The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution clearly states that free speech is the right of all its citizens. And on April 15, citizens in many locations across the country will be joining together in many “tea party” events.
The question for many is whether these tea party events will represent the true power of the people or is it a group of merchants that are using a political hot button to protect their own financial interests? Some of those looking back over the past eight years at the insurance swaps that were at the core of our current economic failures aren’t so sure that this grass roots movement isn’t designed to cover yet another business-based referendum.
These modern tea parties are based in part on a historical event in Boston Harbor in 1773 where the Sons of Liberty boarded the Eleanor, the Beaver and the Dartmouth and tossed more than 300 chests of tea leaves into the water in protest of taxation without representation. The Tea Act meant that exports from England would be taxed at the point they left the country rather than taxed at the point of purchase in the Colonies. This would reduce the cost of the tea overall but would force taxation without representation.
Current tea party participants, however, are not protesting imported tea but rather the Obama administration’s national budget and fiscal plans. This kind of budget battle isn’t new – each administration has had detractors and supporters on both sides of the budget battle. During George W. Bush’s eight-year presidency his budget proposals were soundly derided for focusing too much on war spending and too little on national health and human services.
The symbolism of the tea party is meant to invoke a grass roots image of government by the people. However, not all of the 2009 participants may be aware of all aspects of the original event. Dutch tea was being smuggled into the America’s. The 1773 Tea Act would make the imported East India Company’s stock less expensive than the tea supplied by the smugglers. Legitimate tea merchants that were not consignees of the East India Company were also worried that they would face financial ruin as a result of their competitors selling at a lower rate.
Much like today, there was a political divide with strong leaders on each side of the aisle. Benjamin Franklin called for the repayment of the lost tea and four merchants, most notably Robert Murray of New York, actually approached the local British representative to cover the costs of the lost product. Samuel Adams has been identified by some historians as initiating the well organized event at a meeting of the Sons of Liberty by using the phrase: “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country!” And regardless of whether Adams sent the crowds to the docks or not, it is well established that he supported the idea of not paying the tax.
So now, on April 15 around the United States, citizens will meet under a new collective banner of protesting excessive government spending and taxation. There are stories of rabble rousers trying to infiltrate the events and disturb the new tea party. But for sure there will be plenty of media coverage supplemented with citizen journalist cell phone videos and personal blogs.
The question remains to be seen if these events such as the one scheduled in front of the post office in Las Vegas at 1001 Sunset Road from noon to 7 p.m. this Wednesday, April 15 will have a significant impact on the budget negotiations in Washington. Or will the protests merely result in a failed attempt to play off of historical imagery to promote a current agenda?