I'm not going to the trouble of scouring news archives to find all the negative press the Tea Party movement received at its inception. First, because some of it is too crass to repeat; and second, because there wasn't much coverage at first. There were protests in every state of the union. Over 800 cities and towns held rallies in what was the largest nonviolent protest of our generation, and yet only one network gave it any real news coverage (you guessed it: Fox News). Personally, I think the other networks were just hoping that if they ignored the protesters, then it would all just vanish.
It didn't, though; in fact, the movement proved to be quite the magnetic force. It's drawn from a broad range of demographics in the last year. Recently, CNN even reported that disaffected Democrats were also joining the Party (as if that had never happened before). While some myopically claim that the Tea Party is comprised entirely of white people, I've yet to attend a Tea Party protest that didn't have black people present and participating.
Take this most recent round of protesting. I attended a gathering in Town Point Park in Norfolk, VA. One of the most popular speakers present was Rhonda Kundrat, a conservative black woman, whose response to the "all white" claim was, "Hey, I'm right here!" Another black speaker at the event was Bishop E. W. Jackson of Exodus Faith Ministries. Like Mrs. Kundrat, he's faced a "different" type of hatred for joining the Tea Party movement than white people have. Though he left it implied, it's not hard to figure what "different word" his critics have for him. For everyone who says Tea Partiers are all (or mostly) racist, Bishop Jackson replies, "Mr. President, it's not that you're black; it's that you don't respect the red, white, and blue!"
Both speakers gave lists of personal intrusions liberal politicians have made in the last year, some of which I've blogged about already. Various local, state, and federal officials have tried to dictate how much salt we can use, what kinds of food we can eat, and most recently what doctors we can see and what kind of care we can receive. Steve Elliot of Grassfire Nation points out the list also includes control over what kind of cars and light bulbs and health insurance we can buy, and even, in some cases, how much money we can earn. These are the kind of issues Tea Partiers have sought to address (and correct).
Many personal freedom groups were in attendance. Both Chesapeake and Virginia Beach Taxpayer Alliances had speakers present. The Foundation for American Christian Education, Tidewater Libertarian Party, Virginia Campaign for Liberty, The 912 Project of Virginia, and Hampton Roads Tea Party also had booths and volunteers. Various candidates for city councils across Hampton Roads and for Virginia's Second Congressional District came to meet and mingle with the other Tea Partiers.
Beyond that, the crowd itself was rather large. Town Point Park is used for outdoor concerts, among other things, and it was practically full for the event. This wasn't a crowd of "typical" protesters, either. At one point, a speaker asked for a show of hands of who was at their first protest ever; far more hands were raised than not. Most were white, but there were plenty of blacks there, as well. They carried the usual signs: "Stop Big Government"; "Taxed Enough Already"; "FairTax, not VAT Tax"; and, "It's Not About Color; It's About Radical Policies". As you might expect, there weren't any signs in support of the president's or Congress' agendas.
Congressman Glenn Nye certainly didn't have many friends in the crowd. I had the opportunity to speak with a few of the candidates seeking to replace him in Congress. I asked Republicans Bert Mizusawa and Kenny Golden and representatives of other candidates how they would have voted differently than Nye, given that he's voted against several initiatives considered vital to the Democratic agenda. Both pointed out that Nye's committee votes allowed those initiatives to come to a floor vote, and therefore, passage. One area on which everyone I spoke to agreed was that Nye is the only candidate in November who might vote to keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. (The Republican primary will be held on June 8th, for those who intend to vote. Mr. Golden is running independently, while Mr. Mizusawa will face Ben Loyola, Ed Maulbeck, Scott Rigell, Jessica Sandlin, and Scott Taylor for the GOP nomination.)
These are the important issues for Tea Partiers, you see. We don't want a government that passes legislation against the will of the people. We don't want our hard-earned tax dollars funding initiatives that we don't support. And we don't want leaders who are dismissive of us, like Speaker Pelosi and even the president himself. While writing this blog, I came across an article that said President Obama was "amused" by all the protests. That is exactly the wrong attitude for a man who claims to speak for America to have, especially when that movement is growing to be more popular than he is. He's entitled to his own personal opinion, of course, but at the very least, this is an opinion that he should have kept to himself. As president, whether it's millions or even one American voicing a concern, he should at least react with respect. It's bad enough that ordinary citizens are trying to "demolish" free speech.
To be perfectly honest, I think some of them are still hoping we'll all just vanish. Even though it's been a year since the first round of Tea Parties, and even though so-called Tea Party candidates have outpaced their "establishment" competitors in many races, I think a great deal on the Left are hoping to wake up on Election Day to find it was all just a bad dream. That's why they feel they can be so dismissive of the movement. It's hard to blame them for this; after all, a liberal agenda has prevailed, so far, despite all the opposition. It may just be that it will take shifting the balance of power in Washington back to the Right before the rest of the country will take the Tea Party seriously.
In the meantime, though, we need to do far more than just vote. Congress is facing a record budget deficit this year, due in part to spending hundreds of billions of dollars at a time on stimulus bills, jobs and unemployment bills, and of course, health insurance reform; and that's assuming they even pass a budget this year. What can we do between now and November? A good start would be to contact every single representative we have in Washington, including the president himself, and reemphasize fiscal responsibility. Advocacy for sane and responsible stewardship is a year-round task. Fortunately, the Tea Party has shown that it can keep going for at least a year at a time.
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