Tea parties make a statement

Friday, April 17, 2009
Tribune photo by Karen Hall Area residents were demonstrating for God and country at Rock Creek Park on Wednesday.

With demands for an end to "piling on of taxes," nearly 100 people protested taxes at Rock Creek Park on Wednesday evening when named grievances included financial bailouts, earmarks for federal spending and a $3 trillion debt.

"I'm not proud to be a Republican any more," protest program speaker Andrew Wood said, asking the peaceful crowd to "Go back to God, family and country. People like us are getting mad."

Coordination of the Tax Day Tea Party was by Sherry Ferguson.

"We want to send a message to Washington," she said.

Local businessman and a former public official, Jim Moon, asked those in attendance: "Put Capitol Hill's number in your cell phone 202-224-3121.

Offering a longer view on things was Drew Davidson, an attorney who established offices on the Lewisburg's public square after his military service in Vietnam.

"I used to despise protestors and demonstrators because they were basically against me while I was in Vietnam. I always thought they needed to do something else," Davidson said, "but I changed my mind because their cause had won and they took the White House and the Congress.

"One of the people on Fox news said the same thing that night from Atlanta," Davidson said. "They also said that we will have to do the same thing."

In many respects, the signs people brought told the story as well as the speakers.

"God does it on a 10 percent flat rate, why can't Congress do it?" That sign was held by a man with an American flag on the back of his vest.

One much younger man held a sign saying, "Stop spending my future."

"Exercising my 1st Amendment right. Does that make me a radical" was the message on another sign alternately displayed by a boy and a woman.

A young woman held a sign asking two questions: "Why doesn't Congress give back their automatic pay raise? Where's the outrage?"

It was a brisk spring aftetroon, but it was clear people were hot and the speakers' points were frequently more philosophical than political or financial.

"You have to learn how to pay for things," said Wood. "You have to learn about responsibility."

It was a message that rang true with Betsy Leonard, a retired Marshall County high School teacher of social studies which included economics, government and history.

"My biggest hope is for people to realize that every time they allow themselves to be taken care of by somebody else, they weaken themselves," Leonard said.

With a speaker encouraging his audience to chant along with him in protest, Leonard spoke in the parking lot paved by the city that provides an elevated view of the city park.

"I want America to remain the land of opportunity," she said. "And I want people to use the opportunities they have.

"I've never had a problem with people being helped on a temporary basis, Leonard said.

However, a welfare state diminishes the human spirit of independence, she said.

"Taking care of people and not requiring them to use what they have destroys incentive," Leonard said.

One of the speakers complained about taxes on businesses, saying that's just another tax on the average man and woman, ostensibly because that business cost is passed on to the buyer of the business' service or product.

"If businessmen can't do well, they're not going to do it," said Leonard, reverting to one of her economics lessons: "It's the law of diminishing returns."

As for attendance at the rally, the retired teacher concluded: "I was disappointed there weren't more people here."

Nevertheless, there were similar demonstrations elsewhere.

In Shelbyville there were about 100 people who took part in Wednesday's nationwide "tea party" protests.

Here's a sampling of the signs carried around the Bedford County Courthouse.

* "Congress Does Not Read Bills They Vote On."

* "Tax and Spend Brings the End."

* "No Socialism."

* "No Taxation Without Representation."

Thousands across the nation took part in the demonstrations during Wednesday's income tax filing deadline to take issue with government spending since President Barack Obama took office in January.

In Shelbyville Vicky Carder said elected officials were not listening.

"We all think when we are individuals, we cannot make a difference," Carder said. "But when we get together, we are no longer an individual, we're a group and this is where it starts.

"I used to love this country, but we've got a ton of problems now, and it's going to take people like us writing letters, having events, demonstrating, protesting, to actually get something done."

One man demonstrating in Shelbyville claiming that the economic problems started with the Federal Reserve, which he termed "a banking cartel" that controlled the government.

Across the nation, tea parties were promoted by FreedomWorks, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington and led by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, who is now a lobbyist.

Organizers said the movement developed organically through online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and through exposure on Fox News and promotion from conservative pundits and bloggers.

While FreedomWorks insisted the rallies were nonpartisan, they have been seized on by many prominent Republicans who view them as a promising way for the party to reclaim its momentum against President Obama's administration and other Democrats.

"All you have to be is a mildly awake Republican candidate for office to get in front of that parade," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Some Republicans considering 2012 presidential bids and others with upcoming campaigns for state and congressional offices hitched a ride with the movement.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took the podium in front of New York's City Hall while the crowd of about 2,000 chanted, "We are America!"

He urged people to tell their lawmakers to vote against big spending or else "we're going to fire you."

As the former House speaker left after his 11-minute speech, passers-by yelled, "2012, Newt!" and "Run for president!" But when asked about a run, Gingrich shook his head emphatically and said, "I'm just part of a citizen movement."

There were several small counter-protests, including one in at Fountain Square in Cincinnati, where about a dozen people protested the protesters, one carrying a sign that read, "Where were you when Bush was spending billions a month 'liberating' Iraq?"

The anti-tax demonstration, meanwhile, drew about 4,000 people.

In Lansing, Mich., outside the state Capitol, another 4,000 people waved signs exclaiming "Stop the Fiscal Madness," "Read My Lipstick! No More Bailouts" and "The Pirates Are in D.C." Children held makeshift signs complaining about the rising debt.

In Montgomery, Ala., Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" blared from loud speakers as more than 1,000 people gathered at the Alabama Statehouse.

Greg Budell, a radio talk show host, said the tea parties could have the same impact as when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a Montgomery bus during segregation in 1955.

"If one woman could change the world by refusing to move to the back of the bus, we ought to be able to change it by saying we are not going to let our government throw us under the bus and our children and our grandchildren," he said.

In Nashville, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn joined hundreds of protesters who stood shoulder to shoulder in a block radius across from the state Capitol on Wednesday.

Carol Ferguson of Nashville was one of the protesters. The 67-year-old retired insurance underwriter says she's afraid America will become "a third-world country" if the spending continues.

Speakers in the Lewisburg park also included former police Chief Wayne Coomes, who's on the Police Advisory Board; Fred Fleischer, and; Jim Rucker.

Talking points included: Enslaved by debt and; It's a movement.