Gather 'round, children, and I shall tell ye a tale -- a tale of my first Americans for Prosperity event in 2007. Republican presidential candidates flowed in and out of the Mayflower Hotel, near D.C.'s Dupont circle, which packed crowds into a fairly small place. National media showed up to watch Fred Thompson flop, Rudy Giuliani barely bother to tweak a stump speech, and Mitt Romney look more in his element than ever. I just sort of focused on Ron Paul. If David Koch was there, nobody noticed. If Herman Cain was there, really, nobody cared.
Four years later, AFP is the most notorious splinter cell in the Tea Party army. Entire New York Times exposes are written about how AFP exists, it is heavily funded by Koch, and Herman Cain has a long-running association with it, as a sought-after speaker for Tea Party events. Today at 1 p.m., Cain will speak to the assembled in the Washington Conference Center, many times larger than the Mayflower. (AIPAC holds its conferences here.) We are roughly nine blocks away from where Occupy D.C. has set up in a park, trying (and partly) succeeding to steal the Tea Party's thunder. But the media is here.
Before the cameras show up, if you want to look for it, there's a brilliant Hipstamatic snapshot of what conservative activism is about right now. I spent the mid-morning at a seminar on how to testify before committees. AFP's Georgia branch passed out a sheet of quick tips.
Don't shake, ramble, or roll. (Apologies to Elvis.)
- Provide your contact info & copies of your presentation
- Follow the bill/rule/regulation until its adoption/defeat
- Whenever possible, stay in contact with the Committee
- Network with others who are testifying
"You may be able to get a bill defeated because you keep showing up with your group," said Virginia Galloway, AFP's Georgia director. She ran us through a slideshow of effective tools, like charts showing the progress of environmental regulation versus the threat of pollution.
"Every time the situation improves, the standards change," she said. "I've got some charts about how much less pollution there is despite there being more people."
She got backup from Mandy Schaumberg, a staffer at the House Education and Workforce committee. Preparation was key, she said. Not getting trapped by a hostile interrogator was key. "Don't feel like you have to answer all the questions," she warned us. "If you don't know, say you will follow up with them later."
Carol Weston, a former Maine legislator who now heads up AFP there, stressed how very important it was for people like the AFP activists -- there were maybe 50 people in there -- to show up.
"We see the same lobbyists in the same suits every day," she says. "It really makes an impact if we see what we call 'real people.'" Compare that to a mob of SEIU allies in purple shirts. "I don't listen to them as much, because that's one story. We want individual stories. If you come all dressed alike, it's just a bloc."