How Tea Party Organizes Without Leaders
By embracing radical decentralization, tea party activists intend to rewrite the rule book for political organizing.
by Jonathan Rauch - September 11th, 2010 - National Journal Magazine
The tea party began as a network, not an organization, and that is what it mostly remains. Disillusioned with President Bush's Republicans and disheartened by President Obama's election, in late 2008 several dozen conservatives began chattering on social-networking sites such as Top Conservatives on Twitter and Smart Girl Politics. Using those resources and frequent conference calls (the movement probably could not have arisen before the advent of free conference calling), they began to talk about doing something. What they didn't realize was that they were already doing something. In the very act of networking, they were printing the circuitry for a national jolt of electricity.
The spark came on February 19, 2009, when a CNBC journalist named Rick Santelli aired a diatribe against the bank bailout. "That," Meckler says, "was our source code." The next day, the networkers held a conference call and decided to stage protests in a few cities just a week later. No one was more astonished than the organizers when the network produced rallies in about 50 cities, organized virtually overnight by amateurs. Realizing that they had opened a vein, they launched a second round of rallies that April, this time turning out perhaps 600,000 people at more than 600 events.
Experienced political operatives were blown away. "It was inconceivable in the past" to stage so many rallies so quickly, in so many places, without big budgets for organizers and entertainment, says Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a longtime political organizer.
This is the new format for political organizations. Money is important. Enthusiasm is more important. Ideas lead to enthusiasm. The exchange of ideas is what the Internet and networking are all about.