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Get informed and get involved could be the rallying call of the Tea Party, says two leaders of the Tea Party movement in Ohio.
“A big part of what we do is educate people on the facts of the issues. Only when you really know the facts of an issue can you call (your representative) and speak intelligently,” said Tom Zawistowski, executive director of the Portage County Tea Party.
Both Zawistowski and Marianne Gasiecki, founder of the Mansfield Tea Party Patriots, spoke recently on Town Hall Ohio about the Tea Party movement in Ohio. Zawistowski said many have mislabeled the Tea Party as being an arm of the Republican party. Listen to the Town Hall Ohio broadcast featuring the Tea Party.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “We don’t care what party you are from but what we care is that you have conservative values.” Gasiecki added that lately the Tea Party is probably harder on Republicans than Democrats.
Both described the Tea Party as a grassroots organization that got its start right after the 2008 presidential election. That election was a “good wakeup call” for Americans that they had become too complacent with how the government was run, Gasiecki said.
“People finally said ‘enough already. I want a future for my kids, my grandkids and it’s time to get vocal and have our representatives represent us’,” she said.
Rick Santelli’s infamous rant on TV in February 2009 criticizing government bailouts really connected with Gasiecki.
“I looked at my friend and said ‘We need to have a Tea Party in Mansfield. Everybody complains and nobody does anything.’ And she said ‘You should do that’,” Gasiecki said. The next month, the Mansfield Tea Party had its first event with 1,500 people and has grown since then.
Zawistowski, who described himself as being apolitical before joining the Tea Party, said that as a small business owner he was dismayed by the actions of the government.
“We found we just don’t follow the constitution, whether it’s the Ohio Constitution or federal Constitution. The government has no business doing much of what it does,” he said. “We found there’s a rule that says we’ll pass anything we want and it’s up to you to prove that it’s not constitutional and it is until you prove it’s not. It’s like defending a negative.”
Both Zawistowski and Gasiecki said the Tea Party is not structured and has about a dozen different types of groups in Ohio. For example, Gasiecki’s party is fashioned after the Tea Party Patriots and does not do endorsements while Zawistowski’s group does endorse political candidates.
On Monday nights, Gasiecki watches a national webinar where the issues of the day are discussed and debated.
“Even though we have two cofounders of the Tea Party Patriots national organization (on the webinar), they never, ever make a decision about the direction that we’re going to take,” she said. “It’s never a decision that is made at the top.”
Gasiecki said the Tea Party Patriots have three core principles: fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and a free market society. Both Gasiecki and Zawistowski criticized President Obama’s mandatory health insurance initiative and the nation’s cap and trade program.
“Ohio depends on oil and gas and coal and we are an energy state,” Zawistowski said. “Every single Democratic congressman voted for cap and trade in the House. That’s unbelievable. How is that representative government?”
He described the Tea Party as a cultural, not political, movement.
“We’re educating American people about what it means to be an American citizen. What it means is participation,” he said.