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Authors: Dick Armey

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BOOK: Give Us Liberty
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There are only three ways for the government to spend money it does not have: it can raise more tax revenue; it can borrow money from the private sector or from other nations; or it can debase the dollar by printing more currency. Make no mistake: Americans are aware of the crushing debt burden we are amassing as a nation. Individuals and families know that you can't spend your way to prosperity with money you don't have. They know this because they live it in their daily lives. The national debt threatens our future with crippling new taxes, sky-high interest rates, out-of-control inflation, and an increasingly weak dollar. This process punishes workers, savers, and investors alike. Ultimately, the world could lose its faith in U.S. currency, essentially bankrupting a great nation because our out-of-touch political class lacked the will to set priorities and live within a budget.

Government spending has been a concern as long as there has been a federal government. But recent events have elevated what was once an ongoing concern to the level of historic crisis. The response from the grass roots?
Enough is enough


Mary's and Keli's events in February 2009, a movement was reawakened. Confused by the commonsense rhetoric and nonviolent, law-abiding tactics, political pundits and media observers were at a loss. The phenomenon needed a name.

An on-air commentator for cable news network CNBC, Rick Santelli was a fixture at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where he offered news and commentary on corn futures, yield rates, and other market data. On the morning of February 19, 2009, news coverage was dominated by Obama's proposal for yet another housing bailout. CNBC studio analysts calmly reported the news, discussing vast sums of taxpayer money in a tone ordinarily reserved for reporting on weather patterns over the Midwest. Standing by for a floor report, Santelli heard the commentary on his earpiece and began to fume.

After reporting on the latest housing bailouts, an anchor tossed to Santelli for his usual update. Santelli unexpectedly unleashed an impassioned rant.

“The government is promoting bad behavior!” Santelli shouted. “This is America! How many people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgages that have an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills? Raise your hand! President Obama, are you listening? You know Cuba used to have mansions and a relatively decent economy. They moved from the individual to the collective. Now they're driving '54 Chevys
. It's time for another Tea Party. What we are doing in this country will make Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin roll over in their graves. We're thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July, all you capitalists. I'm organizing.”

As he spoke, a group of traders formed around him on the trading floor. Capitalists to a man, they cheered the outburst and drowned out the planned transition, extending the segment and creating an indelible TV moment. Within hours, Santelli's rant had gone viral, earning more than a million views on YouTube and countless watercooler and dinner-table discussions across the country. The frustration that had been building, and which had begun to turn into street action, now had a name. The Tea Party was ready for the national stage.


citizens who had never protested, never agitated, never taken a public political stand were gathering and organizing to make a difference. United by common principles and outraged by the complacence and indifference of their elected leaders, these individuals were ready to do something. Early meetings were filled with entrepreneurs, retirees, schoolteachers, civil rights leaders, lawyers, those who had prospered in recent years, and some who had fallen on hard times. All believed that the time to act had come, that their children and grandchildren deserved better and it was up to them to change the course of a nation.

But for all the excitement, the first wave of Tea Party activists faced significant challenges. They were poorly funded. They lacked national organization. They were greeted with skepticism by the political establishment. They included none of the political intelligentsia in their ranks, none of the gatekeepers and message experts and focus group gurus. How could they hope to influence a Congress of incumbent leaders with strong ties to interest groups and well-funded corporate backers? How could they challenge an administration that had swept into the White House with a landslide victory in the presidential campaign?

To many, the answer could be found in another group of unlikely activists who were overmatched and outgunned but fought anyway. Also comprised of ordinary citizens, this group had toppled an entrenched regime that seemed invincible. In fact, it had happened in 1773, right here in America.

It was now evening, and I immediately dressed
myself in the costume of an Indian, equipped with a small hatchet, which I and my associates denominated the tomahawk, with which, and a club, after having painted my face and hands with coal dust in the shop of a blacksmith, I repaired to Griffin's wharf, where the ships lay that contained the tea. When I first appeared in the street, after being thus disguised, I fell in with many who were dressed, equipped and painted as I was, and who fell in with me, and marched in order to the place of our destination.

, 1773

morning in 1773 in Boston, Massachusetts, a group of concerned citizens gathered at the Old South Meeting House. Among their number was a poor shoemaker named George Hewes, a man of little standing in the bustling city but one who felt that his freedom was just as valuable as that of the wealthy merchants and landowners who were also present. At just five foot one, the diminutive Hewes had been denied military service due to his stature and had reluctantly settled into a trade he disliked. At heart, the man was an agitator. A veteran of the Boston Massacre, he was a devotee of Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty. He was no one special, just a man who felt his liberty was worth fighting for.

Infuriated by new taxes on imported goods and wary of the British troops stationed around the city, the men gathered that morning intending to take action. Too long ignored by Parliament and local officials seeking to protect their own positions rather than represent the citizens they were sent to govern, Hewes and his compatriots came to discuss a significant choice. Would they challenge British authority and stand up for what they believed was right?

After a heated debate, the meeting resolved that certain ships carrying vast quantities of tea should leave the harbor without the payment of any duty. The act would clearly signal their displeasure with the tax while falling short of any treasonous act that could result in fines, prison, or even hanging. Satisfied with their choice, the group sent a contingent of concerned citizens to report the message to the Customs House and force the release of the ships from the harbor. The collector of customs refused to allow the ships to leave without payment. When word of this decision reached the Old South Meeting House, a howl erupted from the hall.

Their bluff had been called. At this point, a compromise would be equal to surrender. What was planned as a peaceful expression of disagreement would now give way to protest. No permission would be sought, and the consequences would be accepted by every man in the room.

By early evening, a group of about two hundred men, some disguised as Indians, assembled on a hill overlooking the harbor. Bellowing war chants, the men marched two by two to the wharf, descended upon the three ships, and dumped their offending cargoes of tea into the water. Hewes gleefully pitched enormous crates of tea overboard, any one of which was likely worth more than a year of his income from shoemaking.

The reaction in London was swift and extreme. In March 1774, Parliament passed what later came to be known as the Intolerable Acts, which among other measures closed the port of Boston. The response at home was equally intense, as the Tea Partiers discovered a groundswell of public opinion in their support. Thousands of citizens had detested the arrogance and shortsightedness of British policy, but until then had not found a voice to speak out. Encouraged by the protesters' bold actions, public opinion galvanized against the Crown and in favor of separation.

In many ways, the American Revolution did not begin with a shot. It first echoed with a splash as crates of tea tipped into the murky waters of Boston Harbor. While the history books may remember the great leaders of the time and commemorate their achievements, a great deal of the glory must be shared with men like George Hewes—ordinary men who took extraordinary actions in defense of liberty.


later, Mary Rakovich and her fellow Tea Party activists were motivated by a similar sense of outrage. In fact, history teaches us that nothing could be more American than a protest. What made the opening salvos of the Tea Party movement so jarring to political, academic, and news media observers was its unlikely source—an irate group of citizens from across the political spectrum who were agitating and demanding change. For generations, guerrilla tactics had been a trademark of the Left, best demonstrated in ecoterrorism and virulent antiwar campaigns. Accustomed to Code Pink public disturbance stunts and blood-tossing animal rights' activists, students of political activism had come to understand public protest as left-leaning by definition and reserved for those who were willing to damage public property and disrupt legal activities. Now that middle-class Americans of all backgrounds were taking to the Internet, airwaves, and streets, conventional wisdom was turned on its head and the original Tea Party was seen in a new light.

For the staff at FreedomWorks, this was nothing new. Originally founded as Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) in 1984, the organization was dedicated to the idea that ordinary Americans could and should demand more accountability from their elected officials.

Long before Barack Obama employed community organizing tactics in the Democratic presidential primary states, our organization was mobilizing citizens in the fight for lower taxes, less government, and more freedom. In the 1980s we helped pioneer direct-mail techniques to engage citizens in direct action against big government. In the early 1990s we were one of the first issue advocacy groups to effectively use professional message development and paid television advertising to drive policy outcomes. We used these tools to help stop Vice President Al Gore's new tax on carbon-based energy, the so-called BTU tax.

As the years passed, we shifted tactics again to focus on organizing “boots on the ground,” with paid field operatives, putting real people in front of political decision-makers. This proved instrumental in stopping the Clinton administration's attempted health care takeover. CSE organized protesters at every stop of First Lady Hillary Clinton's “Health Care Express,” a national bus tour designed to galvanize support for the legislation. Instead of the adoring crowds she expected, Mrs. Clinton was greeted by hundreds of citizens opposed to her plan. We even followed her entourage with a truck towing an old broken-down bus. On the side was spray-painted

According to
Washington Post
columnist David Broder, “Nothing better displayed both the muscle and tactical planning of the opponents [of Clinton's health care plan] than the crushing of this forlorn bus caravan that summer. It was the crowning success of . . . the conservative political interest group, Citizens for a Sound Economy.”

Today, these tactics seem dated, overpriced, and relatively ineffective—in today's parlance, “Astroturf”—relative to the real power of the decentralized community of freedom fighters that make up the Tea Party movement. Some things do remain constant, however, like the threats of massive energy taxes on carbon-based fuels and big, expensive, overbearing, government-run health care. Our mission remains the same, too: to defend the individual against the unjust encroachments of big government by empowering Americans to get involved and make a difference when and where decisions are made.

Years before the emergence of the modern Tea Party movement, FreedomWorks and a few like-minded organizations understood that taxpayer activism was alive and well. We were convinced that good ideas alone were not enough to win and that real social change came from the ground up, not the top down. We were reading Saul Alinsky, Barack Obama's mentor, a decade before it became cool. We also read
Dedication and Leadership
by Douglas Hyde and
A Force More Powerful
by Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall. We understood that it is more important to come out of a legislative or regulatory battle stronger than you went into it than it is to simply win any particular skirmish. In the 1990s we translated this into an internal motto for staff and activists: “Winning by Building; Building by Winning.”

At the time, however, these tactics were mostly employed by left-leaning groups—teachers' unions protecting a broken school system, radicals smashing windows at a World Trade Organization protest in Seattle, or public employees pushing for more wages and benefits and fewer hours worked. It seemed then that direct action, as leftists refer to it, was only used in efforts to expand the size and scope of government. The folks at FreedomWorks knew better.

It was no coincidence that FreedomWorks was at the center of the activism that followed Rick Santelli's rant. Indeed, FreedomWorks had facilitated some of the most impactful events just prior to Santelli's call to action and was already standing at the forefront of that first wave of political participation from the previously silent majority.

The very day of Santelli's outburst, FreedomWorks set up a Web site at to give new activists access to basic tools and information. The site was an overnight success, earning tens of thousands of visitors within days of its creation. At the same time, FreedomWorks was flooded with calls and questions from first-time demonstrators eager to learn more about how to make their voices heard. Within just a few weeks of the rant, FreedomWorks helped coordinate dozens of taxpayer tea parties involving thousands of activists in places like Washington, D.C., Sarasota, Tampa, Jacksonville, Fort Myers, Tallahassee, St. Louis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Rochester, Charlotte, San Francisco, Salem, and Sacramento.

A shocked mainstream media hurried to catch up. “The tea party concept has gained significant traction
since Mr. Santelli's rant,” the
New York Times
breathlessly reported. “FreedomWorks, a nonprofit group that mounts grassroots campaigns, has made Mr. Santelli the emblem of its efforts to oppose the stimulus, publishing his face on its home page and asking: ‘Are you with Rick? We are.' ”

Meanwhile, the
Saint Louis Post-Dispatch
offered an account from the front lines:

Critics of President Barack Obama's stimulus plan gathered beneath the Arch Friday to cheer speeches over a bullhorn and toss tea into the Mississippi River. Pleased with the turnout in 35-degree bluster, leaders said they had stolen a page from liberal tradition by taking to the streets with homemade signs. “If I had known this many people would show up, I'd have charged admission,” said Bill Hennessy of Ballwin, the lead organizer. “We'll do this every chance we get until Congress repeals the pork—or we retire them from public life.” Hennessy estimated that more than a thousand people showed up. There was no official count, but the crowd spilled
across roughly one-fourth of the grand staircase from the Arch to Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard.

FreedomWorks was also active on the cutting edge of technology that allowed a disparate group to quickly connect and plan events. A key tool that aided protesters in the earliest, most disorganized stages was a Google map that tracked activist events and allowed anyone with Internet access to find a group. The map was soon filled with virtual thumbtacks, a digital monument to the growing power of the movement. Staffers posted and shared key Twitter handles, offered advice on Facebook fan pages, and created massive e-mail lists of citizens who wanted to be informed of upcoming activities. The revolution, as it turned out, was not only televised. It was blogged, tweeted, texted, friended, and Facebooked.

, C

the modern Tea Party movement was not just a question of bad economics—it cut to the core of basic American values of individual choice and individual accountability. Millions of Americans were still angry over the new culture of bailouts that had taken Washington by storm since the popping of the housing bubble in 2008 and they were just itching for a fight. They thought that candidate Obama would prove different, having run on a mantra of fiscal responsibility. Regardless of their limited choices at the ballot box, the American people were hungry for accountability, for the American way of doing things.

The entire founding enterprise, including America's Declaration of Independence from the British Crown in 1776 happened only because of the tea party ethos, the tradition of rising up against tyranny and taking to the streets in protest. Indeed, the period of American history leading up to the signing of the Declaration is the definitive case study in effective grassroots organization and the power of a committed, organized minority to defeat powerful, entrenched interests.

For any activist who fought in the trenches against Obama's hostile takeover of the health care system, the process that produced the Declaration will sound all too familiar: debate inside the Continental Congress was often dominated by lies, vote buying, and the influence of deep-pocketed business interests enjoying the favored treatment of the executive branch (King George III, that is). Does any of this ring a bell?

How did the advocates of liberty prevail over the entrenched interests and apathetic citizens that might have stifled the efforts of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin? The answer, of course, is grassroots activism of citizens outside of the formal political process. The Declaration was radical in principle and revolutionary in practice—sweeping political change driven by a grassroots cadre of committed individuals armed only with their passion and their principles. Politics as usual did not stop them, and neither did lack of popular support. The political momentum for liberty was in large part created by the efforts of citizen patriots from Massachusetts, later joined by men in the other colonies. These so-called Sons of Liberty, led by a struggling entrepreneur named Samuel Adams—yes, the guy on the beer label—used targeted grassroots activism to undercut American support for British rule and create the political conditions that made ratification of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution possible.

BOOK: Give Us Liberty
4.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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