AUSTIN, Texas -- Progressive leaders in Texas want to convert protesters into elected leaders.

Rallies across the state Saturday brought out tens of thousands of people. Organizers did their best to collect contact information from protesters, but they said the big crowds made it difficult.

That was a key approach the Tea Party used in its early days. Eight years later, it has proven to be a formidable part of the Texas conservative base and surprised the state's left wing.

"It was a wake-up call that we cannot involve ourselves in these conversations only during presidential cycles and expect we are actually going to achieve any of our goals toward reaching full equality," said former State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

Davis created Deeds Not Words to engage with progressive Texas women and encourage them to enter the political realm. That is similar to efforts Annie's List undertakes, which formed 14 years ago.

"In this last cycle, we won 29 out of the 34 races we were involved in," Patsy Woods Martin said.

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However, the group hasn't been successful in electing a progressive woman to statewide office yet. That's where the Tea Party's had an advantage. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton all subscribe to Tea Party policy positions.

"Texas' Republican leadership was really early in recognizing that the Tea Party movement was a grassroots movement that actually had credible concerns about what the party had and had not been doing," said James Dickey, Chairman of the Travis County Republican Party.

Dickey remembers when the Republican establishment dismissed early Tea Party gatherings. That's one mistake he vows never to repeat.

"I know better than to take such a gathering lightly, and don't at all," he said.

"Within each person's network, they were able to build a conversation that--over time--really began to drive change in a direction that they wanted to see," Davis said.

Several groups are already gearing up for local elections this May. Annie's List will be hosting training classes in the next couple weeks to walk potential candidates through the process.