The journey of one activist from the heart of Wisconsin.
In 2006, when my husband and I first moved our family from Minneapolis to Central Wisconsin, many people asked if it was difficult to leave the big city, all of its amenities and the place I’ve always called home. Although it was hard to say goodbye to family and friends, the familiarity of our daily routines, favorite restaurants and variety of activities, we quickly appreciated the "small town" north-woodsy-feel of Central Wisconsin. The people were welcoming and friendly, there was no gridlock during rush hour and our children quickly settled in to their new home, school and surroundings. This would be the first year that both of our children would be in school full time, which left me in transition from stay-at-home mom to something else.
It didn’t take long to discover some interesting political facts about Central Wisconsin. At that time, with the exception of one lone Republican (then State Representative Jerry Petrowski), our district was dominated by Democrats.
Democrat Congressman Dave Obey had ruled Wisconsin’s 7th District from his home in Washington, DC for four decades. That alone was incentive for some much needed change. Little did I know what was coming in 2009.
Growing up in a politically 'divided’ household certainly had its challenges and I sometimes refer to my political upbringing as schizophrenic. I remember my mother’s bias against President Ronald Reagan, which was aided and guided by the usual suspects in the mainstream media and popular culture. Conversely, I will never forget my father’s adoration of The Gipper and appreciation for his strong leadership and cheerful optimism during his presidency. My parents are certainly no Mary Matalin/James Carville team, but there were many heated exchanges which left me with questions for both sides.
My father instilled in me the principles of personal responsibility, a reward system based on hard work and a respect for individual achievement. As I got older, I never questioned these values, probably because they made so much sense. By my 16th birthday, I had a part-time evening/weekend job at a local retailer which lasted throughout high school. I added a full-time summer job at a downtown insurance company and by the time I graduated from college, I was working 3-part time jobs to help pay for my tuition and living expenses. As a new graduate, I was excited to be offered a position with a publishing company and looked forward to supporting myself and living on my own, without having to rely on anyone else for help.
Fast forward to 2009 - I had watched Rick Santelli’s "Rant of the Year" online and came to the conclusion that I needed to get involved. My resolve went beyond personal responsibility and extended to my children and the children of future generations. I picked a venue in Wausau, found some like-minded citizens and we planned a tea party rally. People came out of the woodwork to donate their time and resources to make the event a success on April 15, 2009. The objective was straightforward. We gathered to voice our concerns about our government’s spending problem. We recognized the parallel of the colonists in Boston who had stood up to the British government because of their frustration over taxation without representation. We were upset that our elected officials were not listening to us and were stealing the futures of our children and grandchildren. Quiet conservatives everywhere had found their voices.
We all know what happened next. Instead of doing their jobs as journalists with integrity, the mainstream media demagogued, smeared and slandered the tea party and its members. Their beloved Party (that could do no wrong) and its members would not stand for any criticism, no matter how glaringly accurate it was. They took it personally. 'The government has a spending problem?’ The media instantly went on the defense, responding with personal attacks, class warfare rhetoric and charges of racism.
They quickly spun a narrative to destroy the reputations of average, hard-working, tax-paying citizens who had found their voices through the tea party and were simply exercising their 1st Amendment right to speak out against government officials whom they believed were not acting in the best interests of America.
It has been a whirlwind 4 years. Our persistence has paid off. We have had victories - and defeats. But I remain dedicated to the cause of spreading common sense conservatism to as many people as I can. As my father’s guiding principles live on in me, the message of conservatism remains simple and clear – personal responsibility and rewards based on individual achievement; a constitutionally limited government that exercises fiscal responsibility and liberty and economic freedom for all. Conservatism is alive and well in Central Wisconsin and beyond. Slow and steady wins the race.
-Meg Ellefson lives in Rib Mountain, WI. She founded the Wausau Tea Party in 2009 and continues leading grassroots efforts promoting conservatism in the Central Wisconsin area. She works as a Field Coordinator for Americans For Prosperity-Wisconsin, an organization focusing on issues of economic freedom.