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St. Louis Tea Party changes focus, while some activists form new group

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 3, 2012 - The St. Louis Tea Party is taking on a new direction, and some of its early activists -- including radio host/TV commentator Dana Loesch -- have formed a new group called the Gateway Grassroots Initiative.

St. Louis Tea Party founder Bill Hennessy said the split reflects the decision of the original group's advisory board to focus more on organizing and educating people and less on big rallies.

"We want to provide value to the community,'' he said, "and not just be loud."

The St. Louis Tea Party had gained public attention, beginning in February 2009, admittedly by being loud.

Hennessy and his allies attracted thousands to a series of rallies -- including several packed events at Kiener Plaza and a massive gathering on the Arch grounds in September 2010. Loesch was among the emcees at the Arch event, which attracted now-Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and conservative commentator Dick Morris.

Hennessy and Loesch offer different accounts of the split. He says he called her in early December to say that the St. Louis Tea Party's advisory board had decided to remove her as part of its new approach.

Loesch says she wasn't on any board but was part of the St. Louis Tea Party's core group of about 15 people. She says 10 have left.

In any case, both say their new endeavors will focus more on the grassroots and less on politicians.

Loesch says of the Gateway Grassroots Initiative: "I and a sizable group of others are channeling our efforts into the next wave of grassroots: www.gatewaygrassroots.com. We believe that politics lies downstream from pop culture, and as of such is the battleground. Rhetorically speaking!"

Hennessy said that the St. Louis Tea Party leadership has decided that simply holding a bunch of rallies wasn't the way to sustain its influence over the long haul or broaden its appeal.  "We're trying to focus on grassroots organizing,'' he said. "We're really trying to shift out of the spotlight."

One of the problems with holding rallies, said Hennessy, was that "we were asking a lot of work from the same 200-300 people. We weren't growing."

Since embracing the new approach, he said, the St. Louis Tea Party has added 125 new members in just a few months.

More Focus On Grassroots Government

Many joined after attending one of the St. Louis Tea Party's regular "after-parties,'' which are held at different locations around the region, said Hennessy. The next is slated for Jan. 19 in Olivette.

The St. Louis Tea Party's goal, said Hennessy, is to "build a strong network of individuals'' involved in promoting conservative values at all levels, while also providing a non-governmental safety net for each other.

Another aim of the meetings, he said, is to educate people on how government works, particularly on the local level, such as school boards.

Hennessy also emphasized that the St. Louis Tea Party is not an arm of the Republican Party or any other political party. "We're not getting involved in any primaries,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Loesch -- while emphasizing that she's not speaking for other leaders of the Gateway Grassroots Initiative -- said it also doesn't plan to endorse candidates, publicly or privately. "The goal of grassroots in St. Louis was always to be that candidates are free to endorse us," she said

"GGI will likely take part in rallies at some point, but are united in our focus on culture and conservatism through targeted action," she said. "Rallies are great, but action is also great. We're also very resistant to working on behalf of any political candidates in primaries ... be it officially, or unofficially. We are 'tea party,' more informal and close to the spirit of the original, but it's time for the next wave."

The group just unveiled its new website a few weeks ago.  According to the website, the mission of the Gateway Grassroots Initiative "is to attract, educate, organize and mobilize fellow Gateway area citizens to secure a culture consistent with our three core values of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government and free markets."

Other early major figures who had been affiliated with the St. Louis Tea Party include former state Sen. John Loudon, R-Chesterfield, and his wife, Gina Loudon, a radio commentator.

The family has moved to Alabama, where Gina Loudon has a regular network radio show, "The Dr. Gina Show."

Gina Loudon also is a regular on Twitter, where she has complimented Hennessy and posted links to his blog, Hennessy's View.

Tea Party Rally to Kick off New Legislative Session

But limiting rallies doesn't mean that there will be none -- or that politicians won't still play a role.

On Wednesday, area tea party activists, including the Franklin County Patriots and the St. Louis Tea Party, plan to be in Jefferson City to hold a rally dubbed "Consent of the Governed" in front of the state Capitol.

The gathering is right before Missouri legislators are to convene for a new five-month session.

The aim of the rally, organizers said in a statement, is "to remind that they are there at the consent of the governed and constrained by the Missouri Constitution.

"We want them to know that we will be involved; we will be watching; and we will be a resource for those who seek to promote greater liberty and prosperity."

Among the scheduled speakers are:

  • Dave Roland, a lawyer and co-founder of the St. Louis-based conservative Freedom Center, which focuses on litigation;
  • State Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar;
  • St. Louis lawyer Ed Martin, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the 2nd congressional district in St. Louis County.
Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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