It's been four years, yet I remember it as if it were yesterday — the creation of the modern tea party movement, which gave patriot activists hope after the disappointing 2008 election.
Before then, the spirit of the original Boston Tea Party had been kept alive by state and local taxpayer groups scattered across America, and the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) and Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in Washington, D.C. Along with the traditional tax issues, the national deficit and debt issue was addressed by the NTU's Balanced Budget Amendment, and popularized by Ross Perot and his quixotic 1992 presidential campaign, which became the loosely organized United We Stand America.
Not since the Silent Majority elected Ronald Reagan in 1980 (while passing Proposition 21/2 here in Massachusetts) had we seen ordinary Americans inspired to outstanding political action as they were with United We Stand.
My partner, Chip Ford, was one of its local leaders, as closely as that word applies to loosely organized groups. He tells a dramatic, sometimes funny, but ultimately very sad story of how United We Stand fell down amidst internal wrangling and the loss of its focus.
So he and I watched with a mixture of excitement and trepidation the rise of the tea party movement, happily associating ourselves with these kindred spirits while fearfully awaiting the first internal battle. After a year went by with the tea party growing and then another year that brought it unprecedented success in the midterm elections, we started to believe that this time things would be different.
It still amazes me that tea party leaders — again, if the word "leader" applies — held it together as long as they did. As executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT), I'd spent my share of patriotic holidays tossing boxes of tea in Boston Harbor; now I watched with delight as two bright, energetic young women, Corie Whalen and Christen Varley, organized the Greater Boston Tea Party (GBTP) and held the first Patriots Day rally on Boston Common in 2009.
CLT's associate director, Chip Faulkner, spoke there and at other tea party rallies in Worcester and Lowell that day.
One year later, the two Chips and I were in Boston for the GBTP rally with Sarah Palin; last year, Chip Faulkner was there to hear Tim Pawlenty speak. Chip Ford and I attended rallies on the North Shore. Good times, a chance to see old friends and make new ones. But we're no longer comfortable with our social-conservative local tea party.
Faulkner will be speaking at the 2012 rally, which this year is being held today in Worcester from 2 to 4 p.m. at 1 Lincoln Square, thereby inspiring the theme "Tax Day Tea Party, Turn the Tide" — referring to the coming election with its related issues of the economy, taxes and the national debt. Other expected speakers are philosophy professor Andrew Bernstein, author of "Capitalist Solutions — a Philosophy of American Moral Dilemmas"; Mary-Alice Perdichizzi, representing a new generation with the Brandeis Tea Party; and Aaron Goldstein, American Spectator contributor.
Unfortunately, the founding Greater Boston Tea Party won't be holding its annual rally on Boston Common; that event was hijacked by social conservatives who disagree with the tea party's singular focus on fiscal issues and want to use it to advance their own agenda. By getting a city permit before the GBTP could finalize theirs, the "other tea party," or what I call the Kool-Aid party, forced the fiscal conservatives to celebrate Patriots Day elsewhere.
Corie Whalen is now in Houston, serving as South Central Regional Director of Young Americans for Liberty. Christen Varley is presently with her family in Ohio, though she is still on the GBTP Board; she recently told me "there are people like us all over the country filling in the ranks of activists and local pols who are climbing the ladder and learning. Instead of thinking, 'This is the year we have to win,' I like to think, 'this is just the beginning of our winning streak.'"
Her successor at GBTP is another early organizer, Christine Morabito, who is also involved with the Merrimack Valley Tea Party. She and MVTP/CLT activist Ted Tripp will be in Worcester on Sunday. He and Faulkner will be reminding the crowd that as it pays its taxes on April 17 this year, it will also be celebrating Tax Freedom Day — the day that, according to the Washington-based Tax Foundation, the nation's taxpayers will have paid for government at all levels and will now be working for themselves (though in Massachusetts we will be working to cover our higher state and local tax burden until April 22).
They'll also note that in 1904, when Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes described taxes as "the price we pay for a civilized society," there was no federal income tax, and Tax Freedom Day was Jan. 21. The national debt, now almost $16 trillion, was $26 billion.
America badly needs the tea party to help restore civilization; I hope its fiscal conservatives can prevail campaigning on the fiscal issues on which most Americans can agree come this November.
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Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and a regular contributor to the opinion pages.