It’s been a year since Rick Santelli’s epic rant on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade. Who could have guessed that his call for a 4th of July “tea party” on Chicago’s lakefront would be the catalyst for birthing a national movement?
When a string of nationwide tea parties exploded onto the national scene last April, the phenomena was dismissed (and dissed) by the political class as “Astroturf”. Tea parties have since collectively morphed into a bona fide national political movement that is now widely regarded as a major force in the upcoming 2010 election cycle. Mark Block, Wisconsin State Director of Americans for Prosperity recalled the past year recently.
While acknowledging January’s “Massachusetts Miracle” and last November’s New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial victories as evidence of the tea party’s muscle, Block’s take is a little different: “Massachusetts was an interesting win. But if you would have been standing in that cabbage field in Racine, Wisconsin in 20 degree weather in January with 4,000 other people, you’d realize just how deep this movement really is.”
Block was hoping for a turnout of 2,000 for the first Madison tea party last April 15. When 8,000 folks showed up – with handmade signs no less – the handful of organizers were stunned. Block said, “People didn’t realize that there were that many people that felt and thought like they did.” 65,000 people attended 24 tea parties around Wisconsin last 4th of July. Another record 15,000 turned out for a tea party at Milwaukee’s lakefront last September.
Meg Ellefson is a stay-at-home mom who was worried enough about her kids’ future that she went back home and started a local tea party group in Wausau. Wausau also happens to be the hometown of Rep. David Obey (D-7th District), House Appropriations Committee Chairman and author of the hugely unpopular Stimulus bill.
When Obey declined to hold even a single “listening session” in his own hometown last August, a record 1,400 folks showed up in Wausau August 27 for an AFP Healthcare Town Hall. Now in a fight for his political life, Obey is trying to hang on to the seat he’s held for 40 years. Seasoned political observers suggest that Obey is “toast” in what will amount to a political tsunami around Wisconsin (and the nation) in November.
When it comes to the future, Block is crystal clear: “The day that the Tea Party appoints a leader is the day the movement dies. The day it decides to become a third party is its death knell.”
According to Block, there are far more Reagan Democrats and JFK Democrats out there than Obama Democrats. Block is exhorting Independents, Tea Party Democrats and disgruntled Tea Party Republicans to get involved at the local party level and work to get fiscally responsible candidates elected. The strategy is deceptively simple: infiltrate and take over where it matters the most.
Block expects another blockbuster crowd for the upcoming “Defending the American Dream Summit” in Wisconsin Dells on March 12-13. He suggests registering at: www.fightbackwisconsin.com