- - Thursday, July 7, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

With confusion rampant - in the media, among Americans in general and even in the tea party movement itself - about the political force credited with influencing the outcome of the 2010 elections and that is expected to play a significant role in the 2012 presidential contest, here’s one man’s go at clarifying who’s who and what’s what in one of the movement’s chief organizations, the Tea Party Patriots (TPP).

The Patriots are a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization formed in March 2009 to recruit, train, network with and support individuals and organizations who identify themselves with the tea party movement. Four members of TPP’s national coordinator team were on the very first conference call of the movement on Feb. 20, 2009.

Today, we are the largest national tea party organization in the nation, with more than 3,500 chapters and millions of members nationwide.

Tea Party Patriots focuses on three core issues that were drafted and voted on by the membership: fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets. This is the TPP mandate, and TPP does not exceed it.

The TPP does nothave an office in Washington - or anywhere. While other groups operate inside the Beltway, the Tea Party Patriots is a virtual organization. We all work from our homes, just like we always have. This helps keep the organization and the movement free of the polluting influences of politics.

The organization most emphatically does not endorse candidates. TPP members have made it clear that they don’t want a national organization, Tea Party Patriots or otherwise, coming into their state or district and telling the local citizens whom to support. TPP trusts in the wisdom of local decision making.

The TPP does not speak for the movement at large. In interviews TPP’s national coordinators make it clear that they do not speak for the “tea party.” They do their best to simply reflect what they hear in the movement. Every week, the national TPP coordinators hold a National Leadership Council call and “webinar,” on which local coordinators from all over the country give their input and direct the actions and positions of the organization.

The Tea Party Patriots national coordinators do not tell local tea party organizations what to do or how to run their organizations. Under our umbrella, there are almost an infinite variety of organizations. Some call themselves “Tea Party Patriots,” some just use “tea party,” and others run the gamut from “9/12” groups to local “meet-ups.” From their names to their structure, organization and activities, they are not instructed by TPP national coordinators on what to do or how to do it.

The national TPP coordinators do take their marching orders from local organizations. This is the genius of the movement. We trust the grass-roots activists to lead the nation back to its founding principles and our members don’t need a national organization to tell them how to do it. This is a truly grass-roots movement, and we do everything in our power to reflect that, operating in a bottom-up manner. The people are in charge.

The TPP national coordinators do provide serious networking, educational and national leadership opportunities for local tea party activists all across the nation. We do this on our weekly webinars, and at least quarterly through “local coordinator conferences” where we gather as many local coordinators as possible.

We do take positions on issues, as instructed and guided by our local coordinators. This is the opposite of the top-down approach of the vast majority of traditional organizations on the right or the left. Most organizations take a position and then attempt to “rally the troops” to go out and fight for those positions.

We TPP national coordinators do communicate those positions through the media as opportunities arise.

We do provide education, training and support to tea partyers, working in partnership with organizations like the Leadership Institute (for activist/campaign training) and the National Center for Constitutional Studies (for founding principles education).

The most important players in the tea party movement are not national organizations but rather the millions of American patriots in their own communities. Tea Party Patriots would not exist without them. Since the beginning of the tea party movement, the TPP has existed to serve them and to help America in a way that reflects their values.

• Mark Meckler is a founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots (www.teapartypatriots.org).

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