U.S. citizens are slow to anger and even slower to demonstrate, but when they do, it is the stuff of history. In the last two months, culminating on Tax Day, April 15, 2009, an estimated 600 to 800 grass-roots tea party protests were held throughout the country with total attendance in the tens of thousands.
The protest rallies, held from New Hampshire to Hawaii, were modeled on the 1775 Boston Tea Party, at which colonists dressed as Indians and dumped a shipment of tea into the harbor to protest tea taxes levied by the British Crown. The 2009 tea parties also protested taxes.
“TEA” was defined on hand-lettered signs as “Taxed Enough Already” or “Taxed Enough America” — the various wordings indicative of a grass-roots movement.
The TEA protesters are common folk angered by a wasteful Congress and a president with illusions of global grandeur at taxpayer expense.
The tea parties are not attacks on President Barack Obama per se, but on his less-than-transparent economic policies.
Harsh news media coverage of the TEA protesters contrasted with the sympathetic coverage given to illegal immigrants, who rallied and marched on May Day. The TEA protesters were not only pilloried by the mainstream news media but also by offensive leftist bloggers.
The Tea Party held at Mixon Groves in East Bradenton, Fla., on Tax Day, lasted from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., with an estimated 500 people. Local news accounts reported 300 people at another Bradenton location and 200 at another. In downtown Bradenton, a spontaneous group of young office workers, approximately 75 people, lined the main street and waved computer-generated tax protest signs that received support from passing cars. These office-worker demonstrators included white-collar blacks, whites, and Hispanics.
Among the signs at the rally were: “Congress, Next Time, Read the Bill,” “Don’t Punish Productivity," and “I’ll Keep the Constitution, You Keep the Change.”
Others read, “No Taxation for Redistribution” and “Spending a Trillion in 90 Days Is Not My Cup of Tea.”
One man at the rally had the courage to wear a Ron Paul T-shirt, despite reports that those supporting third-party candidates are now subject to surveillance by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) led by Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Some signs dared show an American Revolutionary War battle flag with its motto, “Don’t Tread on Me,” the mere display of which is now considered evidence of right-wing extremism by DHS.
The leftist news media ultimately failed in its attempts to portray the TEA protests as Republican-sponsored rallies rather than grass-roots gatherings. The Chicago tea party, intent on remaining nonpartisan, turned down the offer of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele to speak, and most tea parties chose not to have elected officials as speakers. One exception was the tea party in Santa Fe, N.M. — a city and state that went heavily for Obama. The Santa Fe rally had Democratic and Republican speakers.
The Democrat, a supporter of tax bailouts and stimulus spending, was politely booed for saying he looked forward to termination of the Bush tax cuts, which he blamed for the current fiscal meltdown.
One Obama supporter on MSNBC, misreading the TEA protesters, had this to say: “There is nothing more interesting than seeing a bunch of racists become confused and angry at speech [when] they’re not certain [of] what he‘s saying.” She was attempting to articulate that taxpayers are not intelligent enough to critique the president’s policies.
The tea parties, she concluded, were “all about hating a black man in the White House,” and attendees were “nothing but a bunch of tea-bagging rednecks” (apparently “tea-bagging” has a derogatory meaning in gay jargon, and “rednecks” began as a derogatory term in the South).
Another MSNBC talking head caustically commented that protesters, who allowed their children to hold signs critical of Congress and the stimulus package, were guilty of child abuse. When radical demonstrators allow their children to hold signs, wave foreign flags, throw objects, and scream curse words — that is free speech.
CNN reporter Susan Roesgen asked a man peacefully holding his baby why he was there. When he attempted to answer, Roesgen lost her cool and verbally attacked him, screaming, “Didn’t you get your tax refund?” Refusing to let him finish, she turned to the camera and “reported” that the protesters were anti-government and, even worse, anti-CNN.
In the aftermath of the Tax Day tea parties, cooler heads at many local newspapers and television stations from Frankfort, Ky., to Seattle, Wash., to Scranton, Pa., agreed that the TEA protesters were a cross-section of people of all ages, races, education, income, social status, and political orientation, who were expressing their concern for their futures and their children’s futures.
As Jeff Johnson of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune wrote on April 26, 2009: “I saw thousands of average, hard-working Minnesota taxpayers (many with family in tow) respectfully voicing . . . deep concerns about the future of our country . . . [I] saw no one brandishing their semiautomatic.”
Speakers encouraged people to research candidates and to vote. There were no insults of persons or groups, and even the messages critical of Congress and the president were respectful. There were no vitriolic attacks on elected officials, no name-calling, no hate signs, no slogans of racism; yet these protesters were targeted for surveillance by the DHS, which now finds any demonstration critiquing policies of the Obama administration or of Congress to be suspect as an act of domestic terrorism. Although the DHS is working with the FBI and state and local law enforcement officials to conduct surveillance of U.S. citizens exercising their constitutional rights of assembly and free speech, FBI agents on duty at the TEA protests could only have been proud of their fellow citizens.
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., was quoted in The Hill as saying: “The Tea Parties being held . . . by groups of right-wing activists and fueled by Fox News Channel, are an effort to mislead the public about the Obama economic plan . . . this is an Obama-bashing party promoted by corporate interests, as well as Republican lobbyists and politicians.”
One wag questioned how this could be, when the “K Street” lobbyists are all working in the Obama administration. The TEA protestors actually were ordinary citizens not on the payroll of George Soros or his minions or the labor unions or ACORN (Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now) currently flush with stimulus funds.
The ultra-liberal St. Petersburg Times carried a front-page article and photo of a peaceful and thoughtful crowd listening to a speech at a Tampa, Fla., park. The photos showed a mix of young and old, men and women, blacks and whites. The article, with a Washington, D.C., byline, stated that the TEA protests across the country were attended by “frustrated conservatives gathered to protest the Obama administration’s agenda for taxes and spending.” If so, Congress need take note, for in our democracy, voter frustration over taxes and spending often is followed by congressional housecleaning.
James Walsh is a former federal prosecutor.
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