New Pres. of Tea Party aims to break stereotypes
Susan Wynne never used to pay much attention to politics, but now she’s the president of a group that makes its presence known in most political arenas throughout the state: The Rhode Island Tea Party.
Wynne, a mother of three, said she had “zero” interest in politics prior to 9/11.
“It started a fire inside of me,” she said of the September 2001 tragedy. “I became a news junkie.”
Wynne said Sept. 12 was another significant day in her life.
“I started seeing things that really made an impact,” said Wynne. “People jogging with American flags or helping out a neighbor; 9/12 was America at its finest.”
Wynne, who identifies herself as an independent, said she began to see things go “drastically wrong” when Barack Obama took office. She said she found herself living in a country that didn’t offer a promising future for her three sons.
“I didn’t want to be [in] a nursing home one day and have one of my sons come up to me and ask, ‘Mom, why didn’t you try to change things?’” she said. “I want my sons to be able to have an America they can remember. At the rate we’re going, they’re not going to.”
Wynne said a major problem with the country’s economy is the student loan debt her children and others will face, paired with a lack of high-paying jobs.
“How will they ever have any kind of a life?” she said. “How can they hope to buy a home?”
As Wynne began to take deeper interest in politics and fiscal conservatism, she found herself without an arena to voice her thoughts and feelings. So when she saw signs for the first ever Rhode Island Tea Party meeting in 2009, Wynne grew curious. She wondered what exactly the group would do.
“Something really attracted me to it,” she said.
Wynne decided to attend one of the first meetings at the Warwick Public Library in the fall of 2009.
“It was beyond capacity,” she said. “So we divided into smaller groups by location.”
That’s when Wynne met other people from her area, the Blackstone Valley, who were as passionate about politics as she. Soon, that smaller group became its own entity, the Blackstone Valley Tea Party, and grew to more than 70 members under Wynne’s coordination. Currently, the Rhode Island Tea Party has a mailing list of roughly 2,000 and 806 followers on Facebook. Wynne said the members come from various socioeconomic classes, age groups and political parties.
“One thing we stress is leave your R or D at the door,” said Wynne. “We’re non-partisan. What we want crosses both parties. What we want is fiscal conservatism, which tends to be more of a Republican stance, but there are Democrats that are very fiscally conservative.”
Wynne said the state’s fiscal issues are what drive people to join the Tea Party.
“People see their taxes go up but their paycheck is less,” she said. “They’re at home balancing their checkbooks and they see the General Assembly isn’t.”
Wynne said people shouldn’t shy away from getting involved because they feel they cannot be outspoken.
“Each one of us has a gift. Some people like to write letters, or post posters in their local senior center,” she said. “Others are social media junkies who post on Facebook and Twitter. We have a range of different people.”
Wynne said the mainstream media often tries to paint the group with a broad brush, finding the angriest and most radical Tea Party members to represent the group as a whole. Both leaders of the Tea Party have been women, which Wynne said is another great way to break the stereotypes surrounding the group.
“Many of our members are mothers who want better futures for their kids, or veterans who don’t want their country to fail,” said Wynne. “We’re not anti-government. We want fiscal responsibility. We feel that our elected officials work for us, but now the attitude is the other way around.”
Wynne, who said she is honored to be the leader of the Tea Party, said she never expected to be where she is today.
As she became more active as a leader in the Blackstone Valley Tea Party, the Rhode Island Tea Party began to take notice. Last year she was asked to be on the Party’s steering committee, and when founder and former Tea Party president Colleen Conley stepped down to pursue other goals, the steering committee turned to Wynne.
“I was honored, but I do miss working with the smaller groups,” she said. “I never intended to become a leader; I’m more interested in the work.”
But Wynne is still working, now on administrative issues, newsletters and organizing meetings.
“The Tea Party is considered leaderless,” she said. “Working with the smaller groups is really, really important. Those are the boots on the ground we need.”
Wynne said her goals as president are mainly centered on the upcoming elections in November.
“We’ve already done a campaign boot camp,” she said. “We’re vetting candidates and looking for groups to work for them.”
The Tea Party isn’t currently focused on the presidential primaries, but Wynne said she’s personally hoping for a change in the White House.
“I wish I could be excited,” said Wynne of the Republican candidates. “Personally, I’m not excited about any of them. I think the choice of vice president will affect my pick.”
Wynne and the Tea Party are also focused on Governor Lincoln Chafee’s budget proposal. She said the members of the Party are strictly opposed to his proposed tax hikes.
“There shouldn’t be any tax increases. Period,” she said. “We need to stop spending.”
The group is working with a lobbyist to combat the tax increases.
Wynne, originally from central Massachusetts, has lived in Rhode Island for 25 years and said Rhode Islanders are very attuned to what’s happening on Smith Hill. She also said Rhode Islanders have a specific mindset that she’s hoping to alter.
“People in Rhode Island seem to accept corruption,” she said. “If we can change the corruption in Rhode Island, it will spread throughout the nation.”
Since her inception as president, Wynne has been spending time at the State House, introducing herself to legislators.
“I want them to know we’re real people who have voices,” she said. “Often, we’re giving voices to people who say they aren’t being heard.”
To become a member of the Tea Party, to find a meeting close to you, or to join the mailing list, email firstname.lastname@example.org, find RI Tea Party on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.