First there was George W. Bush’s Wall Street bailout back in November. Then came Barack Obama and his $787 billion stimulus package, followed by a massive pork-filled omnibus spending package, and now a projected $3.55 trillion for the 2010 budget. The amount being spent is dizzying, and to a core segment of mostly conservative Americans it is also infuriating, to the point that many of them participated in the hundreds of so-called Tax Day Tea Parties taking place around the country, including one in Downtown Charlottesville on Wednesday, April 15.
Insert your own tea bag joke here. For the hundreds gathered on April 15, government spending was no laughing matter.
“I don’t know what to expect,” organizer Bill Hay said just two days prior to April 15, guessing that maybe only 50 people would show up, but 30 minutes into the actual tea party, the Greene County coffee supplier stood before 1,000 or more vocal supporters. Some wore tea bags tied from their hats. Others held posters bearing slogans like “Your mortgage is not my problem,” “Capitalism rocks, socialism sucks,” or “What are you going to tax next … my coondog??” A few “Don’t Tread on Me” yellow flags also waved while one man held a dead tree to which he had tied four dollar bills.
“I want to thank everyone who came, thank you, thank you,” Hay said, and then outlined one of the main themes of the night, that America has drifted further and further away from its roots and has to return to the beliefs of the founders of this country and its original documents. “There are multiple problems that need to be addressed by ‘We the People.’”
Out in front of the Pavilion, a local pediatrician named John Hunt scanned those going in and out. “Freedom is an amazing thing,” he said, and then offered a passerby a free copy of the Constitution, one of the 400 he brought along. “It has no meaning anymore apparently,” he joked.
“This little thing came along and everything changed,” he said a moment later, waving around one of the pocket Constitutions. “You find a lot of the answers in here, what went wrong and how to solve some of the issues.”
Nearby, a woman stood behind a fold-up table where she sold a t-shirt with a cartoon showing Obama ecstatically throwing dollar bills in the air while a young couple with a baby carriage watched. “Look, he’s giving us all money, just like he promised,” the male of the couple stated. “He has your wallet,” the female deadpanned.
“I’ve sold almost all of them,” said Debbie Chappell Benz. The owner of a graphics business made 50 of these shirts—selling for $8 apiece—but that did not account for her presence at the rally. “As a Christian and the mother of a 13-year-old I’m concerned about the direction this country is headed in,” she said.
Back under the tent, the keynote speaker—Lawrence Eagleburger—addressed the boisterous crowd. “Do you people have any idea what you’re doing out there?” he said to their cheers. As a government official in four different administrations, including a brief stint as the first Bush’s Secretary of State, he had seen tyranny around the world. Now, retired and leaning on a cane, he apprised the crowd of one right still protected under the Constitution they should all be thankful for, the right to assemble. “I’ve seen people put in jail for this,” he declared, “I’ve seen people shot for this.”
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