By GORDON SMITH, Hamburg, PA

Special to the TIMES NEWS

I have been part of the Tea Party movement for over a year, making four trips to D.C. and two trips to Harrisburg to protest at the national and state level. Like many others, I have attended numerous meetings and protests in our region. To ensure that I had the best information, I was a member of three different regional Tea Party groups. We all want to ensure that we are not embarrassed by the actions of other members of the organization or their board of directors. My grandfather told me to choose my friends carefully as choosing the wrong friends could negatively impact my reputation. With this in mind, let me give you a summary of the three organizations I am or was active in.

First, let me start with the one I feel has the best all around performance. The Lehighton 9/12 Project (http://www.lehighton912.org/ [1]) has their act together. They have a strong, constitution focused board. They also have groups such as the 10th Amendment, 2nd Amendment and the Immigration special interest groups for those fascinated by those topics. The regular monthly meetings are well organized. In addition to great programs, they stick to the agenda. Meetings start on time and stay on topic. I am especially impressed with their ability to organize bus trips to all of the major protests.

I have to drive over 50 miles each way to attend Lehighton 9/12 meetings at Penns Peak. Every meeting I've attended made the drive worthwhile. MaryEllen Salerno and the board and committee members of the Lehighton group do it right!

I also like to attend the UnitePA 912 Reading group meetings when I can. This group has the smallest attendance of the three I am reviewing. People move tables together to create an intimate atmosphere that generates discussion. Mike Souders manages the agenda well, keeps the discussion going and ensures that everyone has a chance to express their opinions. Open discussion is encouraged. This group has no committees, very little funding, yet it is one of the most informative and participatory groups in the area.

UnitePA 912 distributes the 912 Gazette, a daily compilation of the news stories and events that affect the Tea Party movement. I await the email containing the 912 Gazette every day. It is non-partisan compendium that Tea Partiers need to know, delivered electronically. More information about this group is available at their website (http://www.meetup.com/unitepa-912-Reading/ [2]).

As my last selection, I choose the Berks County Patriots. I was there the night this group was founded. This group had the enthusiasm necessary to build a strong viable membership. To my recollection, the first meeting or two were sparsely attended, say 15 to 25 people. They created a well-organized board that focused on their mission. Within a few months they were attracting 400 to 800 people to their meetings.

I was very disappointed at their March meeting. I believe there were at least 500 people there, including me. The meeting started well with an excellent speaker. When a democrat interrupted the event in a manner that I considered rude, the Chairman of Berks County Patriots took the microphone and said, "Throw that woman out. We paid for this hall." (http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=206541 [3])

Needless to say, the woman was thrown out. I was there when the police showed up. At the same meeting, another member of the board took the microphone and publically embarrassed a reporter from the Reading Eagle. I have no idea why this happened, just that it did. My grandfather's warning came to mind when I saw this. This event certainly was not well handled, hopefully they will learn from their mistakes.

With heightened awareness, I found that this group, which I believed to be non-partisan, took a very public and, in my opinion, misleading position against Tom Corbett, candidate for governor. On their web site they say he was disposed on charges filed against him (http://berkscountypatriots.org/ [4]). This was a civil action filed against him in connection to his role as Attorney General. To my knowledge no criminal charges have filed against Mr. Corbett.

For full disclosure let me say that I am a Sam Rohrer supporter but I do not like dirty politics. At the April 30 candidates meeting, Tom Corbett was a no show. (http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=216580 [5]). Given what was on Berkscountypatriots.org, I cannot blame Corbett for his absence. No democratic candidates for governor showed up either. Could it be that Berks County Patriots is partisan rather than non-partisan? I suggest you attend their meetings to see for yourself.

I believe that we Tea Partiers must remain true to our non-partisan, constitution-focused mission to protect and restore our country. Party politics can destroy our movement. As the three examples I chose indicate, there are differences between the various Tea Party organizations. I urge you to choose the organization that best fits your values. Be an active member, attend the meetings, join committees or become a member of the board. November is coming and our voices must be heard.

The opinions expressed in this article are mine. If you have comments, send them to gordnesmith@verizon.net [6].

© 2010 Gordon Smith - All rights reserved