The rise of the tea party movement in 2009 was an exciting time in North Dakota. In a state not exactly known for take-to-the-streets activist there was suddenly a real protest movement. People were upset. They wanted to speak out, and around the state tea party rallies provided a venue.
I organized one here in Minot, and helped organize a few in other cities, and one of the people I met along the way was Vernon Brossart.
In the years since 2009 the tea party movement has stopped being what it was. The name has been co-opted by political professionals, and branded as extremist and racist by the political class. But when I think of the movement, I remember the people I worked with here in North Dakota.
People who were anything but political operatives. People who care about their communities. People passionate about their beliefs, and not afraid to make them known to others.
People like Vernon Brossart.
When I first heard of Brossart it was someone telling me a story about this crazy guy driving around with a big tea party sign in the back of his pickup. Later we met, and Vern invited me to speak at a tea party rally he organized in Williston. It was attended by over a thousand people, and for years the local tea party group Vern founded had an impact on local politics there.
In 2011 Vern’s Williston Tea Party group helped defeat a sales tax hike (though the city would eventually get their way in 2012).
Vern and I would often have long conversations on the telephone about the movement, and how to expand its impact.
I’m sorry to say that since those years we lost touch. The last I had heard Vern – a life-long entrepreneur – was starting a new business to take advantage of the new economic growth brought to Williston by the oil boom.
I was even more sorry to hear that Vern died earlier this month, passing away in his home. He was 69 years old.
Vern was a passionate man with strong opinions and strong convictions. His politics might not have been everybody’s cup of tea, but there is something noble about the citizen activist you can’t help but admire.
Most importantly, though, he was a good and kind man.
He’ll be missed, but thankfully Vern has left a legacy of local activism in Williston that has no doubt inspired others to get involved and stay involved.