Texas Tea Partiers organize by zip codes
In north Texas, the conservative protest Tea Party movement has organized itself by zip codes and hopes it is a model that will be used elsewhere in America as it sets out to “take the country back” neighborhood by neighborhood.
“We break down our system by zip codes. This is unique to north Texas I think but we would like to see it adopted elsewhere,” Ken Emanuelson, who is on the steering committee for the Dallas Tea Party, told me on the sidelines of a “Leadership Tea Party” conference being held this weekend.
The movement grabbed headlines last year as it channeled conservative opposition to President Barack Obama’s policies into natwion-wide protests against bank bail-outs, the drive to overhaul healthcare, and other aspects of the White House agenda.
Liberal critics claimed it was all orchestrated from the top down; conservative commentators for the most part claimed it was an expression of spontaneous anger by patriotic citizens evoking a famous episode of colonial revolt against British rule.
Regardless, organizing at such a local level — zip codes are a system of postal codes used by the U.S. Postal Service — suggests at least one part of the movement is becoming more focused and targeted in its political activism and is shedding any pretence of spontaneity.
Just holding a conference likes this for scores of dedicated activists from across the country suggests the movement is transforming itself into a more typical sort of political machine aimed ultimately at getting out the vote for conservative — and almost always Republican — candidates. One of the sessions slated for Saturday afternoon is “Victory in a Box” which is about getting out the vote.
The Dallas Tea Party crowd is looking at Texas Republican Party primaries in March, from races for state house seats to the governor’s race. But after that, with few Texas congressional races in play, Emanuelson said Texas Tea Party activists could be deployed elsewhere. “If there is a primary challenge against (Arizona Senator) John McCain, I could see bus loads of our people going to Arizona to volunteer for a conservative opponent,” he said. McCain, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, is widely loathed by many hard-core conservatives for his perceived departure from the cause on issues like campaign finance and climate change.
Emanuelson also said Texas activists could go next door to Arkansas to campaign for the Republican opponent of Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln, who faces a tough re-election race in November.
It all starts with a zip code. Take Paul Strickland, 62, a retired engineer who lives in a Dallas/Fort Worth suburb with the zip code 75048. Talking about his local Tea Party group, he said: “We have 60 people standing by with their muskets, ready to get involved.”
(PHOTO: People hold signs as motorists drive by during a “tea party” protest in Flagstaff, Arizona August 31, 2009. Organizers say the event is an effort to work against members of Congress who voted for higher spending and taxes. REUTERS/Joshua Lott)