Tea Partiers: ‘You’re listening to us now’ 

Exactly one year ago today, Jenny Beth Martin made a conference call that ignited the political wildfire now know as the Tea Party Patriots (www.TeaPartyPatriots.org). Initially ignored and even ridiculed by political insiders of both major parities, the grassroots movement has doubled its numbers since January 1st, mostly by word-of-mouth and email-to-email contacts. Tea Partiers now threaten to end the careers of once invulnerable incumbents who are silly enough not to take them seriously.

At a Thursday press conference at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington , TPP announced that it will reveal its “Contract From America” –  a bottom-up roadmap to restore the movement’s core principles of fiscal responsibility, limited government and free markets – at its signature April 15th Tax Day rallies held around the country. That’s when the top 10 ideas, gleaned from over 100,000 submitted to TTP’s website and voted for online by millions of the group’s members, will be unveiled.

When asked whether this process was akin to herding cats, TPP national coordinator Mark Meckler told The Examiner, “We’re not trying to herd them. Our job is to get feedback on these issues and present them to the nation. We’ll talk to anybody, Republicans and Democrats, but we’re not interested in listening to them anymore.”

Martin made the same point when she reminded members of the press corps that “This is a leaderless movement. We have over 1,500 local coordinators associated with Tea Party Patriots. We have 15 million people associated with Tea Party Patriots. Those are our leaders.”

Also attending the press conference was Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, and “primary crashers” Doug Hoffman, who narrowly lost his recent bid for the 23 congressional district seat in New York, and Indiana state Senator Marlin Stutzman, who is challenging former Sen. Dan Coats for the Republican nomination to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind. Recalling that President Obama came to Elkhart County, Indiana a year ago to launch his $787 stimulus package, Stutzman cracked: “After a year we finally found a job opening – for the U.S. Senate.”

The explosive growth of the populist Tea Party movement was a surprise to everybody, including Martin. “A year ago Friday, I made my first conference call to 22 people I met on Twitter, most of whom I had never talked to before,” she told The Examiner. “Am I surprised that the movement has grown so big? Yes, I am very pleasantly surprised.”

What inspired her to make that first call? “[CNN reporter Rick] Santelli’s rant,” she explained. “I had just lost my own home and my husband and I were cleaning other people’s bathrooms. We heard [Santelli] in the car and said to each other, ‘That’s exactly right.’ We decided we’d rather clean bathrooms than depend on the government – or force our neighbors to pay higher taxes to take care of us. If a family cannot afford to put food on the table because their taxes are too high, that’s the most basic social issue there is.”

Despite their explosive growth, the question of whether TPP will burn out or remain a potent long-term force in American politics is still very much up in the air.

“They have to decide whether they want to be a national tantrum or a transformational force,” says Internet and social networking analyst Ralph Benko. “The Tea Party movement is making the same mistakes that were made in the agrarian populist revolt of 1890. There’s a 50-50 chance it will nosedive a year from now. They need to learn that righteous anger is not a solution.”

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