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Tea Party Patriots’ Mark Meckler Talks Grassroots Leadership with NRB

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Posted on March 2 2011 2:00 pm
Walter Hudson is a political commentator and co-founder of Minnesota's North Star Tea Party Patriots, a statewide educational organization. He runs a blog entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of Minnesotan conservative commentary. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Mark Meckler, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, at the American Policy Summit in Phoenix

There is a mentality among artists which I have always found puzzling. While poor, unknown, and ineffective, they are considered “authentic.” However, as soon as they strike it big, start to make money, and meet with success, they become reviled as “sell outs.”

A similar dynamic threatens to undermine the Tea Party movement. To some among its ranks, the term “grassroots” seems to demand perpetual lowliness. Once a grassroots activist or organization begins to mature, build coalitions, and meet with success, they are suddenly “part of the problem.”

Such was the narrative of an “investigation” by Mother Jones of Tea Party Patriots, perhaps the preeminent national Tea Party organization and a favorite among grassroots groups. NRB published a rebuttal to the attack, highlighting its strawman argument.

While attending the Tea Party Patriots American Policy Summit over the weekend, we stole a minute with co-founder Mark Meckler to follow up on the Mother Jones piece.

NRB: A lot of folks in the Tea Party movement seem to feel like the grassroots can only be grassroots if it is to some extent disorganized and unsuccessful. Do you think there’s a point at which you do get too organized and you lose that grassroots flavor?

Mark Meckler: I think, if we don’t focus on retaining it, absolutely. I think our job – It’s a function of how we’re structured, and it’s part of the reason we’re structured that way… We’ve got our national leadership council calls. If we do things that don’t reflect what the grassroots believes, trust me, we hear about it. We will hear about it loud and clear. And we’re always open to it.

We get on those calls 9pm eastern on Monday nights. And we’ve had those calls go to 3:30 in the morning. And our job – we will stay, Jenny Beth or I, as long as someone has something to say. They can chew us out. They can tell us we’re evil. They can do whatever they want. You have to take that kind of stuff, and you listen to it. When you do things like we do, and you read all your emails, then you stay in touch with what’s going on. I don’t ever want to lose that, because that’s when you lose the grassroots.

NRB: Are you working on a response to the Mother Jones series?

Meckler: No. I don’t want to give them credence. That’s not journalism. I respect journalists who criticize us. That’s fine. Feel free. And plenty of them do. The only journalist in the world who I won’t speak to is Stephanie Mencimer [the author of the Mother Jones series]. I mean literally. I talk to Dave Weigel, of JournoList fame, who came across as hating conservatives. We still speak, because why? He’s always covered us fairly. He doesn’t agree with us, I don’t think, philosophically. But he’s never lied about us. He’s never mischaracterized anything about us. He’s just critical of us sometimes. I don’t care. Criticize us. That’s absolutely fair. That’s fair game. If we choose to be out there in the public, then people can criticize us. But when you step over the line, when you fabricate, when you accept lies without doing the research, that’s not journalism and I just don’t participate in it.

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