Six years ago today, a few friends and my oldest daughter (The Bigun) set up a microphone, some signs, and a sign-in table on the lawn of Discovery Green in downtown Houston and waited. We had six days to get the word out and pull together an event called Tea Party to talk about fiscal responsibility, lowering taxes and spending, and following the Constitution. That’s all we had. That’s all we planned for: one event on a Friday at noon to talk about a return to sanity in government. We’d all just ridden the bailout wave, we’d all been TARPed, Rick Santelli had screamed it from Chicago on CNBC, and we were frustrated that nobody was listening. But we’d coordinated with others to hold simultaneous rallies in about fifty other cities, and we were committed.
We stood around looking at each other for a little while, wondering whether anyone would show up. We didn’t have an e-mail list, just our social media contacts with which to invite people; and that wasn’t much, given that I’d just joined Facebook and Twitter a few months before. And then Kris showed up. And then a few others. And before we knew it, there were 500 people standing on the lawn waiting to see what would happen.
People know what came after – the Tax Day rallies, the march in DC, the 2010 House takeover by the GOP. But in those first moments, we only had a microphone, some signs, and a table. And some fundamental ideas we hoped would resonate.
My own journey since has been strange. From building a team to organize one of the largest Tax Day rallies in the country a few weeks later (over 11,500 in attendance!), to training people across the state to get involved in party and convention politics, to traveling to conferences and trainings across the country, to becoming a bit of a media go-to person for tea party issues, to speaking at Republican clubs and tea party events; I’ve seen a lot of the movement. I’ve been energized, and I’ve been demoralized. I’ve felt the amazing surge of support not unlike group therapy, and I’ve felt the wounds inflicted from people who were supposed to be allies. I’ve been educated and trained and informed, and I’ve been preached at and patronized and scammed.
Through it all, though, there was always one thing I tried to keep in mind: How was I going to get the things that I wanted? How was I going to contribute to an effort to make this country more prosperous, more fiscally sound, more free? What could I (and others like me) practically do to make these things happen?
I still ask those questions every day, though I’m no longer leading an official group or hosting rallies or talking to the media. Those things had their place, and I was happy to engage in them when I saw the value. But these days I’ve come to see things differently, and do things differently, based on what I think we need in this moment in time.
You see, the rallies were a great, confirming group therapy session. People needed to know that they were not alone. Isolation and ‘othering’ are HUGE tactics of the progressives. If they can convince you that your viewpoint isn’t shared by very many people, they can convince you to simmer down and shut up. We NEEDED those rallies to prevent being sold as the outliers, to prevent ourselves from believing that fiscal responsibility and smaller, limited government were crazy outdated ideas anymore.
We know that now, we know there are many of us who believe those things. What we need now are even more people who believe them.
And that’s where I’m focused. So many conservatives talk only to and among themselves about these ideas. They create little bubbles of conservative life, conservative communities online or in real life. They listen only to conservative shows, read only conservative blogs and news sources, and totally ignore what the complicit media is feeding the rest of the population. And on the off chance that they encounter someone who doesn’t appear to be conservative, some of them muzzle themselves, deciding that they’ll save their political thoughts for those who agree with them. Or else they decide to try to debate the person out of their viewpoints, which has a miserable track record of success and usually only devolves into name-calling and source-bashing.
Here’s the thing, though. Conservative values are everywhere. And you don’t have to talk candidates or parties all the time to find them. For example, this week the FCC passed a bunch of new regulations on the internet. You might not know all (or any) of the details about so-called ‘net neutrality’. But if you brought up the ‘secret regulations’ the FCC wouldn’t let us see until they passed, and that large companies like Google are reported to have made some sweet deals ahead of time in negotiations, don’t you see how nearly anyone would balk at that? Fairness (meaning equality under the law) is a conservative value, one that resonates with nearly anyone. And you don’t have to know all the gory details of the legislation to talk about it.
So that’s why I’m focused these days on helping conservatives learn how to talk about conservative values. Nobody goes out witnessing with their churches without training, but we send conservatives out to preach conservatism all the time with no plan and no preparation. We don’t have the media, or Hollywood, or academia, as our friends at The Party of Choice always point out. We have to be that much better simply because we have those barriers to get over to reach people. And yet, conservative organizations across the land hold ‘summits’ and ‘conferences’ so conservatives can hear speeches from big names.
We did that, people. WE DID THAT. It’s not enough. And we obviously can’t rely only on the big names in conservatism to get things done.
Think about it: in your life, there are people Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck will never, ever reach. You’re likely the ONLY person who can introduce conservative ideas to them, or show them that they really ARE conservative in at least some areas of their lives. If you’re focused only on labels like tea party and Republican, some people won’t listen just because you use those words. But if you focus on issues and values – fairness, allowing people to make their own choices, fighting cronies and sweetheart deals and cheating – there is a lot of room for agreement. And many political conversions aren’t events, but rather processes that take time and personal investment.
If you don’t know how to start, go check out The Party of Choice on their blog and watch their videos on You Tube. Hang out with them, and us, and our friends at The Conservative Union on Tuesday evenings at The Refinery Show, where we refine conservative messaging, and check out those videos too. Read some of the pieces in our Resource List and think about them, and find some issues you might want to practice ‘witnessing’ about. Learn to talk about what you believe in.
I’m reminded of an interview Larry O’Connor did with Raffi Williams from CPAC yesterday. Raffi is the son of Juan Williams, but Raffi works at the RNC. Larry asked how Raffi became a conservative, and Raffi answered that he was raised that way, to believe in hard work and individual responsibility. Larry responded with ‘I wish your father preached what he practices.’
We all need to learn how to do that properly. That’s the Next Step beyond Tea Party – to take what we believe, and learn how to talk about it; to become skilled at selling conservatism, using marketing principles and Steven Covey’s habits and psychology and anything else we can use. We need to convince more people they already agree with conservative principles, by stealth if necessary, and we need to commit to learning the most effective ways to do it.
Let’s get started. There’s a lot to do.