News Story

Tea Party Info Tech

When a reporter told Joan Fabiano, founder of Grass Roots in Michigan, that he wanted to attend one of their meetings, the Holt woman informed him via Facebook that reporters were not allowed at their meetings.

The reporter, whose last article on Fabiano's activism referred to the Tea Party movement as "tea bag" in a headline, showed up anyway and — once turned away — stood in the parking lot of a church interviewing members.

Fabiano wrote about the experience on her blog and posted a link to it on Facebook that went out to her 900-plus Facebook friends.

Late to the technology party, the Tea Party movement is now utilizing new media and other social networking tools to build their following and get their message out.

"We know we have the Internet now," said Tina Dupont of the Tea Party of West Michigan. "And we are communicating. We are forming alliances."

Facebook started in September 2006, but many in the Tea Party movement didn't realize its potential until the last year.

Belinda Szmytke of the Rattle With Us Tea Party group in Livonia started Facebook just to keep tabs on her son and stay in contact with a few family members.

Today, she has more than 200 friends, and spends five to six hours a day online with her newfound political involvement.

On Tuesday, she found a GOP political candidate event and forwarded it to her Facebook friends as an event invitation.

"It seems when I'm not at work, I'm almost constantly checking Facebook, checking my e-mail, seeing if I can help other groups get the word out," Szmytke said.

In Manistique, Nanette White is about a 5-and-a-half hour car drive from the political hub of Lansing.

She's been on Facebook a year. White, a member of the Northern Michigan Liberty Alliance, checked how many friends she had on Tuesday.

"Let me take a peek," she said. "Just hit 400."

White said 99 percent of those friends are related to her activism.

"I'm online 12 hours a day, which sounds really bad," White said. "It consumes all your time, I will tell you that. But you have to stop and do something."

Like many in the Tea Party movement, her Facebook use began as a tool to stay in touch with a handful of relatives.

"It quickly became, 'Wow. This is fantastic. You can network with all the people on the issues.' Technology is fantastic. You have the world at your fingertips."

Glenn Clark, who is a member of the Oakland County Tea Party, said he notices how quickly activists are to connect with each other.

Clark said he often will go to rallies and introduce himself to many Tea Party activists.

"I'll go to a rally and give my name," Clark said. "When I get home, they've already friended me. Between Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, we are all connected now."

Clark said the Tea Party movement uses social networking to expose hypocrisy among politicians via votes or statements made at events.

"There is no running away from it," Clark said.