Here is a special Tea Tale from the Tea Party Report’s William J. Kelly and his wife, Laura and their first-hand account of a post-midterm tea party victory gathering in Illinois. A big THANK YOU to Jesus Alaniz, who provided the photographs in the slideshow below.
It was a festive yet low-key celebration when scores of tea party organizers came together in Darien, Illinois last Thursday evening. There was plenty of “You’re Fired” Nancy Pelosi cake and buttons to go around and you could feel the pride and the sense of family, of belonging, that filled the room. As long-time conservative and anti-tax activists since the late 1980s, my wife, Laura, and I felt right at home. Sure, we joined the tea party movement about twenty years too early (before there actually was a tea party movement), but home we were.
Organized by the Du Page and Tri-County Tea Parties, the atmosphere at the Carriage Green was modest, much like the middle-class people who compose this powerful, revolutionary movement. The mainstream media has regularly called Tea Party supporters racist. Yet when you see and meet these people – who are your neighbors, your teachers, your parish priests, your uncles, aunts, moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas – you realize what a crime these so-called journalists have been committing.
Crimes against people like ten year-old tea party supporter, Olivia Porter, who stuffed countless voter bags for candidates during the election. Or Lenore Repol who walked across six precincts by herself for an Illinois State Senate candidate named Cedra Crenshaw. Or Robert Wallet who made 10,000 phone calls for tea party candidates. Or Gary Gamberdine who works for three tea party groups and is a precinct committeeman.
Or Jesus Alaniz, who with passion and love, documents the Tea Party movement with his ever-ready camera. Or Rob Hill, an American of African-American descent, who heads up the Aurora Tea Party group.
Years ago, Rob took the time to study the differences between the Democrat and Republican parties. He read their histories and decided for himself where he belonged, where he wanted to be. What he wanted to be. He takes issue with hyphenated Americanisms. He fights the politics of division i.e. separating people on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and social class. We should all be as self-empowering.
But that’s the Tea Party movement. This is all about self-empowerment.
The mainstream media has also called this movement, “astroturf.” But one look around the room tells the tale. You quickly realize that these middle-class freedom fighters may be the only thing that is “real” in a political landscape marred by the lies, arrogance, and puffery of traditional politicians and their media cohorts. We may have a chance yet of determining our own political destiny as a country and as a people. Maybe. Just maybe.
Organizers Claire Van Horn of Du Page Tea Party and Laurie Hellmer of Cook County Tea Party called together organizers from around the state to congratulate one another and reflect on the complex road ahead. They have reason to be wary. Once a political movement – any political movement - gains ground there are dangers. Dangers like complacency. Or not knowing the next big target. Or infighting. That’s why many Illinois tea party organizers aren’t taking any chances. Good for them.
Laurie Hellmer called on tea party candidates to be better informed and trained. She complained that some didn’t even know what a “walk sheet” was. She also encouraged tea party supporters to take a class on the U.S. Constitution. Imagine that! A movement that wants its activists to understand the Constitution? We don’t even require members of the U.S Congress or Presidents to understand the U.S. Constitution! Unless you count President Obama himself, a former Constitutional law professor. Of course, Tea Party groups like Hellmer’s would probably say, arguably, that the President studied the Constitution in order to be able to circumvent it.
The fact that Hellmer wants tea party supporters to hold themselves to a higher standard is a good sign. In other words, how can you defend the Constitution if you do not understand it?
Still, in other Tea Party groups elsewhere, there are warning signs brewing. Even now some tea party groups don’t allow everyone a chance to speak. Some are coalescing around the same handful of former candidate-speakers and activists. Others are being tempted by promises of money or donations. Power is being centralized instead of democratized. Some of these organizers have already forgotten that it isn’t “their” tea party. It’s everyone’s tea party.
More than twenty years ago, I went on bended knee to a well-known leader of the conservative movement in Illinois. He was a WLS radio commentator and writer and I admired his words. I asked him, “What can I do to serve the conservative movement?” He told me, “Go home.” This same Illinois conservative leader seems to hate me even more today. Why? Because I didn’t go home. I don’t ask permission to participate in the political process. I speak up. I protest. I determine my own destiny. It is this power struggle over who is “allowed” to participate, this arrogance and conceit that has been the problem with the Republican Party and the conservative movement in Illinois and elsewhere. It was never “their” party. It is everyone’s party. That is the origin of the Tea Party Movement and why it has come to take its party back.
As I watched speaker after speaker come up to contribute a story, a concern, or a plan for the future, a flood of memories entered my mind from campaigns’ past. Even after years, you remember a campaign’s final days, the bleary-eyed exhaustion. I remember all the name-calling, being hammered – or ignored – by the press. The all-nighters and daily bouts defending petition signatures at the Board of Elections. Or all the times Laura and I were dragged away from protest sites. We were never just talk. We’ve walked that walk. But when you hear – finally hear - someone else’s war stories – that creates a bond that is unexplainable. That something shared gets passed on. Hearing the war stories of those in this budding movement, you come away with one conclusion: It isn’t easy being a conservative or a Tea Party activist. Especially in Chicago.
Tireless Claire Van Horn spoke passionately about the need to reach out to young people. Vivienne Porter of the Homer/Lockport Tea Party urged people to learn how to vet their candidates. John Manthey of the Du Page Tea Party talked about holding elected officials accountable to their campaign promises. An earnest John Greaves relayed a compelling tale about an incident of voter intimidation he and his wife encountered at the polls. Rick Newton, who pens the conservative Right Bites news alert, spoke about expanding the Tea Party base. Yet, that was just the warm-up for the end of evening speeches. The Tea Party is nothing if not intense.
Good guy Frank Napolitano of Tri-County Teas talked about the simple notion of getting involved in your local government. In other words, you don’t need to run for Mayor or Governor or Congress to care. The Tea Party is a bottoms-up revolution. If middle class and working class people run for office – if they care – there is no limit to what they can do. Former Illinois candidate for Governor, Adam Andrzejewski also talked with great determination about building on the Tea Party movement’s strong foundation for 2011. If anyone thought this was just a victory party, they were wrong. This was a planning party!
There would be one last speech before the evening adjourned. Before the Illinois tea parties activists grabbed their coats and got up from their chairs, I had a few words of my own to share: Be vigilant. There is work to be done in 2010, 2011, 2012 and beyond.
Twenty years ago, I didn’t go home. Today, neither will the Tea Party.
Conservative satirist and commentator William J. Kelly and his wife, Laura, edit and manage the Tea Party Reports for the Washington Times Communities. Kelly also pens Bill Kelly’s Truth Squad and is a contributor to Breitbart.com. He is a native from Chicago’s Southside. Email questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Du Page Tea Party's Claire Van Horn
- Lemont Tea Party's Stephanie Kovacik
- Du Page Tea Party's John Greaves
- Right Bite's Rick Newton
- Tri-County Tea Party's Frank Napolitano
- Du Page Tea Party's John Manthey
- Homer/Lockport Tea Party's Vivienne Porter
- There's no rest for Illinois Tea Partiers
- What's next? Tea partiers wonder?
- Post-election determination
- Illinois Tea Party supporters know there is more work to be done.
- Former Illinois candidate for Governor, Adam Andrzejewski
- Tea partiers have alot to say and it is important to listen.
- Claire Van Horn talks strategy with tea party activists
- Me and Frank Napolitano with Cook County Tea Party's Laurie Hellmer
- Me and Claire Van Horn
- William J. Kelly speaks at a tea party midterm victory celebration.
- There's more work to be done in 2010, 2011, and 2012.
- My wife, Laura, and I and members of the Du Page Tea Party
- That says it all!
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