Who we are. What we are. Why we are.
The Story of the Staten Island Tea Party
A great deal has been written about the Tea Party movement in America – some of it correct, much of it lies and smears. Rarely do we, the people within the movement, have an opportunity to speak directly to a community and relate the facts; to set the record straight.
And that is why I was so anxious to write this article. To set the record straight.
If I was forced to pinpoint the exact moment the Tea Party movement in America was born, it would be, by sheer coincidence, on my 57th birthday: September 4, 2008. That was the final day of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, and that was the day John McCain received the Republican nomination for President of the United States.
With that nomination, Americans with small-government, free-market, conservative ideals were left standing at the station while the train pulled away. We had become an ideology without a party, despite the fact that ultra-moderate McCain had chosen Sarah Palin, a staunch conservative, as his running mate.
John McCain, as fine an American as he was and still is, could do nothing to energize the Conservative wing of the Republican Party for that election, and the choice of McCain as the party’s nominee essentially guaranteed the election of Barack Obama.
After the inauguration, the true nature of the newly-elected President and his radical Congress became apparent: they had run on a promise to bring “fundamental change” to America – and fundamental change they would bring.
We in America had to learn a new vocabulary under Barack Obama; words like “bailout” and “stimulus” took on new and different meanings.
Hearkening back to Soviet Russia, we began to learn about the appointment of “economic czars,” “energy czars” and “pay czars.” Automobile companies became the de facto property of the federal government, contracts with preferred stockholders became worth less than the paper they were written on, bureaucrats barged into the boardrooms of America, dictating salaries and bonuses – the federal government had taken on a bloated and grotesque new face.
Through it all, believers in small government, capitalism and individual liberties seethed. They watched in horror as every aspect of our free-market economy came under attack. They recoiled at out-of-control spending, cronyism, back-room dealings, secret meetings and incomprehensible legislation, voted on in the dead of night before anyone could possible read and digest it – including the lawmakers themselves.
By February of 2009, we were forced to endure the ultimate indignity: the mortgage bailouts.
If there is anything that the average American insists upon in his government, it is that everyone gets a fair shake. But all of a sudden here was a group of individuals getting special treatment, people who had purchased homes that under any reasonable measure they could not afford. Not only that, the Democratic Congress had insisted upon relaxed standards for so-called “sub-prime” borrowers, so these individuals could borrow 100% of the purchase price – and more.
So they often borrowed the closing costs as well – making the carrying costs of the loan even more difficult to meet.
When Obama and the Pelosi/Reid Congress rammed through mortgage bailouts, they were rewarding the irresponsible at the expense of the responsible. Those who worked two jobs to make sure they paid their mortgage on time were given nothing – in fact, they were facing tax increases just to bail out their irresponsible neighbors.
Those neighbors, on the other hand, had their irresponsibility rewarded, as banks were forced to lower interest rates, extend easier terms, and in some cases lower the principle balance of the loan.
American ideals and principles had been turned upside-down.
The moment was ripe for a new birth of American independence – the America that still believed in a day’s work for a day’s pay was about to rise up and assert itself. The America that still believed in a level playing field where no man got advantages denied to another man began to stir from its slumber. The America that still believed that you had a right to pursue happiness – but not a right to demand that someone else provide you with it – began to clear its throat and raise its voice.
Conservative America had become a powder keg, and it took one man to provide the spark that caused it to blow – and that man was Rick Santelli, a financial reporter for the cable television network CNBC.
Many Americans were quietly enraged when the Obama Administration, taking advantage of the economic disaster wrought by the Fannie Mae-induced housing bubble, announced that they intended to bail out the irresponsible homeowners at the expense of hard-working, tax-paying Americans.
It was against this backdrop that CNBC financial reporter Rick Santelli, speaking from the pit of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, raised his voice in opposition.
It was a stunning rant, galvanizing not because it was soaring oratory, but because it was from the heart, and because in a few paragraphs he voiced the outrage and disgust of millions of Americans – Americans who had been silent and cowed, but who now felt empowered.
Political correctness had kept us in chains for decades, afraid to voice our opinions. Who wanted to be called callous and inconsiderate? Who wanted to be accused of having no compassion or pity for those less fortunate? Who wanted to be labeled racist?
We had fallen into the trap; we had accepted the politically correct notion of what was proper and acceptable speech and what was not – as defined by Liberals in Congress and the mainstream media.
In one minute, Rick Santelli blew it all away.
He asked the traders on the floor of the exchange if they wanted to bail out their neighbors, neighbors who had irresponsibly purchased more house than they could afford, who borrowed money they had no hope of repaying, neighbors who would inevitably look to the government for relief.
He said, “This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage? He can put in an extra bathroom, but he can’t pay his bills…” The answer was a rousing chorus of boos and catcalls.
Amidst the noisy condemnation, Santelli pointed to the traders, looked at the camera, and said “President Obama, are you listening?”
I knew he wasn’t, and my life changed at that moment. I could no longer sit and curse the television set every night – if I did not get up off my couch and do something, I knew I could never face my children and grandchildren without guilt.
And then Santelli said this: “We’re thinking of having a tea party, right here in Chicago, and I’m gonna organize it…” I was enthralled. A tea party. The idea grabbed me in the pit of my stomach and tugged. A tea party. Yes. How right the idea was. I had to do something – but what?
Months later, I became aware of a quote by Ronald Reagan; it is appropriate to repeat it here:
“You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.
If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here.
We did all that could be done.”
All that could be done.
And what was I doing the day I saw Rick Santelli raise his voice in anguish and defiance? Nothing. That could not stand; I would not let it stand – and at that moment the Tea Party Movement arrived on the shores of Staten Island, New York.
In the days of our Founding Fathers, people met in town squares and taverns. There, they discussed the events of the day and the politics that affected their lives. There, they discussed their government, aired their grievances, and espoused their points of view.
Today, for the most part, that is all done on the internet – so that’s where I went. I wanted to find out all I could about Rick Santelli’s “tea party.”
To my surprise, as I was surfing I came across a website that acted as sort of a “clearing house” for Tea Party groups that were springing up all across the country. There, organizers would put their contact information – usually just an email address – and the location of the rally they were organizing. Perhaps, I thought, someone was organizing one right here in New York – maybe even on Staten Island. It would spare me a trip to Chicago.
Of course, no one was. However, on the site it did say that if one wanted to organize a Tea Party rally, absolutely no experience was necessary. I was hooked.
I took a few minutes to create a free email address, then took a deep breath and listed myself as the organizer of the Staten Island, New York, Tax Day Tea Party. It would be held on April 15th, 2009, on New Dorp Lane, in front of the offices of our Congressman, Michael McMahon.
There. I had done it. I had listed myself as the organizer of an event that I had absolutely no idea how to organize. I could do nothing now but sit back and wait to see what would happen.
Here I was, planning a Tea Party rally, and I was an organizer who didn’t know how to organize. Worse yet, I was alone – so I knew that the first order of business was to get some help. I had no idea where it would come from. My friends were too busy, my relatives too far; if I was to get help, it would have to come from the internet, from that pitiful little posting I made on some obscure website with my brand new email address.
About two hours later the help I would so desperately need would arrive in the form of an email. That email was from Lorraine Scanni; it came at 8:19 PM, and it said:
Are you a Staten Islander?
Hello! Found your info while browsing the web for Tea Parties! I live on Staten Island and I am DEFINITELY interested in helping. Please e-mail me back and my cell is 917-412-xxxx!
That night, over the phone and on the internet – two total strangers – one a housewife and mother of two from the North Shore and the other a real estate investor planning his retirement on the South Shore – formed the nucleus of what would become the Staten Island Tea Party.
We discovered that we had the following things in common:
• We had no prior organizing experience;
• We had no history of political activism in our backgrounds;
• We had no money to spare;
• We had no personal acquaintance with any elected officials;
• We had no web site and little computer literacy.
• We had no mailing list and no marketing abilities.
In retrospect – though we didn’t know it then – all those things we didn’t have made us perfect for the tea party movement: we were complete novices and absolute amateurs.
A few days later, I wrote my first letter to the editor, announcing the event for the entire world to see. I responded to an earlier letter in which the writer, Patricia J., was scolding Republicans for not giving support to President Obama – for the good of the country, of course – something she claimed Democrats did for former President Bush. Here is what I wrote:
Patricia J., can you give me some examples of the “support” Democrats gave to President Bush? I doubt it. We’ve just come through eight years of the most vile, hateful and almost treasonous slander an out-of-power party has ever heaped upon a President.
So despite what the media and Patricia J. want, Republicans aren’t required to cheer while President Obama marches our country into a Marxist paradise. You say support him? I say “NO!”
I value my liberties too much to turn them over to an inexperienced activist in perpetual campaign mode, desperately trying to convince America that more and bigger government is the ONLY way.
Here’s the support I will give my country: I am organizing a Tax Day Tea Party to be held at noon on April 15th, 2009 in front of the offices of Rep. Michael McMahon. This is NOT an anti-McMahon rally. It is a pro-America rally to let the Congressman know exactly what many Staten Islanders think about insane deficits, knee-jerk bailouts, nationalized industries, universal healthcare and trillion dollar legislation which gets passed and signed into law without ever being read.
Our desire for future generations to live in a free America requires that we speak out.
The die had been cast; having publicly announced the rally, there was no turning back. People laughed at us – they said we’d be lucky if a dozen people showed up.
I thought that they were probably right – who else was as angry as we were? Or frustrated? Or frightened by what I knew in my heart Barack Obama was capable of doing? In time, I would find out just how many there were: millions – there were millions of us that were angry, frustrated and frightened, and we were determined to get up and do something about it.
But at that time we didn’t know if anybody would be interested, so to get the word out we dug into our pockets and paid for some small newspaper ads that I doubt anybody even saw.
We combed though our personal email lists and gradually started to get a trickle of a response from the clearing-house website upon which I had posted my new email address.
The next day, I went to the 122nd Precinct to obtain a police permit to conduct a rally. The desk sergeant there told me that I didn’t need permission from the NYPD, or anybody else, to hold a rally – all the permission I needed was guaranteed to me in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Imagine the irony: here I was holding a rally to defend Constitutional principles and I was getting a civics lesson before I even got started. Some organizer I was turning out to be.
The officer did, however, tell me that we needed a sound permit if we intended to use an amplifier, so I shelled out $45 and got one. Of course, we had no sound system, so I went online and found a company that rented them – and realizing that no electricity was available to us on New Dorp Lane, we had to rent a portable generator, too. And pay someone to operate it.
Now that we had a sound system, we needed a podium – so Lorraine’s husband cobbled one together from some scraps of plywood and 2X4s he had lying around.
Of course, we had no guest speakers, so we prepared to speak ourselves – something else we had never done in our lives – and decided to hand the microphone to anybody that showed up and had a few words to say – except elected officials, of course, or politicians of any stripe.
The day arrived cold and rainy. I was sick with nervous tension all morning, and feared that a combination of poor marketing, bad weather and lack of interest would result in a disastrous turnout. In fact, at 15 minutes before the appointed time, noon, there were only a few dozen in attendance – along with a reporter and a photographer from the Staten Island Advance. I knew the press would have a field day if only a disheartened handful of people showed up.
But I had faith in my fellow Americans, and in my heart I knew that my friends and neighbors would respond. We would NOT let this “fundamental change” to the greatest country in the world stand without opposition.
And I was not disappointed. They began to arrive in waves; streaming into the area cordoned off for us by the police, and soon the crowd spilled up New Dorp Lane and down the side streets. They brought flags and banners and strong voices. They brought a patriotic fervor that was pure inspiration. The speakers – all amateurs, no orators– spoke with clarity and passion.
It was an event that was transformational – because on that day we brought together 350 ordinary, hard-working Staten Islanders, and before we left we had created 350 political activists with a burning desire to defend the principles that made our country great.
Since that day we have held many other events. We had 1,700 reservations for a rally at Conference House Park in August of last year – but dangerous lightning and torrential rains plagued the day. Yet, despite the hazardous weather, over 700 brave citizens showed up.
We have rallied on Richmond Avenue in Staten Island and on 8th Avenue in Manhattan. We have chartered buses to take hundreds of us to Washington, D.C. for protests and marches – and we will do so again this summer. We have sponsored food drives for local soup kitchens, and we have organized Meet and Greets for members to get to know one another.
Most recently, we held a Candidates Forum at the Hilton Garden Inn, which featured speakers like Congressional candidates Michael Allegretti and Michael Grimm, Gubernatorial candidates Rick Lazio and Carl Paladino and Senate candidate Gary Berntsen.
And we have grown; in one short year we now number 1,500, and our blogs and emails reach thousands throughout the country.
I’m often struck by how many folks tell me that putting together an organization with that many people is an enormous accomplishment. No, it’s not. Not in these times – not with this administration. The truth is that Barack Obama is governing so far to the left that I should have 15,000 in our organization – not 1,500. And I hope that the readers of Citizens Magazine will help us accomplish that goal.
I often ask myself why our enrollment is not ten times higher than it actually is. Something must be holding our neighbors back, some suspicion or misconception fostered by those who seek hold us down. Perhaps they fear that we are right wing extremists, or racists, or anarchists – we are none of those things.
Here is the real deal, the truth about the Staten Island Tea Party. Here’s who we are, and just as importantly, who we are not:
First of all, we are people who have become informed and engaged in the political process, and one of the fundamental tenets of good citizenship is to make sure you are informed and engaged. That is one of our primary missions, and since we have voices, all of us, and another mission of the SITP is to make sure that those voices – your voices – are heard.
We are not racists – I think you all realize that’s just a smear is an attempt to marginalize and discredit us; we’re not the reincarnation of the Ku Klux Klan – and we are not extremist or kooks or conspiracy theorists.
We do not endorse specific candidates – we are issue oriented – and we do not take a stand on social issues. We are focused on a narrow range of issues which include a smaller federal government, and an expansion – not a contraction – of individual liberties.
We condemn out-of-control government spending – spending which defies description and will lead us down a path to third-worldism. We believe in American exceptionalism and American greatness. Yes, of course we believe in government, and that government should have a role in our lives – but a limited one, and one in which individual liberties are paramount.
We don’t believe that taxes can or should be eliminated – but we do believe that they should be limited to only what is necessary to run a government whose powers are listed in the constitution – those powers and nothing more.
William Pitt the Younger once said “Necessity is the excuse made for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves.”
Think about that statement for a moment, especially as it relates to the current administration and Congress. They create crisis after crisis – mostly imaginary – in order to enact legislation which impinges on our individual liberties.
Let’s use healthcare as an example: they created a “crisis” by insisting that too many people did not have health insurance; that crisis led to a necessity – they told us that they must enact legislation IMMEDIATELY! And that legislation forces every American to buy health insurance whether they want it or not – a gross infringement on our liberties.
A crisis…a necessity… an infringement on our liberties – and in the process they take over 1/6th of the economy. And they are doing it with Wall Street, the banking industry, the auto industry, and the energy industry, too.
They are not fooling us – we see what they are doing, and that is why the Tea Party movement is the target of lies and smears – because they cannot gloss over the facts if we continue to shine a light on them.
Though they try to convince us otherwise, we don’t believe you have a “right” to everything you need. We don’t believe that health insurance is a right. It is something you desire, and you must work to earn the money to purchase it. That is the American way.
As we all know, the rights we are endowed with are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights, take notice, are rights to action, not rights to the fulfillment of our needs or desires. Rights cannot impose obligations upon other people. My rights do not oblige my neighbor to feed and clothe me or my family – it merely gives me the right, no matter how hard the struggle may be, to feed and clothe my family by the sweat of my own brow.
My rights guarantee that my neighbor – or my government – may not steal my labor or my property.
I have the right to pursue happiness, but that doesn’t oblige others to provide me with it. If a “right” were to impose a duty upon another, it would be a violation of that person’s basic rights; we would become a society of master and slave.
Because we speak out on these issues, we must be marginalized by the Obama administration and the compliant main-stream media. So they call us racist, homophobic, xenophobic, red-necked cretins.
But that is not who we are – in fact, we are just like you. We are your friends and neighbors; we are your brother and sisters, mothers and fathers, your cousins from the old neighborhood.
We hate no one. We love freedom. Our country is being stolen from right under our noses and we know that if WE don’t do something about it – no politician will.
So that’s us. That’s the Staten Island Tea Party – that’s who we are and what we are about. I hope those of you that are not involved yet will become involved, and that those of you that already are involved will tell your family, friends and neighbors that you know the truth about the Tea Party movement – not the hype and not the smears.
I am not ashamed to say that the United States of America has been the greatest force for good in the history of the world. We have liberated tens of millions – and asked for nothing in return. We have fought and died on foreign soil and yet claimed not a single square inch of foreign land – only enough ground for us to bury our dead.
We have shown that free-market capitalism is the most moral and ethical system in existence, because it allows ANY man, no matter what his status at birth, to go as far as his ambition and ingenuity will take him. Our system also promotes the innovation and technological advances that makes our standard of living far better than that of any country in any region of the world.
That’s why we in the Tea Party movement do what we do. We refuse to let this administration undo over 200 years of freedom and advancement.
That’s who we are, what we are and why we are. I urge you to become one of us: an opponent of big government and a command economy, a supporter of free markets and individual liberties – a member of the Staten Island Tea Party. The cost to join is not a single penny. The cost of doing nothing may be incalculable.