The first true open source political organization
Mark Meckler, co-founder and a
national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, spoke with
ACTION in February 2010 at CPAC.
of the movement and its organization.
Meckler highlighted the three core principles of the Tea Party
Patriots: fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited
government, and free markets. Tea Party Patriots excludes social
issues, because, Meckler said, "Politicians have used those issues to
divide us for
decades." He said Tea Party Patriots aims to be a watchdog.
"This is no intent to be a third party. Our intent is to push the
existing political parties in the correct direction," he stated.
Democracy in Action: What is Tea Party Patriots?
Meckler: Tea Party Patriots is a grassroots organization, and we formed back in April of last year out of the Tea Party movement.
I was just an individual Tea Party coordinator. On February 27th I held one of the first events. There were actually 48 of us around the country that held events. About 35,000 people came out around the country on that day.
Democracy in Action: How many people came to your event?
Meckler: My event? Well we knew we would have six because there was myself and my two kids and my wife and my parents. Ultimately we had 150 people at the State Capitol in Sacramento. It was pretty exciting to have 150 people show up. More exciting to me were the kind of people that showed up...they weren't people who had come out before. They were all people like me who'd never been politically active. I don't belong to a political party. I vote. That's the extent of my political involvement. And so to get out there with people who were like me, and then people from all different sides of the issues. We had pro-life and pro-choice people, we had gay rights activists, we had—in California Proposition 8 was a hot issue and the marriage and family act. People on opposite sides of the issues standing on the street together holding signs all complaining about the same thing which was government run amuck, government they felt no longer represented them, that was completely out of control. And so to see people like that from all walks of life, all slices of the political spectrum standing together talking about the same thing, to me that's when I saw the magic. That was unbelievable to see.
Democracy in Action: Have you personally been involved in politics in any way before? Making contributions or...?
Meckler: Not at all. Other than voting. Not even a single contribution ever in my life. I was a voter and I was a regular voter.
Democracy in Action: ...gone to a candidate rally?
Meckler: Never been to a single rally, never been to protests, nothing; never worked for a campaign. Totally uninvolved.
Democracy in Action: How is the Tea Party Patriots organized? Do you have a board of directors or...?
Meckler: We do. It's
a very bottom
up organization. What we have is we have over 12,000 chapters
the nation right now, and those are organizations, all different
names—9-12 groups, Tea Party groups—and they affiliate under the Tea
Party Patriots umbrella to have a national presence.
And the way we work is every one of our local
are over 1,500 of
those people—is party of our national leadership council. And we
have an e-mail list and we have calls every Monday night, and those
people participate and they create the direction for the organization.
So in answer to your question, yes we have a
ten-member board made
up of grassroots individuals from around the nation, but that board
takes its direction from the folks on the streets all around the
nation. And so literally what we do is we wait for the great
ideas to bubble up and we start to hear, for example, people are
organizing at the neighborhood level—they're doing that in Texas,
we're hearing it in Connecticut and we're hearing it in Florida, and we
get those people to start talking to each other and that idea develops,
fleshes out, becomes solid, and then we'll spread that out around the
nation. So it's this giant proving ground.
You might be familiar with open source software
This is the first true open source political organization. The
initial code was developed literally back on February 20th, and 22
people got on the phone and they said let's hold tea parties and the
only thing in the code base was let's organize them on Facebook, and
that's how the first round of tea parties happened; that was the
original code base.
Then people started inputting different ideas into
that code base
from all over the country. Now we have a massive code base; it's
constantly being developed. And that code base involves software; we
have a big website with all kinds of tools. It involves free
conference calling services, people with broadband, Twitter,
Facebook. It involves ways of organizing at the neighborhood
level, state level, the federal level. So now all of those
incredible ideas that come from the grassroots—there's nobody that
sits at the top that comes up with these ideas and tells people what
they should do. It all filters from the bottom up.
Democracy in Action: Are these ideas, any of them, "national Tea Party approved" ideas or do you have a platform?
Meckler: To call it a
think— We call it our core values or our core principles and we
three of those: fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited
government, and free markets. And we specifically exclude the
issues. Politicians have used those issues to divide us for
decades. Social issues, race issues, class issues—they've used
partisanship to divide the people because when they divide the people
they maintain their own power. Because then we don't pay
attention to what the politicians are doing in DC and the state
houses. If they can make Democrats hate Republicans and liberals
had conservatives and social progressives hate social conservatives, we
don't pay attention to what the politicians are doing. So our
goal is to unite around those common issues. Most Americans feel
that the country should be fiscally responsible.
Democracy in Action: Are those from the beginning, from February ?
Meckler: Those were
on through consensus, through the organization, working with the
grassroots, having people develop them. They were actually
developed from the grassroots up. They were not my ideas; they
came out of the grassroots; a committee of people voluntarily
associated to develop those. They were put out there for
refinement and approval and ultimately approved by our grassroots
Democracy in Action: Now there's the Tea Party Convention [Feb. 6]. Are you guys behind that?
Meckler: No, we didn't participate in that convention. That was put on by an individual who felt there was a need for that, so he put that on.
Democracy in Action: Looking ahead to the 2010 mid-term elections, are you guys doing any kind of organizing towards that; will you endorse candidates?
Meckler: No, we don't specifically endorse candidates. We're a 501(c)(4) so we're unable to specifically endorse candidates. Our job is to educate the electorate so that people understand constitutional principles and foundational principles. We believe they're going to go out and make the right decisions of the candidates to support when they follow those principles.
Democracy in Action: What would be your organization's objectives for calendar year 2010? Do you have some specific things you want to accomplish?
Our specific plans are we have a
calendar of events that goes through 2010 leading up to the elections
of course. Next week we have February 27th which is the
the movement. The first protests were February 27th. We had 48
year; we expect thousands this year across the country. April
we'll be revisiting Tax Day tea parties again. Last year we had
850 with 1.2 million people participating; we expect it to be bigger
this year. And then we'll go into August recess. We expect
it to get hot for the representatives out there again having those town
hall meetings. And then we'll lead up to 9-12. We're going
to do the march on DC again, which we were one of the sponsors
of. So we'll be here again for 9-12. We expect a lot of
people to come back to DC again. A lot of people couldn't make it
last year, and didn't know what it was going to be. Now that
people know what it's going to be, we expect larger participation this
year. And then obviously that leads people into the November
elections hopefully educated and fired up and ready to do the right
thing when they walk into the ballot box.
Democracy in Action:
Any new organization or relatively
new organization goes through some growing pains. Have there been
growing pains or what have been some of the major challenges?
Meckler: I think the
biggest challenge is that
everybody expects us to operate within the current political
paradigm. In other words what they're really looking for is a top
down organization and they're trying to impose leadership on the Tea
Party. And people talk about herding cats or schisms within the
movement, and the reality is it's a different paradigm. So I
think they misinterpret. The reality of the movement is there are
thousands of paths to the same end goal, and the goal is to return the
country to its founding principles. It really doesn't matter what
path people take. In fact if we have a thousand paths to that end
goal, it's much more difficult to defeat people on a thousand paths
than it is peopl on one path. So I think the hardest thing is
changing people's perception about what a movement means. It does
not require a single charismatic leader leading a movement. In
fact this movement has thousands and thousands of leaders.
Democracy in Action:
Looking back on American history
or recent American history do you see other movements that you would
compare yourselves to or that you've learned from? One that
occurs to me is Reform Party.
Meckler: So but then
that's a party movement.
This is no intent to be a third party. Our intent is to push the
existing political parties in the correct direction. We belive
that any candidate who's fiscally responsible, who supports a free
market economy, and who wants to return the country to its
constitutional foundations is a good candidate. And so those are
the things we're looking for. The history of third party
movements in this country is very bad. There's not a lot of
success there. And so that's not our intent. We're not
going to walk down a path that we believe just leads to party
destruction. What we're looking for is to be the watchdog for all
political parties and all politicians.
November 2nd is an important date and we think we're
going to see
significant change in the country. The more important date is
November 3rd. Because in the past what's happened is people have
pushed reform, reform-minded candidates have taken office, and then
people have gone back to their lives and not paid attention. And
then those candidates, eight, ten years down the road now they're in
office, now they've got all the perks of office. They come to
Washington and everybody talks about how Washington's a cesspool, and
somehow years later they seem to think it's a jacuzzi and they never
want to get out. And so our intent is to keep their feet to the
fire, to hold them to their campaign promises, give people the tools
and the education to make sure they keep watching and that the reform
Democracy in Action: We have to learn from history. Are there or have there been other movements that you guys would look back to and say this is something we're going to avoid or this is something we'd like to emulate?
Meckler: Honestly I
look back to the American
Revolution, and I don't think there's anything since then that matches
what the Tea Party has done to cross party lines, to cross ideological
lines, to cross social lines in the way that the Tea Party movement has
done. The majority of movements in this country are devolved
along those lines I just described—they're a party movement, they're a
social movement along a segment of society that are organized around a
particular type of industry. And this movement is not that.
We recently did a poll trying to determine what is
demographic? And our demographic was everybody, literally from
young people to really old people, and it was evenly spread across the
board. There was no significant demographic shift in age
range. And so that's unique. You won't see other movements
that do that. And so I don't think we necessarily have a
parallel. I think we're in uncharted territory, and I think
that's good. I also think there are dangers there because it's
hard to learn from the past, and so we're reading everything, I am
reading everything I can about past social movements from the anti-war
movement of the 1960s to the long history of the progressive
movement. There are all kinds of movements we can study and I
think there are things to learn from each of those movements, little
slices that might apply, but overall I don't think there's a good
Democracy in Action:
...do you have a paid staff and a
Meckler: No. No
headquarters; no paid staff. If you
want to understand our organization, there's one book that describes it
the best. It's called The Starfish and the
Spider. And there are two analogies in this book.
If you think about the geometric structure of the
stafish and the
spider, they're very similar, but they're incredibly different
creatures. And one of the things that makes them so different is
if you have a spider and you chop off one of its legs it stumbles and
it's going to have a little bit of difficulty. You take another
leg and it's probably going to die because it can't get around. You
take a starfish and you chop off a leg, generally speaking that leg is
going to grow into a starfish. The starfish will continue.
Now you have two starfish, and they're both the same species and doing
the same thing, but you haven't destroyed the starfish. And at the
extreme end of biological evolution, there are starfish, if you cut off
a small slice off of them, they grow into a new starfish. And so
we're like the starfish. There is no head, there is no leader of
the organizatoin. There are thousands of starfish out there and
they are self-replicating in that way.
And the other analogy that comes out of that book is
that of the
Apache Indians. When the conquistadors came to the Americas and
they faced the Aztecs and the Mayans, they were able to understand
those societies. They came to those societies and they found
there was a king and there was a central location and there was
wealth. So they came in, killed the king, stole the gold and
within a couple of years destroyed each of those societies. It's
amazing—societies that existed for hundreds of years.
And as they moved northward into North America, into
what we know
know as New Mexico, they ran into the Apache Indians. And the
Apaches covered a wide territory., and they had no king and they had no
central city. And so the conquistadors had trouble understanding
the structure. What they found is each individual tribe had what
they called a Nant'an. And the Nant'an was a leader in a sense,
but not in the way they understood it. He had no power. In
fact there is no word for should or you should in the Apache
language. So these people had no power to tell anybody to do
anything. But what happened is people would watch them and say
you know that guy seems successful. His family is well fed and he
seems to know where to hunt and so they would start to do what he did
and emulate what the Nant'an did. And so the Spanish figured this
out and said okay well that's the leader. Well what happened is
they would come in there an they would kill the Nant'an and then the
people would just gravitate to somebody elese, find another guy who was
successful, and would start to follow him. And so they were
unable in 200 years of attempting to defeat the Apache Nation.
And so we're a lot more like the Apaches. They can go after us
all they want.
In fact right now, I don't know if you heard, Clinton
are supposedly looking for six to eight Tea Party leaders to target and
destroy. This was on Breitbart's Big Government
two days ago. We think it's funny because they can target 600 of
us; it doesn't matter. In fact we just started a website called IamtheTeaPartyleader.com.
saying "I am
the Tea Party leader." And you remember the movie
"Spartacus"? Great scene. The story is Spartacus who led
the slave rebellion in the Roman empire. And there's a great
scene, not historically correct, but a great scene where the slave
rebellion has been wiped out, and there are thousands of corpses on the
battlefield, and there are a few thousand slaves left. And the
Roman general says, the Emperor has decided to spare you the horrible
death of crucifixion on one condition: you identify the body or the
living person of Spartacus. And they pan in. You can see
Spartacus standing there alive, dejected, and all the slaves are out
there. And all of the sudden a slave stands up and says, "I am
Spartacus." And it's not Spartacus. And then another and
another. And pretty soon thousands of slaves are standing and
saying "I am Spartacus." And that's the concept and we have that
video on the IamtheTeaPartyleader website along with now hundreds of
videos from tea party leaders around the country.