Thursday, April 16, 2009

The After-party

I was so pleased to watch and hear about the results of the tea parties last night. Hundreds of thousands gathered in every state of the union, including crowds in Atlanta, D.C., outside of the Alamo, and in Boston, the home of the original Tea Party stood ready to demonstrate their frustration with runaway government spending. This displeasure was not limited to Republicans, nor was it specific to President Obama's policies. Voices and signs carried the message that both administrations, not to mention the United States Congress, have ignored the public's wishes by spending hundreds of billions of dollars on bailouts that, for a large part, haven't even worked the way that they were supposed to work. No matter who was heading the protests, or even how they started or grew to the size they did, I'm proud to see so many Americans standing united in what they believe.

The only question left is ... what now? I started this blog because I was tired of sitting on the sidelines, as it were, while this country lurched in whatever direction Washington pulled it. Though I voted every time an election was held, I didn't feel, and don't feel, that simply voting is enough. Frankly, neither is holding rallies. We all love to gather and feel the support of like-minded individuals. We get fired up because we have an opportunity to show people how strong we are, and how strong our opinions are, and that we're not alone. Once the rally is over, though, what do we do? How do we show those who are still skeptical that we didn't just show up for the free food and T-shirts?

One way, of course, is to keep spreading the word. The rally will draw attention to the cause, but rarely will it explain it to those who don't show up for it. We need to educate people, especially in the days immediately following, about why we did it. In this case, we need to make sure people understand that the tea parties are protests against multi-billion-dollar spending bills passed one after another; against budgets that will produce trillion-dollar deficits in the years to come; against reports that label anyone opposed to the administration's economic agenda and social stances as "extremists"; and against anyone who would dismiss us and our stances on the issues as "out of touch" (or even "out of our minds").

Another way is for a call to action. The elections may have just ended, but as I asked in my very first post, "When is it not an election year?" We have officials being elected to lead us all the time, at every level and in every branch of government. Make sure that those leaders are ones that represent your values. Know who they are. Know when the elections are. Show up at their rallies and demand a commitment to represent you before you'll vote for them. If none of the candidates represent you, then find one who does; or, if you're up for it, run for office yourself. As for those leaders and officials who have already been elected, keep your eyes on them. Let them know that you're watching to see what they do. Never forget, and never let them forget, that democracy means we're in charge.

And finally, more than just calling people to action, you must act yourself. Work beyond the political arena. These are hard times, and everyone can use a hand. Look around you, find the people who are struggling, and help them if you can. We protest because we feel our leaders have forgotten their responsibilities, about what it means to live in this country and this world. Have we forgotten it, though? Do we live the principles that we call on our leaders to live? Do we "practice what we preach"? Don't wait for your elected and appointed leaders to find solutions, especially if you doubt their abilities to do so. Go and find solutions to these problems yourselves. One of the protesters yesterday echoed a slogan that I've always found to be very significant: "Don't spread my wealth; spread my work ethic". There are good people out there who need our help who can't afford to wait until the government gets around to helping them.

Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are the first rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. We exercised those rights last night in hundreds of cities, from before the sun rose to long after it had set. Some have called it a revolution. That remains to be seen. For now, it was just one day. Let's see what happens today and tomorrow.

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