A year ago today, Seattle taxpayers organized an unprecedented protest of the pork-stuffed, generational theft stimulus bill that President Obama rammed down America’s throat. Many of the latecomers and opportunists and Beltway politicians who later glommed on to the Tea Party phenomenon don’t remember these early demonstrations. But the activists who turned out in Seattle (and Mesa, Arizona and Denver and Overland Park, Kansas) continue to focus like a laser beam on the core fiscal issues that gave rise to the movement. Remember:
The activist pictured above is Keli (“Liberty Belle”) Carender, one of the foremothers of the Tea Party movement who organized the Seattle protest. I’m reprinting an essay she sent me today commemorating the one-year anniversary of her porkulus protest. It’s an excellent reminder of where, why, and how we got here:
The consent of the governed and the roots of the Tea Party movement
Last President’s Day, about two hundred of us gathered at Westlake Park in the middle of deep blue Seattle to protest the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a.k.a. Porkulus, because Washington D.C. wasn’t listening. We had tried to tell President Bush back in 2008 that we didn’t want the Toxic Asset Relief Program (TARP), and he and Congress did not listen. Then, one of the earliest initiatives by our new President, Barack Obama, who as a Senator supported TARP and the bailouts of the banks, was to declare the worse economic crises since the Great Depression and hurry Congress into passing a giant stimulus package.
Remember the nearly 1,100 page version of Porkulus that was passed by both the House and the Senate on Friday, February 13, 2009? The final legislative language was not made publicly available by Congressional leadership until late Thursday night, giving Congressmen, Senators and the public less than 16 hours to read the more than 1,000 pages. Seventy-two pages of amendments had been added the night before the vote. Many Congressmen and Senators publicly admitted they did not have time to read it before voting on it. It was this last, final act of contempt and disrespect for the American people that was the tipping point. After my representative and my two senators, all left-wing ideologues, ignored me, refused to empty their voicemail boxes, sent back form letters, and stopped taking phone calls, I understood what taxation without representation felt like.
Representation requires that members of Congress, at minimum, read the bills. Once they stopped doing this, none of us were represented any longer, and the Tea Party Movement was born. Representative John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee famously implied that reading the bills on which members will vote is not necessary. Regarding the healthcare bill Conyers said “I love these members, they get up and say, ‘Read the bill.’ What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”
The Tea Party story and imagery comes from our common bond with our forefathers, taking direct action against a government that refused to represent the people, but still taxed them. What you may not know is that we share some other parts of the story with the original Tea Partiers.
The story goes like this: Parliament had passed a variety of taxation laws and then repealed most of them because of the activism of our forefathers, the first community organizers. The King left the Tea Tax in place as a petty warning to the colonists that he still reigned over them and had the power to tax them at his will. But that’s not the full story. The East India Company was failing and needed a bailout. Seriously. They persuaded Parliament that it was in England’s best interest to save the collapsing tea company. So Parliament refunded the normally imposed duties to the East India Company, dramatically decreasing the price of their tea, and gave them a monopoly in the colonies. Parliament kept the Tea Tax in place, but even with the tax, the new lower price of the East India Company’s tea was less than the smuggled tea from Holland. It was the King’s hope that the cheap price would entice the colonists to buy the tea, regardless of the Tea Tax.
However, our forefathers refused to accept this bribe of cheaper tea because it would have been an acknowledgement of Parliament’s right to impose taxes without giving the Colonies a voice. They refused. The governed revoked their consent and later determined, in a written constitution, the type of government they would embrace.
That is what our Tea Party movement is about. The American people are rising up against being governed in such a cynical, self-serving, and dishonest manner as we have witnessed. Everyday Americans have said, “Enough!” to this Congress and to this Administration…or any future politicians who hope to fill those seats of power. Everyday, hard-working Americans have found a common bond in a hunger for government truly based on the limits set out by our social contract, the U.S. Constitution. Too many of our elected officials have come to regard the public purse as their treasure trove from which to reward special interest groups and voting blocs in order to keep getting elected. Under those circumstances, who needs to read the bills?
Americans who are part of the Tea Party Movement do not agree on all issues and this is OK. The Movement is not about immigration, national security, KSM’s trial in New York City, and so on. Though these and other issues are vitally important and have extremely significant places in the realm of public debate, they are a subset of the original contract that we have with our government.
The goal of the Tea Party Movement is to free the American people, their livelihood, their property – physical and intellectual, their time, their wallets, and their families from a federal government that has, under both parties, grown to be a political phagocyte that sees individual liberty and freedom as so much debris in the body politic.
When we are free to earn a living, take care of our families, and be charitable in the manner of our choosing; when we are not regulated to the point of inaction and stagnation; when we are trusted to make our own decisions about the paths of our lives and about where to spend our money; when all of these things come to pass, it means that we will have elected representatives that finally realize that they work for us and so must listen and act responsively. When multi-millionaires like Nancy Pelosi can no longer tax us into oblivion to pay for private use of military transports for their grandchildren, and cannot use our money to pay for Johnny Walker whiskey and Courvoisier cognac, we will have succeeded.
Once we have achieved the goal of electing officials that represent all of the people and not one particular group over another group, i.e. public sector union members over non-unionized citizens, or specific race or ethnic groups over others, further issues will be easier to address. Once we have representatives that stop bribing each other with our money, stop giving kickbacks to friends, stop wasting our money on useless trips and redundancies, and stop taking our hard-earned dollars out for a night on the town, we won’t mind paying the taxes that the Founders knew would be necessary to fund a limited federal government.
This is why this movement is neither Republican or Democrat. These rules apply to all of them. This election cycle will bring out many politicians eager to use the momentum and enthusiasm of the Tea Party Movement to propel them into office. In some places in the country the candidates that Tea Party groups support may be Democrats, in other places they may Republican. I can say that here in Seattle the Democrats are so radically left that Tea Partiers will probably have to choose from those who run under the Republican banner. My state level representatives and senator are all avowed socialists, with one of them actually admitting to being a communist – and they are all Democrats. But there will be parts of the country where the more principled candidate will be a Democrat, and the Tea Partiers are not afraid to go there.
If a party or a candidate would like the support of the Tea Party Movement, they had better believe in our principles of fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets. Once in office they must live up to these principles with their votes, and if they don’t, they will lose their job at the next election. It’s really quite simple.
Am I worried about the movement being “co-opted” by other causes and established political parties? No. The facts are that many citizens registered as Republicans and Democrats ARE Tea Partiers. Many others are true Independents.
Others are Libertarians. Those of us in the Movement are observant, smart, and pretty darned discerning.
We are learning better every day how to distinguish the candidates who, given the opportunity, will roll the Taxpayer like a thief in a dark alley from those who, like a few fine elected officials currently serving, embody and live the Tea Party principles.
Related: Porkbusters founder and Tea Party forefather Glenn Reynolds reports on grass-roots Tea Party activism and progress beyond the Beltway headlines.