Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Slow Brew

It may be eleven days after the fact, but it is not too late to report on the Charlottesville Tea Party that took place on Independence Day in Jackson Park.

Organized by the Jefferson Area Tea Party group, under the leadership of Bill Hay and others, the Fourth of July gathering was a follow-up to the Tax Day Tea Parties that were held on April 15.

Protest on the Fourth of July has a long pedigree. University of Virginia historian Peter Onuf noted on a recent broadcast of BackStory - with the American History Guys, a radio program produced by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities:

The Fourth of July became a really big deal in the 1790s when, believe it or not, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and other so-called Republicans were mobilizing against the Federalist administrations of George Washington.
Later in the show,, contrasting the "civic celebrations" of the 1870s with their counterparts in the early part of the 19th century, Onuf explained:
Earlier Fourth of July celebrations tended to be very contentious… The idea of the Declaration and of Jefferson as its author was a partisan thing in the 1790s and early 1800s. That is, it was Jefferson against the Federalists, that is, the administration.

And then later in the party system that emerged in the 1830s and ‘40s, there were a lot of counterdemonstrations of Democrats and Whigs having alternative celebrations trying to win over popular favor, and so forth.
The Tea Party Movement, such as it is, is diffuse. Lacking a central organizer, local Tea Parties have popped up here and there, sometimes in synchronicity with other groups around the country (as happened on April 15) and sometimes on odd days and hours.

Reporting on the Fourth of July Tea Parties, veteran political correspondent Donald Lambro explained in the Washington Times early the next morning:
Whether the turnout would match or exceed the hundreds of April 15 Tea Party protests remained to be seen, though a survey of dozens of publicized events from Maine to California suggested the grass-roots movement had not lost its energy and support.

The April 15 demonstrations drew an estimated 600,000 people to more than 600 events throughout the country, organizers said. Since then, the movement has remained localized, resisting efforts to turn itself into a national organization, and spawning hundreds of local, citizen-led groups that shun professional politicians at their meetings and public events.

While little media attention has been paid to the movement since then and some have suggested that its numbers were eroding, Tea Party leaders who have been monitoring the groups and this weekend's activities dispute that.

"I don't think this movement's eroding," said Adam Bitely, director of new media at Americans for Limited Government.

"When the president's cap-and-trade energy bill came up in the House, a lot of the Tea Party groups were doing local work, calling members of Congress to urge them to vote against the bill," said Mr. Bitely, whose NetRight Nation Web site tracks Tea Party activities.

"Most of these people don't want to be connected to any one group. They are trying to run their own local political organizations and don't need one national organization to do that," he said.
One example of this autonomy was the demonstration at the office of U.S. Representative Tom Perriello two days before the July 4th holiday, which was called to protest Perriello's vote on the "cap and trade" energy bill.

Another example was when the Taxpayer Alliances of Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach jointly participated in a "Defend and Declare Tea Party" event on June 26 in the Chesapeake City Park.

Over 1,000 people participated in the Charlottesville Tea Party on the Fourth of July. Some participants got their knickers in a bunch because the Daily Progress and other mainstream media outlets failed to cover the event.

I can understand their disappointment, but it was a holiday, after all, and the local news media was probably short-staffed. The Daily Progress didn't cover Congressman Perriello's remarks that day at Monticello, either. (He was the guest speaker at the annual naturalization ceremony for new citizens. Last year's featured speaker was President George W. Bush.)

One local TV station, WCAV-TV, did cover the event, saying:
Saturday over one thousand people from the Jefferson Area Tea Party rallied in Charlottesville. The holiday gathering in Jackson Park is the latest effort by the group to send a message to leaders in Washington that tax dollars need to be spent more wisely. While the rally had political overtones, it was also a celebration designed for families.

The participants shared a common distaste for what's happening in Washington.

"We have a bunch of usurpers in government," said Charlottesville resident, Michael Del Rosso. "People that don't care about their oath of office. We need to organize to defeat them in the next election and we need to make them accountable every turn they take that is unconstitutional."
I was able to capture video highlights of the Jefferson Area Tea Party on Independence Day. Here are a few of them.

James Curtis of the Jefferson Area Libertarians (a regional branch of the Libertarian Party of Virginia) addressed general issues of individual liberty, limited government, and personal responsibility:

(Other Libertarian Party members spoke at a Tea Party in Roanoke on Independence Day.)

Jim Morgan (who previously was unfamiliar to me) spoke about the Fair Tax, which would rid us of the meddlesome IRS and replace the income tax with a national retail sales tax.

(Those unfamiliar with the Fair Tax concept can learn a lot about it by reading The Fair Tax Book, by Congressman John Linder and radio talk-show host Neal Boortz. There is also a sequel, in which Linder and Boortz answer their critics.)

Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) was one of two elected officials who spoke at the Tea Party. (Elected officials, as a class, are highly disdained by Tea Partiers.) He introduced the other elected official on the program, state Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37).

Senator Cuccinelli, who is also running for Virginia Attorney General, barely mentioned his campaign in his remarks, which focused largely on property rights:

This final video clip is somewhat out of (chronological) order. It's a random collection of scenes from the Jefferson Area Tea Party on July 4th, featuring some of the interstitial comments by compere Joe Thomas, talk show host on WCHV-AM in Charlottesville, who dressed up as Samuel Adams for the occasion. There is also an excerpt from local Arby's restaurant owner Tom Slonaker's reading of the entire Declaration of Independence.

There will be little rest for the Jefferson Area Tea Partiers. Not even two weeks after the Independence Day Tea Party, they plan another peaceable assembly to petition their government for the redress of grievances -- in this case, to express their opinions on health care legislation pending before Congress -- on July 17 (the same day and time as similar protest demonstrations around the country. As announced on the Jefferson Area Tea Party blog,
On Friday July 17th we will once again be meeting at Congressman Tom Perriello’s Charlottesville office at 313 2nd Street SE. We will gather at 4 PM to express to the Congressman our desire for him to vote against the Democrat sponsored Health Care Bill that will soon be coming to the House Floor....

We had a great turn out for the 4th and this is a good opportunity to keep up the momentum. I am contacting Mr. Perriello’s office to let them know that we will be there that afternoon and are requesting the Congressman’s presence. At the very least maybe we can get Mr. Perriello to promise to read this bill before voting on it.

This event will be a great way to promote our July 20th Health Care Forum. The public needs to be aware of how Nationalized Health Care will affect their lives. It is only through education that we are able to make the correct decisions in regard to voting for our representatives and understanding their stances on issues.
The Tea Parties deserve a lot of credit for mobilizing citizens to become more engaged in politics and policymaking. Our system of representative government relies on persistent participation by the people, not only in public protests (which admittedly can be fun and entertaining as well as substantive) but also through phone calls, faxes, and emails to our Representatives and Senators in Washington, as well as legislators in Richmond and other state capitals, and elected officials at the local level, too.

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1 comment:

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