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Rhode Island Tea Party Insists It’s Not Going Anywhere, Anytime Soon

Monday, January 14, 2013

 

They may not make national headlines for spirited protests and large-scale rallies but the Tea Party is active and strong in Rhode Island.

Or so says Rhode Island Tea Party President Susan Wynne, who argues that the movement is not going away anytime soon despite a November election in which many of the races party members identified as the most important on the ticket failed to go their way.

“We were very disappointed, very disappointed,” Wynne said. “Honestly, all of the candidates that we worked for, we put our time and our treasure behind, didn’t win and there were some races we were really shocked about.”

Despite the election results, however, Wynne and the Tea Party are optimistic about 2013.

“The Left would like to think that we’ve gone away but we haven’t,” she said. “I don’t think many people realize that we start at the kitchen table. We are in school committees, we’re in town councils, city councils, we’re in local government and that’s really where we’re building the ground swell, and I think as the years go on, people will move from city councils and school committees to state and higher office. We’re there, it’s just been quiet.”

While 2012 was a year in which the party focused largely on the November elections—Wynne herself called them her party’s “top priority”—the next 12 months will offer the group a chance to get back to their roots.

And instead of making headlines and getting attention through their actions, Wynne and company have chosen to focus their efforts on making changes within the State House and within Rhode Island’s communities from the ground up.

“Right now we’re in the gearing up stage,” Wynne said. “We’re gearing up, we’re in the planning stage and we’re putting together our platform. We’re getting ready to jump in and be here every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for the committee hearings and at the same time we’re going to be looking at getting back into our neighborhoods and communities again by building small groups [of supporters].”

Wynne and Michael Puyana, a volunteer legislative lobbyist for the group, have said that their focus this year will be on making personal connections in the State House and talking to legislators on both sides of the aisle on a “one-to-one” basis.

Their toughest obstacle, they insist, is clearing up misconceptions about the group and its platforms that have been prevalent in what they call the “mainstream media.”

Rhode Island Tea Party President Susan Wynee says her party has grown from a protest movement to one that prefers a face-to-face relationship with local lawmakers

“They think we’re an extreme wing of the Republican Party and that we’re highly funded, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Wynne said.

The 2012 election was particularly hard on the group, Wynne said, as they found themselves playing defense as many questioned their preferred candidates and their stances on many of the hot-button issues in Rhode Island.

“We are working really hard on helping people to get to know us and it really is up to us to brand ourselves,” she said. “We need to make sure we let people know who we are and what we stand for instead of letting others define who we are because that’s really the goal of the mainstream media, to call us ‘those evil Tea Partiers.’

"Now that the election is over, it’s going to give us a chance to brand ourselves, which we started doing a year ago by getting to know our legislators on a one-to-one basis, letting them get to know us, sharing business cards so they can feel free to call us if they have questions about where we stand. Our style is different than it was.”

As the legislative season begins to heat up with Governor Chafee’s upcoming State of the State address and a number of controversial topics reach the State House floor, Puyana says his group faces a challenge in differentiating itself from other grassroots organizations that share similar platforms.

One of the differences, Wynne says, is that the Rhode Island Tea Party has no interest in taking a stand on any social issues whatsoever.

The goal, she argues, is to focus on what the party feels are its most important agenda items.

“You know how we started? We were a protest movement,” she said. “We started as a protest movement, it was all rallies, rallies, rallies. But we’ve grown, we’ve morphed, we have gone much deeper than that. We’re in the communities, we’re starting to get into the boards and commissions and the school committees so it’s not about the rallies anymore.”

Wynne and Puyana admit that while rallies lead to greater publicity, ultimately the Rhode Island Tea Party needs to shift its focus to items that may go unnoticed by the general public.

“We’re much more in the advocacy end of things,” Puyana said. “Rallies are fun but after a while you get to a point where you’re shouting at empty buildings. You come here on a Sunday and who’s here? The pigeons?”

Puyana says the shift will benefit the RI Tea Party in the long run.

“We think that getting to know the people who can really make a difference, who can get things done, getting them to know us, having them understand who we are, what we’re fighting for, what we believe in, we really think that it can be much more effective because it gets much more to the source of where the work needs to be done,” he said.

That doesn’t mean the Tea Party will be completely behind the scenes, however.

With a focus on social media and an emphasis on their mailing list of over 2,000 subscribers, Wynne and Puyana have no doubts they can get their message across and say the party will continue to influence Rhode Island politics, even if their efforts last November didn’t pan out the way they had planned.

“We get asked all the time what we’re doing,” Puyana said. “If you really want to find out what we’re doing, look at statements that we’ve issued and get on down to the State House and talk to the people who are actually making the laws and putting together the statues that affect your life because those are the people that we’re talking to and those are people that we’re working with to try to improve the quality of life for all Rhode Islanders.” 

 

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