Q&A with National Grassroots Coordinator Keli Carender
Today marks the sixth anniversary of the first wave of protests that grew into the Tea Party movement. We asked National Grassroots Coordinator Keli Carender to reflect on her involvement, and the strength of the movement today.
Keli, you don’t necessarily fit the stereotypical conservative activist. Maybe your living in Seattle has something to do with that. Let’s start with how you got involved; did you have any background in political outreach?
A few months before the first protest in 2009, I joined the Young Republicans in Seattle in order to meet some other young conservatives, but other than that I hadn’t really ever been involved in politics or organizing. I had complained for years about the direction things seemed to be heading, but it wasn’t until 2008 that I engaged in politics in any meaningful way. Then George W. Bush pushed for the bank bailouts and said that we’d have to “abandon free market principles to save the free market.” Almost immediately after that came Obama’s crony, pork-laden stimulus bill. And when my Senators and Representative refused to answer their phones when I called to ask them to reject the so-called stimulus, I understood that I had a responsibility to turn my complaints into action. So, that instead of whining about what was happening, I decided I could affect the future in a positive way. I simply wanted then, as I do now, for my country to be the greatest nation on Earth, where we have personal freedom, economic freedom, and a debt free future.
Tell us about your first protest. What was your specific motivation, and how was the turnout?
The motivation came from the fact that over the course of my entire life I had been taught that in America, our members of Congress were there to listen to us and represent us, and yet, the stimulus debacle showed me that that notion was patently false. As I mentioned before, I couldn’t even leave messages for my members of Congress, and from reading online accounts, I knew I was one of many citizens shut out and ignored by her supposed representatives. I remember sitting on my couch, depressed, thinking, “Ok, I have two choices. The first is to give up and just accept that this is the new reality. This is how America works now. The second is to fight for the changes I want to see, to make America great again.” I chose the second option, and organized my first political protest against the stimulus bill – or “porkulus,” as Rush Limbaugh called it – for February 16, 2009, the day before President Obama was scheduled to sign the bill into law. With only a couple of days of getting the word out, in socialist Seattle, we had 120 people show up! I knew we were onto something at that moment.
How did you get plugged in to what would become Tea Party Patriots?
I had recently joined Twitter in January 2009, and I immediately followed prominent people in the conservative movement, as well as hashtags like #tcot (Top Conservatives On Twitter). Through Twitter, I connected with other likeminded patriots after Rick Santelli’s rant, and participated in that first conference call where we planned the first round of nationwide tea parties for February 27, 2009.
Give us a report card; what’s the six-year status of the tea party movement?
Six years ago we had a daunting task: to rein in Washington’s excesses and out-of-control spending and to shape the debate and national discourse. We have succeeded in making this a bipartisan issue of interest, of changing the tune in Washington, DC, and in making it clear that the status quo is no longer acceptable. This movement was also founded in the fight for healthcare freedom, trying to stop Obamacare. Every day we see news that our criticisms and predictions were (and continue to be) correct, and the fact that Obamacare is still vastly unpopular demonstrates that our efforts to promote healthcare freedom is having an impact. Our work is not finished, but every tea party activist and every local group can be proud of the last six years and the fact that we have been so successful in spite of not having access to the same resources that the professional left and the permanent political class has at its disposal.
One of the stated goals of TPP and the movement in general is holding elected officials accountable; how does TPP measure up?
Let me put it this way, I believe that if it were not for the tea party movement rising up in 2009, we would have seen Republican members of Congress jump on board with Obamacare. Not a lot of them, but there would have been some. Fast forward to the elections in 2014, and every single one of the Republican Senate candidates – including all of the ones that won their races – ran on a platform of repealing Obamacare and stopping/opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants. TPP has been at the forefront on those two issues for years; that shows the power of our efforts to educate the public and train activists so that they are equipped with the knowledge and resources to hold their own officials accountable. Lastly, we see accountability at all levels of government. Local groups are defeating squishy politicians at the city, county, and state levels, in addition to federal offices, like the groups in Virginia that defeated Eric Cantor. Local groups are taking the bull by the horns and getting it done all over this nation. TPP will continue to provide resources, networking, training, and information to assist everyday Americans to stand up to the crony, power-hungry political class.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job as National Grassroots Coordinator?
The best part of my job is twofold. First, I am in daily contact with tea party activists and supporters all across the nation, and second, my job description explicitly instructs me to serve these fellow patriots to best of my ability. I am so blessed to communicate with so many amazing, hard working people that sacrifice so much to make this country a better place for us all. It’s an honor and a privilege to serve them, to help them get training or resources so that they can continue their work. I have so much gratitude in my heart for their efforts, and they inspire me every day. I don’t know how many other people ca