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Tea Party Crowds Protest Federal Spending And Intervention: TAXPAYERS SOUND OFF
[March 29, 2009]

Tea Party Crowds Protest Federal Spending And Intervention: TAXPAYERS SOUND OFF

(Hartford Courant, The (CT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Mar. 29--Tanya Bachand has always been interested in politics, though she viewed it as largely a spectator sport. "I never felt compelled to get off my couch ... and do something," said the 34-year-old attorney from Wallingford.

But as she grew increasingly alarmed by the billions of dollars the federal government was spending on bailout and stimulus packages, Bachand was driven to act: She recently joined a burgeoning grass-roots political uprising known as the Tea Party movement.

Launched by a cable television personality's tirade and fueled by the blogosphere and right-wing columnists, activists such as Bachand have staged protests across the nation, including several in Connecticut. The latest was held Saturday in Stamford.

"I felt a responsibility, as a parent and as a citizen, to do something," said Bachand, who has a 9-year-old son. "I went to New York for a Tea Party protest in February and I met a lot of people who thought like me." She is now organizing a similar demonstration in New Haven on April 15, one of a number of tax day protests planned around the nation.

Critics dismiss the phenomenon as little more than a sharply partisan attack on President Barack Obama and the Democrats. But the protesters say their cause represents something bigger: a collective yell of "I'm not going to take it anymore" from the American taxpayer.

The movement takes its name, and much of its imagery, from American history. Participants -- including home-schooling moms, Libertarians and Rush Limbaugh Republicans -- compare themselves to the 18th century patriots who dumped tea into Boston Harbor to protest taxation without representation.

In Chicago, the protesters included a man with a bullhorn who was dressed as Samuel Adams. In Sacramento, some in the crowd carried signs that read "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death." And in St. Louis, an estimated 1,000 people stood on the steps of the Gateway Arch and tossed loose tea into the muddy waters of the Mississippi River.

Despite the colonial trappings, the Tea Party uprising has more in common with taxpayer rebellions in the 1970s and '80s than it does with the Revolutionary War, said Isaac William Martin, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California- San Diego.

In fact, the property-tax revolts that culminated with the passage of Proposition 13 in California and Proposition 21/2 in Massachusetts provided the GOP with an aha-moment, one that continues to resonate with the party, he said.

"Suddenly it became clear to Republicans that tax-cutting could be a populist issue that could get them some votes," said Martin, who has studied the social history of tax revolts.

While Republicans in Congress railed against the $787 billion stimulus package, it took a rant late last month by CNBC reporter Rick Santelli on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to galvanize the movement. Video of the angry outburst, complete with allusions to communist Cuba and assertions that "the government is promoting bad behavior," spread on YouTube.

Just as help galvanized left-wing opposition to the Iraq War, Tea Party activists hope to crystallize public frustration over government bailouts and the economic recovery plan and foster a new conservative activism.

"These packages are being pushed through with no deliberation," said Branford resident Pam Fowler, who is 49 and works as a technology facilitator at a local elementary school. "The pork, the earmarks. ... It just feels out of control." Fowler, the movement's Connecticut coordinator, said the protests aren't directed at a particular political party. "The goal, first and foremost, is to raise awareness and put our politicians of all stripes on notice that we've got an intelligent population who's frightened, frustrated and angry about what's going on.

"And not just conservatives," Fowler added, but "all people who value our Constitution." Yet the target is unmistakably Obama and the Democrats. At a Tea Party protest that drew about 300 people in Ridgefield last weekend, one participant carried a sign that read "Obama=Socialism," according to a report in The News-Times of Danbury. Others criticized the president and his policies.

But Tanya Bachand said she was "equally upset if not more so" at President George W. Bush, who signed a $700 billion economic recovery plan last fall and also left behind a $1.2 trillion deficit for 2009.

"It's more disappointing when it comes from the people who I thought I ... ideologically identified with," she said.

Ultimately, Bachand said, the Tea Parties aren't about party politics. "We want to have a real conversation about the direction of the country," she said. "I'm troubled by the bailouts. ... I'm personally opposed to any government intervention in private business." In her view, it comes down to a single question: "Do you believe in individual responsibility or do you believe that the government should take care of every little nook and cranny of our lives." To see more of The Hartford Courant, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright (c) 2009, The Hartford Courant, Conn.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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