April 15 is Tax Day in America which means you have to pony up to the loathed Internal Revenue Service and pay your taxes (unless you are the man in charge of the IRS Timothy Geithner who somehow gets away with forgetting to pay his taxes).

Last week saw hundreds of thousands of Americans in every State in the Union protest what they see as profligate spending and an out of control government. So what are they doing about it? They are holding tea parties and they are not the kind your Auntie Mildred hosts.

Based on the infamous Boston Tea Party of 1773 — that classic tax revolt that jump started the American Revolution — it was an action of protest against the British Government in which crates of tea belonging to the British East Company were thrown into Boston’s Harbour. It’s an iconic event in America’s history and the basis for the anti-government actions this week.

Whilst there is some basic organisation the tea parties are fundamentally a grassroots phenomenon. Americans are genuinely outraged at taxpayer funded bailout after bailout, the trillions the spending and “stimulus” bills. The corporate taxpayer paid bonuses for insurance giant AIG was arguably the tipping point.

The organiser of the St Louis tea party, Bill Hennessy, summed it up. He said it’s now got to the stage where the spending numbers do not “fit on a normal calculator”. The term quadrillion is actually being used. Mr Hennessy has asked that federal politicians come to the tea parties, not to speak but to “meet their board of directors as it’s a great chance to talk to the over 5000 people who hired them”.

Earlier this year, by word of mouth and the internet, the tea party movement movement started sending their Congressmen and Senators tea bags in the mail to make their point. Of course, many of you will remember the anthrax scare after 9/11 so the idea was retracted as not enough tea bags were getting through security to lawmakers so the idea was rescinded in favour of taking photos of tea bags and emailing them instead.

Apparently sales in Lipton are up too.

I attended a massive tea party in Richmond Virginia, capital of the Confederacy. The rally was not ironically held in the shadow of the Federal Reserve and over 5000 attended on a cold, rainy evening.

Whilst people are angry at the Democratic Administration’s spending they have also not forgotten the runaway spending of George W Bush.

Many in the media and on the Left try to portray this as a bunch of right wing nutjob conspiracy theorists though it is actually anything but. With over 300 tea parties across America and hundreds of thousands attending, some even holding pitchforks, one might expect the odd riot or two but nary a traffic ticket was issued. People were polite, courteous and concerned for their country and the direction it is headed — socialism it the word du jour.

The media coverage of the protests has been interesting to say the least. Mainstream media such as CNN, NBC, CBS and ABC tried to ignore the fact that the tea parties were even occurring. Guess those are the TV stations Obama watches as he was quoted as saying he didn’t know anything about the protests, never even heard of them. You had to turn to Murdoch’s Fox News Channel or the internet and talk radio to get any real information on the demonstrations. Fox, it must be said, promoted the heck out of the tea parties and their big name people like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto hosted tea parties in major American cities. Hannity hosted the largest in Atlanta with over 25,000 people in attendance.

Eventually the mainstream media realized they couldn’t ignore the tea parties much longer and their coverage took on a derisive condescending approach. The New York Times opted to put an protest in Afghanistan on its front page, relegating the tea parties to page 14. MSNBC whose ratings plummet every minute of the day decided the term “teabagging” and “teabaggers” should be used to describe the tea party events.

Sure I have no problem with Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert making fun but I expect a little bit more from seasoned “professional” journalists who should know better than to make prime time references with vulgar s-xual references ad nauseum and engage in sophomoric double entendres about conservatives. This is something you expect from bloggers eating chips in their mother’s basement not the hosts of major political shows.

Perhaps the most disturbing footage I saw was of a CNN journalist accosting a man and his two year old child with such venom and vitriol I was literally taken aback. She demanded to know why he was there and didn’t he know he could get a hand out from the Obama Administration. She then went after him for taking a child to what was a peaceful protest. “How dare you?” she demanded. I wonder if she asked that of the G20 protesters who take their children along or the peace protesters or the anti abortion and gun control crowd. We already know the answer.

I made a joke a week or so ago that there will be some bureaucrat somewhere who comes up with the bright idea of taxing the tea parties — kidding of course. Turns out that’s exactly what happened in several jurisdictions. Without a hint of irony or any idea as to what message that sent.

The originality of the homemade signs were a highlight and told the story:

“The Real Pirates are in Congress.”

“Tea Party Today. Tar and Feathers Tomorrow!”

“Unrepentant Capitalist!”

“Obamanomics. Trickle Up Poverty.”

“Obama Wants Your Dollars. Do You Want His Change?”

“Who Will Bail Out the Bailout?”

“Party Like its 1773”

“Keep your dog out of Lincoln’s bedroom”

“I need a makeover to cover my anger over your bailouts”.

A Patrick Henry impersonator drew the biggest applause with a recitation of his famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech, made just a few blocks away in Downtown Richmond in 1775.

Sure, when you have over a million people protesting you are going to attract some fringe elements of society attracted to such an event that are easy to lampoon. And, there is some justification that protesters waited until a Democrat was in power to become agitated enough about Government waste to protest en masse.

The elitist media and those in Congress and the White House who have been suggesting the rallies were orchestrated and faux-populist events ginned up by partisans and special interest groups are dead wrong. Yes, there were a number of groups involved such as Americans for Tax Reform, Institute for Liberty, the Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity, the National Taxpayers Union and my personal favourite; “Joe the Plumber” but the overwhelming majority of people out in all kinds of weather on Tax Day were ordinary citizens. The tea parties reflect the greatest characteristics of Americana: passion, resourcefulness, respect, pitching-in, and commitment to the nation’s founding principles.

This is the biggest civil protest since Vietnam and it’s not over. Those active in the movement are now looking forward and have set up a website where people can keep up to date with the movement’s movements. Seems like Independence Day July 4th is the next big one.

A young soldier who has already done two tours of Iraq and is heading off to Afghanistan in a week or so drafted a petition which reads as follows:

We the people of Virginia, stand in awe at your duplicity and absolute fiscal irresponsibility.

You were elected to stand watch as diligent stewards over our future, but instead you have bellied up to the trough of government waste. You have auctioned off our futures and our liberty for the sake of political convenience and we are not amused.

Rather than consult your constituents to determine your course, you holed yourselves away in the corridors of power and made decisions based on the corrupt sway of political pull.

We demand better servants … we deserve better men.

It is our resolution to stand united against your wasteful governance. The signatories of this document agree that theft is not the solution for debt, and graft is no substitution for leadership.

We advise you to proceed carefully as you waste our hard-earned money on your frivolity, because we are watching and you will be held accountable.

The event in Richmond closed to the sounds of Neil Diamond’s classic “America” with the crowd encouraged to yell “today” meaning this is just the beginning.

The Richmond Times Dispatch editorialized that “condescending dismissal of populist revolt is generally not a good move. Just ask Marie Antoinette — or George III”.


Karyn McDermott worked for the former Howard government and for the Republican Party 2001-2008.

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