In the wake of Rick Santelli’s February 2009 “rant heard ’round the world,” a spontaneous uprising of sorts occurred all over the United States that would later become the largest sustained popular protest movement in American history. Ordinary citizens fed to the teeth with ever-increasing taxes and massive, unsustainable deficit spending came together in municipalities and cities all over America on April 15 – Tax Day – to announce that they were Taxed Enough Already. On that day, the Tea Party Movement was born.
The period between April and July of that year saw an explosion in the number of Tea Party groups formally organizing throughout the U.S. In New Jersey, a vivacious and energetic Middletown resident named Barbara Gonzalez organized a group that held its first rally on Independence Day.
(This was not Barbara’s first public gathering – in 2003 she organized a Support the Troops rally and march to counter the outright hostility of the Unhinged Left to our armed forces following our invasion of Iraq. It drew 700 people along with police and firefighters who expressed their solidarity; Route 35 was shut down for the duration of the march.)
After the Independence Day event, Barbara compiled a contact list of 250 e-mails gathered from attendees, forming the core of what would become the Bayshore Tea Party Group. She can recall that rally in detail as if it happened yesterday:
Toward the end of the rally, everyone went to the roadside with their signs and flags while passing cars honked their horns like crazy. In the first email I sent to this newly formed group, I asked if they wanted to do that once a month. A member replied “How about once a week?” and that is how the weekly roadside rallies started.
Unlike most other Tea Party groups governed by an established hierarchical order (i.e., president, vice-president, secretary, etc.), BTP has maintained the strictly small-letter “d” democratic nature of its organization, with no fixed power structure and therefore, no official “leader.”
That said, there can be no question that Barbara Gonzalez is acclaimed by the membership of the organization as its unofficial leader, thanks largely to all the time she spends on its behalf. Nevertheless, decisions involving the major activities, governance and finances of the BTP are made by popular vote at the group’s monthly meetings – without the middleman deliberations of committees or executive councils. Think of New England town meetings in colonial America writ small in Middletown, New Jersey and you will get a pretty good picture of how the Bayshore Tea Party functions.
Since its debut in 2009, BTP has grown considerably from a small core of 65 dedicated folks who pulled crumpled five and ten-dollar bills from their wallets to help defray the cost of poster boards and Sharpie markers to a formidable organization of over 200 dues-paying members and 600 associate members. Bayshore is one of the few local Tea Party groups nationwide to have its own headquarters – a 2,000 square foot office on Route 35 in Middletown that came to the group courtesy of conservative icon and NJ State Director of Americans for Prosperity, Steve Lonegan. When asked about BTP’s relationship with Lonegan, Barbara Gonzalez had nothing but praise for the former Bogota mayor and gubernatorial candidate in the 2010 Republican primary:
Steve was so impressed with our efforts in Monmouth County that he approached us with an interesting offer: in exchange for dedicating a portion of our time and resources to aiding AFP in its efforts to spread the conservative message during the 2010 election, he would secure an office for us and cover the first two months’ rent. It was an offer we’d be idiots to refuse. To this day we are grateful for Steve’s generosity and continue to enjoy an excellent relationship with him and with AFP.
Today, BTP is arguably one of the most powerful and influential Tea Party organizations in New Jersey and is largely responsible for the victory of Movement Conservative candidate Anna Little in the 2010 Republican primary for the 6th Congressional district. Throughout the course of Mrs. Little’s campaign, the Bayshore Tea Party turned out in force to support her and soon became known as “Anna’s Army.”
Even in a less-than-perfect world the sweat, tears and countless hours of toil expended by patriots of the Bayshore Tea Party to ensure the victory of Movement Conservatism over Liberal Statism would stand as an inspirational beacon to conservatives everywhere.
Unfortunately, here in the state of New Jersey – where stupidity routinely cloaks itself in the sort of bluster and bravado that routinely passes for intellect and common sense – there exist Hannibal Lector conservatives who keep their political fava beans and chianti well-chilled: for the past six months, the Bayshore Tea Party and Barbara Gonzalez have endured relentless attacks courtesy of a blog called Conservative New Jersey.
In all fairness and in the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I was a founding member of CNJ and, in the course of my tenure from October 2 until I parted ways on December 31, I wrote the majority of the articles published there – including a seven-part series calling out Gov. Chris Christie as anything but a conservative.
It saddens me to report that since my departure, CNJ’s literary, editorial and journalistic standards have declined precipitously: in February of this year, CNJ’s principal blogger published an article declaring that Barbara Gonzalez and the leaders of other groups “have sold their members out“ – a serious accusation to level against a prominent Tea Party leader who has sacrificed so much for the sake of the conservative cause. Since then and in spite of a mountain of evidence to the contrary, CNJ doubled down and continued its attacks with a regularity and ferocity that beggars belief, declaring Barbara Gonzalez guilty of a litany of offenses: including betraying the conservative movement, selling out to the establishment GOP, repudiating Steve Lonegan and Americans for Prosperity, consorting with liberals posing as Tea Party patriots, supporting Obamacare and RGGI, mismanaging the BTP organization and engaging in questionable financial practices.
In a series that will begin publication tomorrow, I will expose CNJ’s shameful campaign against Barbara Gonzalez and the Bayshore Tea Party organization for what it truly is: a factually bereft, journalistically compromised and logically short-circuited witch hunt that diminishes both conservatives and conservatism.