS. MARTIN: It's not -- we are angry. I think a lot of us in this country, we are fed up, and we are frustrated with -- I have been involved in the Republican Party as an activist for many years, and we are frustrated with both parties.
I feel like, as an activist, I haven't held the politicians accountable, and that makes me as responsible or almost as responsible as them because I knew a lot of them, and I saw the way they were voting. And we all just kept going I can't believe they are doing that, but we never picked up the phone and said what are you doing. So we have learned that we have to hold them accountable.
The thing that really -- this movement is about physical responsibility, first and foremost. Santelli's rant was about that, saying people need to be responsible.
My husband and I, we accepted that we had lost everything, and instead of getting money from the TARP bill, which we could have done, we decided we needed to be responsible and live by the principles that we had been asking others to do for many years.
MR. HANNA: And then you found that those principles were, in fact, American's founding principles.
MRS. MARTIN: They are.
MR. HANNA: Talk about the rediscovery of things like the Constitution itself and how that refocuses and recenters the people in the movement.
MR. MECKLER: I think one of the most fascinating things about the movement is the fact that it is constitutionally based, and there is an important underlying factor in that. It is a Judeo-Christian-based movement because that is where the Constitution comes from.
So what is happening because of the focus on the Constitution, it is bringing people back to the traditional values that underlie that Constitution.
There is an interesting -- I don't know what the exact number is right now, but I guarantee you this is a true statistic. Right now in the United States of America, there are more people in possession of and reading the United States Constitution than at any previous time in the history of the country.
MR. HANNA: And what percentage of those are distributed by the Heritage Foundation?
MR. MECKLER: A very large percentage, thank you very much.
MR. HANNA: Isn't that fascinating? They are actually going back, and I hear that this is happening also all over the country, that they are having Constitution reading parties.
MR. MECKLER: Yes.
MR. HANNA: Where neighborhoods get together and read through the less-than-4,500 words in the U.S. Constitution. When you do that, you come away with the Founders' vision of limited government.
You can't read that document and come away with any other view than the purpose of the Federal Government is to govern as little as possible, that it is inherently a limited concept. And that has been subscribed to in a fresh, new, and dynamic way by the folks in the Tea Party movement.
MRS. MARTIN: It really has. It started with fiscal responsibility, and then we said why is that important. And one of the things that we saw as we kept raising our hands saying we will do it, we will do it, we will do more and more --
MR. MECKLER: We are the volunteers that always raise our hands. That is why we are sitting here because we were the last men and women standing actually, willing to be volunteers.
MR. HANNA: No, you are the first men and women standing, and that is why you are we.
MRS. MARTIN: So we receive a lot of e-mails because we give our e-mail address out to pretty much anybody and everybody several times a day. So, by doing that, what we found is that we -- oh, you want it right now, is that what you're saying?
MR. HANNA: Sure.
MRS. MARTIN: It's Jennybethm@gmail.com. And?
MR. MECKLER: Mine is firstname.lastname@example.org.
MRS. MARTIN: And you can always e-mail us.
MR. HANNA: Thank you.
MRS. MARTIN: We saw in the e-mails that were coming through that people were saying we need to get back to the Constitution, we need to get back to the Tenth Amendment, Tenth Amendment, Constitution, Tenth Amendment, Constitution. Those words, those three words kept coming into our In Boxes over and over and over.
So there is just this focus on it, like never before. People are reading "Common Sense." They are reading "The 5,000 Year Leap." They are reading things that -- they are studying. They are really studying it.
MR. MECKLER: What is important about it or what is so unique is nobody is telling people to do this. We are giving people resources, and we are helping them to do things, but Jenny Beth said we receive all these e-mails. The way that our organization is run, of 1,225 at least -- it is growing daily -- chapters across the nation now, millions of members.
MR. HANNA: 1,225.
MR. MECKLER: Yes.
MRS. MARTIN: Voluntarily affiliated.
MR. MECKLER: All voluntarily affiliated under our umbrella, and that has grown 225 chapters since January 1st. So the growth is now exponential. It is outrageous, and nobody is telling these people what to do.
Every now and then, we will get somebody from the GOP, a politician will call us and they will say, "You know, we need you to hold a Tea Party on this date in this town," and we laugh because we say we don't have any control over that. You know, people decide when Tea Parties will be, and I mean that on a national basis too.
You know, Jenny Beth was one of the chief organizers for the march on 9/12, and we were trying to decide this year whether we were going to do that again, whether we were going to hold that event again. And eventually, it became abundantly clear that we had no choice in the matter because we were receiving thousands and thousands of e-mails from people saying we will be in D.C. on 9/12.
So we need to be here, but truthfully, that is the motto. That is how decisions are made.
MR. HANNA: And that is what it is to be a grass-roots-up rather than top-down organization.
In that same context, you are now developing something called the Contract From America. We all know the Contract for America. The Contract From America is actually very different. The Contract for America was the product of policy people, policy wonks, careful public opinion testing, focus groups, things of that nature.
The Contract From America is developing in an entirely different way. Describe what the Contract From America is, which is still is development.
MRS. MARTIN: We have one of our national coordinators -- he was not a national coordinator at the time -- Ryan Hecker. He is from Houston, Texas, and he spoke with me on the phone and said, "I have this idea," last year. This was the week after April 15th last year -- "for Contract From America. Let's set up this website and let people put in all the different ideas that they would like to see happen in our government, and then let's have people vote on those ideas and rank them and say 'Yes, I like this idea' or "I don't like that idea' and see which ones bubble up to the top. Then, after we do that, we take those final ideas and let people vote on those to come up with the final Contract From America."
We have been working on this since literally Tax Day last year, and now we are in the final phase where people are voting on the final planks on it, and we are going to be rolling it out on April 15th and asking elected officials to sign it and asking the people at the Tea Parties to sign it as well, the ordinary citizens to sign it. It is a true grass-roots, bottom-up document rather than top down.
MR. MECKLER And you can vote on that if you go to Teapartypatriots.org, and if you want to give your input on what the top planks will be, you guys can vote.
MR. HANNA: And I encourage you to do that because it's a simple online voting process, so go there and do that.
Talk about the moving together, if you will, of the Tea Party movement, the Tea Party phenomenon, and the conservative movement that folks in this room have been part of for years, where are they coming together, what is the common ground, what are the distinctives, how are they different, and how does it relate to, I would say, either political party, but there is only one political party to whom it naturally relates.
MR. MECKLER: I think one thing that is very important -- and Ralph said it so well -- is, for us, one of the most crucial things to do is to remain independent of the political parties. You get the occasional fringe person that says we need to set up a third party or a group of people that will talk about that.
We have studied our history. We understand that is a disaster. I just finished reading a book on the agrarian populous movement, and it was a powerful movement until they became a third party.
More importantly, our job is to push the entire system from the bottom to the top. We want to push the entire system to the right. On a personal level, I am tired of the debates starting on the left, and we have to scratch and claw for every inch just to get to the center of the debate. At best, these days, that is where we end up.
MR. MECKLER: So the goal is to make sure for us, as the Tea Party movement -- is to make sure that we are putting pressure on the whole system, and we are making sure that at worst, for our side, the debate starts in the center. And in order to do that, we need to be able to pressure both parties. I would like to see in every Democratic primary in the country that there is a Democrat, and I know they are few and far between these days, but we want Democrats who believe in fiscal responsibility and free markets and constitutionally limited government.
There are places for legitimate policy debate. That is where partisanship belongs, but when we talk about simple things like not spending our children into oblivion, I believe that Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on those things. And those are the things that it is our responsibility as an independent entity to force on the system.
You asked about sort of crossing this bridge here between the established conservative movement and this new phenomenon, and one of the reasons that Jenny Beth and I are so excited to be here is there is something that happens anytime you have people or a movement that achieves tremendous success very rapidly. I think there is a natural human tendency for people to believe that they are responsible, that they are so smart. and they are so incredible, they made it happen.
Like any movement, there are a lot of people like that in the Tea Party movement. It is not a criticism. That is human nature. And one of the things that we work very hard on is to understand that we are not responsible for this. We happen to be privileged by the grace of God to be placed as a couple of stewards of the movement, and to be in this room with people who founded the conservative movement when there was no movement, when there was no path, when it was -- you know, you guys had to fight your way through the underbrush to define the conservative movement.
So, for us, to be welcomed into a place like this and to have literally hundreds and hundreds of years of collective wisdom and you guys are opening that vault to us, it is tremendously powerful.
And I have to credit Colin for this because he has an incredible vision like nobody we have met literally in Washington or elsewhere to understand how important it is for us to build this bridge between this young movement and the established conservative movement, so that we protect and project the movement into the future.
MR. HANNA: Well, we need you far more, frankly, than you need us, and one of the interesting things that we have developed together is your interest in, awareness of, and ultimately signing of the Mount Vernon Statement.
So let's wrap up our time by talking about that, talking about finding common ground with the conservative movement, the conservative establishment.
MRS. MARTIN: You asked where the common ground is, and the common ground clearly is the Constitution and the fact that that is what unites us all as Americans.
I think that the Mount Vernon Statement is a very, very good statement that says the Constitution is important and people who are involved in the economic issues, like our group and other groups like us are, we need to remember that the social issues are just as important, and the social issues, we need to remember that the economic issues are important. It is a beautiful document, and we are just very privileged and honored that we were able to participate in it.
MR. MECKLER: If I could, I would like to close with a personal story that I think the common ground is even deeper, and to me, the common ground is faith. We have heard so much about hope and change in the last year. Frankly, the word "hope" has lost any real meaning because it has been so abused.
Jenny Beth and I have talked about this a lot, and we have changed our language because of the fact that the word "hope" has been so abused and because it doesn't have the right meaning for us.
This movement has given us faith in the future of America. Faith is much more powerful than hope. Hope is about wishing and, you know, you hope that something is going to come true, but we have an absolute undying faith in this country, and that comes from obviously a much deeper faith.
There is a question that we get asked all the time, and it's kind of a sensitive question, you know, because our organization, we are based on fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets. So we get people who come to us and say, "Why aren't you directly addressing the social issues, or why isn't God directly on the platform?" and my answer to that is God is everywhere. God is in this movement. God directs this movement. God directs the people that are involved in this movement.
There are a lot of people in this country that don't believe that this country is founded in the name of God any longer, but that is not what this movement is about. It is not what this movement believes.
Everywhere you go in this country, you will meet Tea Partiers that start their meetings in prayer. You will hear the Pledge of Allegiance. You will see people sing the Star Spangled Banner with tears in their eyes. And whether we put faith on the platform, it is a faith based movement.
And on a personal level, you know, all of us go through our daily struggles in life, and none worse or more difficult than others. We all just have our own burdens to carry. Hopefully, in the moments where we need it, we turn to God.
And I can tell you, this is just a personal story. It is not because I am different or special, but it's representative of the movement. Jenny Beth and I travel a lot, and I know a lot of you do too for the things you believe in, and you know how hard that is, being away from your family, the lack of sleep, the difficult travel schedules.
About -- I don't know -- a month and a half ago, I was telling this story to Bob Reccord on the phone the other day, and about a month and a half ago I had been on the road for a long time, and I came home to be with my family. And I had made a commitment to be at a small Tea Party down the hill from where I live. I live up in the foothills in Northern California.
I got home, pulled off the suit because I am a cowboy at home, and felt good to be back in my boots and my jeans.
MRS. MARTIN: And your hat.
MR. MECKLER: And my hat. Jenny has seen me at home. She didn't believe it until she saw it.
I got in the big Ford F-350 Dually pickup, and I was feeling like myself.
MRS. MARTIN: The Prius eater.
MR. MECKLER: My kids call it the "Prius Eater."
Now you are telling the secrets.
So I got in the Prius Eater, and I was driving down the hill to this meeting. And it was dark and I was exhausted, and I was on the phone with somebody in the California legislature having a heated debate. I was very unhappy with their behavior, and I felt like they weren't living up to Republican principles. Sound familiar?
So we're having this debate as we drive down, and I looked down and my fuel light comes on. So I am in heated debate, and I get off the freeway, and I pull into a gas station, and I proceed to fill the tank. I am still in the middle of this heated debate. Obviously, I have to watch my temper. I get back on the freeway and I start to drive, and I hang up the phone. And I am thinking how angry I am at this person, and my truck starts to sputter and cough.
At that moment, I realized -- now, this is an F-350 diesel, and I pulled into a gas station, and I filled it with gas. So lots of folks know what that means. I knew what that meant, so I pulled over, and one of the things I knew is that like so many people are in this position in this movement, we have sacrificed a lot.
You know, I am an attorney. I haven't billed hours really in a year because this movement is important to me. So, I know, you know, we are kind of on the edge, and I knew that I had just killed the truck. I mean, I knew that I blew up the motor.
So the first thing I did, of course, is punish myself and think how stupid am I and I can't believe I did this. And then I call a couple of friends who are diesel mechanics, because where I live it is ranchers and miners. A lot of my friends are mechanics.
They said, you know, "We are sorry, Mark, but you have killed that truck, and there is a lot of money you are going to spend to repair that thing," and we don't have the money to repair that thing.
I sat on the side of that highway. It was dark, and all I can think about was, first, that I was letting people down. I was supposed to be at this meeting, and I had left in haste. I didn't have a phone number with me. I was thinking that maybe I deserved this because, you know, I was speaking to somebody in anger. And all I could think to do in that moment was pray, because what else do you do, right?
So, dark country road, middle of the night or late in the evening, by myself, just me and God, trying to find an answer. Unfortunately, so often when we pray and we expect the immediate answer, the answer didn't come immediately. But I prayed and called my wife. She came down the hill and picked me up, and the truck got towed away. I talked to a lot more friends who said, "Sorry, your truck is blown up."
I had it towed to a mechanic. I talked to the mechanic the next morning, and he told me, "Look, you know, I have been working on these trucks for 25 years. I don't know how much damage you did, but it's blown up. So what we do is we drain the fuel out of it, put a few gallons of diesel back in, we see what happens, and then I will call you and tell you what the damage is."
Meanwhile, I was starting to receive a succession of calls from friends of mine that I had talked to and who had sort of spread the word, and the common theme was people saying it's all going to be okay, we are praying for you, it's all going to be okay, we are praying for you.
Sometimes we take those words for granted when people say that they are praying for us, and it is almost like saying "How are you?" and "I am fine." It is just words that we sometimes take them as just words. It is not words. You know, they are not just words. It's a true blessing from God when somebody is willing to offer a prayer for you.
So the day goes by and people are saying this to me, and my son, who is obviously much wiser than me says, "Dad, I know it's all going to be fine." The mechanic calls me at five o'clock and he says, "You know what, Mark, I have no explanation for this. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your truck."
MR. MECKLER: I tell you that story, I know it's a simple thing, but it is one of a million miracles driving this movement today.
MRS. MARTIN: And it was really important. Mark, he may have quit that day had his truck not worked, because he had no idea how he was going to pay for it, and I didn't know how we were going to pay for it. So, even though it was just a truck, it was important.
I would like to close with one thing, and then we have a little video clip to show. My husband and I, we have really and truly been living on faith for the past three years. Mark will call me up occasionally and say, "What are we going to do about this?" And I just say, "You know what, it will be okay. We are going to pray about that. We are going to leave that alone, and we will come back to it, and we will figure out the answer." It is hard to do that at first, but once you start living on faith, it becomes so much, so much easier.
There is this lady who is a national coordinator, Diana Reimer.
MR. HANNA: Right. I know her well.
MRS. MARTIN: You know her. She is from your area in Philadelphia, and she goes to Harrisburg quite often.
She is 67 years old. She has never been involved in politics at all before last year. She heard about the Tax Day Tea Parties, and she decided -- she saw it on the news and she decided I am going to do that, I have to do that.
She told her husband, "That's what I am going to do." And she planned a protest and she had one, and she has been to D.C. She and her husband both are still working, and she was working a part-time job at Macy's, and she needs that money. Right before the march on D.C. in September, she quit her job and came to D.C. to help me.
She was there with me for 12 days, and she has become a national coordinator for us since then. And one thing she constantly says -- people look at her and they just say, "Diana, I don't know how you do it. You are just amazing." There is this one man who works with us, and he said he had a dream about Diana and that they were on Mount Everest climbing, and he looked up and there she was typing away on her computer, using her BlackBerry, and saying, "Come on. What are you waiting for? What is taking you so long? Hurry up."
That is what she is like. If we say something needs to be done, we say, "Hey, I think we need to have a protest in D.C., and we are probably going to have one there in the next week," and she says, "Okay. What do we have to do to get it done?" She doesn't say "Oh, no. We can't do it because of X, Y, and Z." People just are amazed at Diana. She doesn't understand why. She just says, "I am just a vessel for God. I am doing this because I am a vessel, and I am going to continue to do this as long as I can."
Diana, her attitude with this movement, it reminds me of Luke 21:4 and the widow's offering. She has given everything that she has to this movement, and I don't mean just financially, which she is making a sacrifice to do this, but the time away -- she could be retired and enjoying life, and she is not. She is working hard to save our country, to reclaim our founding principles, and she is a perfect example of what Tea Party Patriots are. She is an ordinary citizen reclaiming America's founding principles.
MR. HANNA: What a great way to end because this movement is, in fact, grounded. It is not merely a tax protest phenomenon. It is a grounded movement, and it is grounded on the same principles on which our nation was founded and grounded.
It is interesting you used the term "faith" as distinct from "hope," and there is another Bible verse that says, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." So faith is the substance for hope. Hope by itself has no grounding. Faith is the substance.
On that note, let's close, but let's close with a video clip. There is a film that was made of the Tea Party movement. It is called "The Tea Party Movie," and there are about 200 copies of it outside at a table where Mark and Jenny Beth will be. We are going to show you a brief clip from it now.
They are interested in sharing that DVD, which is sold most of the time when they get together. It is going to be made available to you tonight. They are particularly interested in talking to people who frankly can help with the movement. See the clip, and then see them outside for an opportunity to get your own copy.
So, would you roll the clip.
[Video clip presentation.]
MR. HANNA: There are some Patriots out there, and there are some Patriots right here. Let's express our appreciation to Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin.
MR. MECKLER: Thank you very much.
MRS. MARTIN: Thank you.
MRS. DUNLOP (Becky Norton): Thank you very much, Colin Hanna, Ralph Reed, Jenny Beth, Mark. It was a delight to have you here with us.
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