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Politicians such as Palin aren't the real Tea Party

By Phillip Dennis, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Phillip Dennis: Tea Party began with small group of conservatives new to politics
  • Dennis: Groups borrow mantel of Tea Party to advance agendas, make money
  • People such as Sarah Palin who charge $100,000 a speech don't represent real party, he says
  • Dennis says real members are local volunteers motivated by love of country, Constitution
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Editor's note: Phillip Dennis is the founder of the Dallas Tea Party and sits on a three-person steering committee. He is also the Texas state coordinator of Tea Party Patriots and an adviser to the National Tea Party Coalition.

(CNN) -- The Tea Party movement began when a small group of conservatives organized protests on Twitter against the stimulus bill in 22 American cities on February 27, 2009. The majority of us had never attended a protest and had to take a vacation day to attend.

From these few hundred people, a national movement demanding fiscal conservatism, national sovereignty and the rule of law landed on America's political front lawn.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans fully understand the Tea Party's inner workings or how to manipulate or co-opt it -- and they won't be able to. The modern-day Tea Party movement is managed by political newcomers whose primary motivation is love of country and a desire for a better future for their children.

Like anything else that grows into a national phenomenon, the Tea Party has seen some enter the scene with ulterior motives. Generally, the motives center around money. Some have slapped the Tea Party name on their tired political action committees. Others are organizations with political interests and agendas, but foremost are the money-gathering operations.

Others are big-name politicians or media personalities such as Sarah Palin, who charge up to $100,000 a speech before packing up and taking their show to another city. They leave little lasting substance, and their words are quickly forgotten.

I don't fault anyone for making money, even on the Tea Party name. Like Don Barzini said in "The Godfather," "After all, we are not communists."

However, these individuals and organizations are what I call "tea turf" groups, echoing Nancy Pelosi's early labeling of the Tea Party movement as an "astro turf" grassroots movement controlled by the Republican Party.

Technically, these tea turf groups and personalities are a part of the movement but most likely would not be if big dollars were not involved.

I regard the "pure in heart" Tea Party leaders as the real center and strength of the movement. These are the people who work full-time jobs, have family responsibilities and make time to manage and grow their own group.

The Dallas Tea Party has subdivided the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region into ZIP codes and voting districts. Each zone has one or more neighborhood coordinators charged with recruiting members, organizing meetings, getting out the vote and spreading the Tea Party message of fiscal responsibility, the rule of law and national sovereignty to their friends and neighbors.

Nearly every night of the week, dozens of meetings are taking place throughout the metro region, taking on school board, city council, state government legislation and other issues.

The goal is to get middle-class taxpayers engaged in local politics and into the primary and general election voting booths as never before. Each of these neighborhood coordinators and the people they lead are volunteers.

The time they devote to the Tea Party movement comes at the expense of something else in their busy lives. These people don't get huge speaking fees. They don't appear on national news shows. They don't sell books or merchandise. They do what they do because of their devotion to Tea Party principles. These people are the true heroes of the Tea Party movement.

The Tea Party will continue to grow in numbers and power as our leaders in Washington continue to govern irresponsibly. There will be many who try to take ownership of the movement. Certainly, the mainstream media would like nothing more than a single target to attack.

Yet, the Tea Party will succeed. If one leader in a sea of thousands falls, another will replace him or her just as a starfish grows another arm if one is cut off. The Tea Party movement is not about individuals but ideals.

The ideals found in the Constitution set the course for the United States becoming the most powerful and wealthy nation in history. The true leaders of the Tea Party are doing that because of love of country and a belief in constitutional principles.

That's something no tea turf PAC can buy -- not even for $100,000 a speech.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Phillip Dennis.