De-Bunking Tea Party Myths: An Interview with Katrina Pierson
Over this past summer, I spent a week with a longtime friend who has always voted Democrat, and who volunteered early on in 2009 that she realized she made a big mistake voting for President Obama. While we normally do not discuss politics, I mentioned during our summer visit that while I am a still a conservative Republican, I also support the Tea Party. Her response (beside a look of shock and puzzlement) was “I don’t think we should talk about that….”.
Which leads to one of the points of the interview below.
Opponents of the Tea Party’s political message --- of fiscal conservatism and adherence to the Constitution --- mislead Americans by knowingly misrepresenting, muddying and distorting that message and the messengers. Democrats in Washington, D.C. and even in the great state of Texas have resorted to a time-tested strategy to fight the Tea Party’s message: they label the Tea Party “racist.” It is hard to think of a more terrifying label in American political life, which is why liberals who shudder to think of fiscal conservatism and adherence to the Constitution, resort to using this most toxic of verbal assaults. From a Democrat Texas State Representative, to Congressional Black Caucus spokesperson Maxine Waters, who said that the Tea Party can go straight to hell, to many others on the Left, the Tea Party’s critics hope to fight the group’s growing influence by branding them with one of their sure-fire lethal monikers. Most notably, such Tea Party criticism is rarely accompanied by informed, thoughtful analysis or proposals to counter the fundamental Tea Party message.
Enter Katrina Pierson, a Tea Party organizer who serves in leadership capacities in the local North Texas Tea Party, at the state level in Austin, and in Washington, D.C. A nationally recognized leader among the intentionally unstructured Tea Party movement, Katrina grew up in a family that relied on the redistribution of wealth system, which the Tea Party fights to change. She entered politics with a passion in 2009, largely due to President Obama’s entry into the national political scene. Katrina is hardly alone in her role as a black American who supports and is supported by the Tea Party. Just here in north Texas, Pastor Stephen Broden, a 2010 candidate for US Congress in a district south of the heart of the City of Dallas, and who is African-American, was and is among the most popular speakers in Tea Party circles, and he is not the only one.
Another myth designed to mislead Americans is that the Tea Party is just for “Ron Paul for President” supporters. As Katrina reports, and this author can confirm, the Tea Party includes some Paul supporters, but they are a small percentage of the movement. Because many Tea Party groups will not endorse any candidate, but instead advocate for policies, and for well-informed and engaged citizens, it is home to supporters of many and varied politicians.
Here is our interview, the third in a series of interviews with Tea Party leaders in North Texas:
Debbie Georgatos: Hello! Thanks for coming over to speak with me today.
I want to start by asking a little about your background—your education and your career, and are you a native Texan?
Katrina Pierson: Born in Kansas because my mother was visiting my grandmother at the time, but I have lived in Texas my whole life and consider myself a Texan. I am a single mom, and have been divorced for 13 years, and have one son who is a teenager. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Science from the University of Texas at Dallas. I have a pre-med degree from Kilgore College, an Associate’s of Science degree.
Debbie Georgatos: Have you been active politically your whole life?
Katrina Pierson: No, it’s actually shocking to me that I became involved in politics. I grew up with a mom who was in the redistribution of wealth society, so politics was not something we were taught or even engaged in for that matter. I didn’t become politically involved until September 11th. And that was what got my attention, because I thought, “these things don’t happen in our country, so what’s going on”? That’s when I started paying attention, but I didn’t get politically involved until the 2008 elections.
Debbie Georgatos: I take it you were not happy with the outcome of the 2008 elections?
Katrina Pierson: No. It was pretty awesome for our country that Barack Obama was a black guy running for that office, but everything that he stood for was in complete opposition to what I felt. And that is when I was able to define my political ideology, which I’d always had but just didn’t realize it.
I was shocked when he won the election. And that’s what really drove me to get involved. That this man could get elected, and become President, and implement the types of things that he has done, was very scary to me. So I had to get involved, to figure out how I could be part of the solution.
Debbie Georgatos: Why did you get involved with the Tea Party instead of for example, the Republican Party?
Katrina Pierson: I could see that the Republican Party was probably not my ideological choice at the time considering that John McCain was the nominee, however, I was a little excited about Sarah Palin, because she seemed more normal. She went to junior college, she wasn’t an Ivy League lawyer, which was completely the opposite of what we have running our country. She got rid of the Alaska Governor’s plane when she served, she made her own meals, she took care of her own children, and that to me resonated. Because that’s what we do, what all of my friends do, and all of my family does.
When I found the Tea Party here in Dallas, I went to one meeting, and I just knew that these were my people. These were the people who thought the way that I did, that felt the way that I felt, and even though I had not been politically involved but for two months, I could tell that that’s where I belonged.
Debbie Georgatos: So this was early 2009 when you decided this?
Katrina Pierson: Yes.
Debbie Georgatos: What were the things that Barack Obama said and did while he was running or when he first became President that you didn’t like?
Katrina Pierson: The first thing was that he did not wear the flag lapel pin, and actually put up an argument against wearing the flag lapel pin on his jacket, which should just be understood. You’re running for the President of the United States and you won’t wear the flag? That was very upsetting to me. And then I learned more, not from the mainstream media, but through my own research. I found out a lot of things. One was that he was a Senator in a state that allowed the murder of children that survived an abortion, and to me that was unacceptable. You’re in a position as a Senator to do something about that law and you did nothing, and his excuse was “Well, that law was already in place.”
But he was campaigning on hope and change, and if he can’t set out to change something important in his own state, how is he going to change anything in the country?
Debbie Georgatos: What issues going on in America today concern you the most? Or what events?
Katrina Pierson: Definitely the economy. Everyone is concerned about the economy and that crosses party lines. I am concerned about where we are headed fiscally, economically, and even socially.
I think also that education is a huge problem in this country, and our public school systems have failed not only our children but also our country as a whole.
Debbie Georgatos: Do you consider yourself a fiscal and a social conservative?
Katrina Pierson: I do.
Debbie Georgatos: What aspects of conservatism does the Tea Party stand for, in your view?
Katrina Pierson: The Tea Party supports fiscal conservatism, personal responsibility, state’s rights and national sovereignty, and not so much on the social issues side. I believe as an individual that if we can get a grasp on the national defense, protect our border, enforce the laws we have on the books, and cut back on the fiscal side by cutting spending including spending on the social programs, that will for the most part handle the social issues.
Debbie Georgatos: What is your role in the Tea Party?
Katrina Pierson: I am a trainer, an advisor, a consultant and a leader. My goal is to make myself available to any grass roots conservative group in any way that they might need me, whether that is to train them to do what I have done on the local level, or just to give a speech on my own personal life coming from the redistribution of wealth (background) and literally clawing my way out from that system that’s designed to keep you in it.
Debbie Georgatos: What trainings are you referring to?
Katrina Pierson: I am referring to educating people who are newly involved in politics. They don’t know what to do, how to do it, where to start, and we teach them to get engaged on the local level, whether it’s attending city council meetings, how to testify in a public hearing, where to go to compile information, how to do research, how to analyze their precincts, how to get out the vote, just anything they need help with.
Debbie Georgatos: You are part of one particular Tea Party group?
Katrina Pierson: I am on the Steering Committee for the Dallas Tea Party, founder of the Garland Tea Party, sit on the board of the Texas Tea Party Caucus Advisory Committee, and the Garland City Council just elected me to the Health Facilities Corporation board and Economic Development Board. I will be launching a new program called WatchtheVote.org.
Debbie Georgatos: Wow, so many directions to go here! What does the Texas Tea Party Caucus Advisory Board do?
Katrina Pierson: What we have done, and this is the first year this was established, we meet with the Texas Tea Party Caucus members, House and Senate, monthly, and discuss the current legislation on the table.
Debbie Georgatos: Is this Tea Party Caucus made up of elected Texas State Representatives and Senators?
Katrina Pierson: Yes. About 25 of them.
Debbie Georgatos: The Tea Party is sometimes characterized as another name for “Ron Paul Supporters.” Is that accurate?
Katrina Pierson: No. There are Ron Paul supporters in the Tea Party, but there are supporters of many others in the Tea Party. I am not a Ron Paul supporter. There are people who call themselves Reagan conservatives. Well, I didn’t grow up knowing who Reagan was, so I don’t identify with him either.
The Tea Party movement is the Tea Party movement. This is an idea of common sense, and no one owns common sense. For people who are new to politics, there is no reflection back to Reagan or back to Ron Paul. Some say that Ron Paul started the Tea Party movement but he didn’t start it as far as I am concerned and there are many people who feel the same way, and it is unfair to tie the movement back to any one individual. Unless, however, they were around in the 1770’s.
Debbie Georgatos: Are you active in Washington DC on behalf of the Tea Party?
Katrina Pierson: Yes. I have made it my personal goal to find out what the heck is going on up there.
And I decided to start to meet with them in DC, because I want to know the process, and why they think the way that they do. When I meet with these Congressmen or Senators, I talk about what’s important back home, and what the Tea Party people think and what the Tea Party people want, and why.
Debbie Georgatos: Do you have any sense about what the Members of Congress think about the Tea Party? Are they afraid of it, or embracing it, or what?
Katrina Pierson: It depends how long they have been there. The new ones accept and embrace it. They offer ideas, thoughts and suggestions. The ones who have been there a long time seem to feel like that we are a little bit too extreme or want too much, and we want things that they just can’t get done on a bi-partisan level. And, I just explain to them well that’s why we are here. We don’t want them to compromise on principles.
Debbie Georgatos: Is the Tea Party a resurgence of Reagan conservatism or is it new thinking, or something else?
Katrina Pierson: It is some of both. To some of the older people in our movement, it is a restoration of Reagan-day policies. And for some of the younger people it is survival. It is a response to our society going to hell in a hand basket and deciding that we have got to do something to stop it.
Debbie Georgatos: Among the Tea Party folks you know, are most Republicans who are unhappy with their party?
Katrina Pierson: The majority are Republicans, but there are tons of libertarians, and even some Democrats who have said, “this is not what I expected.”
Debbie Georgatos: “This” meaning Barack Obama’s policies are not what they expected?
Katrina Pierson: Yes. He campaigned on “hope and change,” and a lot of people were caught up in the idea that they were supporting a black man for President and didn’t realize that he meant what he said. He meant that he was going to redistribute the wealth. He meant that he was going to socialize medicine. These (Obama voters) come to me and say, “I don’t know what I was thinking…how can I help you?”
They don’t necessarily want to be Republicans but they want to be part of fixing the problems.
Debbie Georgatos: In the broad spectrum of political groups, there are Second Amendment advocates, and pro-life advocates, and other similar groups. Do you see the Tea Party as a similar niche in the political spectrum, that being a fiscally conservative niche?
Katrina Pierson: Yes, and that is the main niche, but there is the Constitutional niche and that is where it is really all grounded. And that’s why you see these one-issue groups coming to join the Tea Party movement.
All of those issues are outlined in the Constitution, and the Tea Party is kind of the Constitutional home for these groups. There is strength in numbers. So if everybody can come together whether for a rally or for an event, you have all of the like-minded individuals who may or not agree on policy, but agree fundamentally on the values of the Constitution and the importance of it.
Debbie Georgatos: What about the charge that the Tea Party is racist? I’m sure you’ve seen that claim in the media periodically. Katrina Pierson: Oh yeah, just as with children, you find if all else fails, they resort to name-calling. They’ve tried it for three years now and it hasn’t stuck.
Debbie Georgatos: So in your perception that is an entirely false accusation?
Katrina Pierson: It is an entirely false accusation. And to this day, there has been no proof. I think they have managed to turn some people off because of it, but the reality is that the Tea Party movement is not racist. The economy stands outside of race, religion and party affiliation.
Debbie Georgatos: It’s especially absurd because two of the candidates I’ve supported and worked with in the past, Michael Williams and Pastor Stephen Broden, are black and are very popular Tea Party speakers. You can find pictures of them addressing large Tea Party groups. It makes that claim so absurd.
Katrina Pierson: Yes, they make that accusation because it is easy to do. You see pictures of Tea Party crowds that are mostly older white citizens, and if you want to discredit the group, why wouldn’t you (make that false accusation). Because everyone knows once you are called a racist, you are done.
Debbie Georgatos: Do you think the Tea Party is filled with angry people—as the media says?
Katrina Pierson: Well I’m angry! (laughing). I think to generalize, the Tea Party is angry but they are not out there holding pitchforks and screaming.
But people are upset, even with ourselves for not being as vocal, for not getting out there and getting out the vote out like we should have been doing in the past.
So yes I think we are angry about the situation that we are in, and we are angry about not doing our part early on. I know I am. I am disappointed with the fact that I am just now getting engaged for the last couple of years, and it’s very upsetting to me, that I’ve allowed it to get to where it has without my involvement.
Debbie Georgatos: So maybe angry but not hateful?
Katrina Pierson: Absolutely. The Tea Party people are the nicest people I’ve ever come across. They treat you like family. We have disagreements but we are all on the same page. I mean, when you have 70% of the American people opposed to a bill and they pass it anyway, are you supposed to be happy about that?
Debbie Georgatos: Referring to Obamacare?
Katrina Pierson: Yes! That’s taxation without representation. No one is ever happy about that.
Debbie Georgatos: Are there other things you’d like to say to the world about what the Tea Party really is versus what the perception may be?
Katrina Pierson: The story of the Tea Party can be told just based on our activity. And the story is that Americans have decided to take back what’s rightfully theirs. And America has decided that the Constitution should be protected. The Tea Party is mainly about protecting and preserving the United States Constitution.
Debbie Georgatos: Katrina, thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.
Katrina Pierson: Thank you.