Nearly 10,000 Pennsylvanians rallied on Tax Day, April 15th, against wasteful government spending, high and rising taxes, and burgeoning government debt and deficits. The nonpartisan, anti-establishment "Tea Parties" were held in more than 30 cities across Pennsylvania and close to 800 nationwide, and more are scheduled.
Yet despite the clear message, defenders of the status quo kept asking, "Why?" But we have some questions for them: Why do you think the government that got us into our financial mess will somehow get us out of it? Why is it that those who think we need to pay more in taxes have trouble paying taxes themselves? Why are those who want to be more "charitable" with other people’s money are the least charitable with their own? Why do you rail against the "rich" for not "paying their fair share," when the top quarter of income earners—those earning $65,000 or more—already pay more than 86 percent of all federal income taxes?
In addition to not answering these questions, many in Washington and Harrisburg are working to discredit and undermine the Tea Party protesters. Media reports and left-wing blogs have searched in vein for the boogeyman or conspiracy behind the Tea Party movement to marginalize it, often erroneously citing Fox News or FreedomWorks as the organizers. Even the Republican Party tried to take credit for the tea parties, which is ironic given how protesters are just as upset by the wasteful spending and increased debt by Republicans as they are with President Obama and the Democrat-controlled Congress. But no centralized organization could have pulled off the number of events and gathered more than 550,000 people. Indeed, the Tax Day Tea Parties were driven by local grassroots organizers and activists.
The nearly three dozen events held across Pennsylvania were organized by regular folks—those working jobs outside of party politics, students, homemakers, retirees, and the like. For the overwhelming majority of Tea Party leaders, this was their first foray into grassroots organizing. While the Commonwealth Foundation—admittedly not a grassroots group, but a policy research and educational organization—organized the Harrisburg Tax Day Tea Party, the event could not have attracted more than 2,000 protesters in the driving rain and cold temperatures without individuals recruiting friends and family by word of mouth and the Internet.
What is even more impressive is that these first-time protesters have not been politically active before. To be sure, they are hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens, but they have long trusted their elected officials to act responsibly in Washington and Harrisburg. Not anymore. These people took the day off of work, rode in buses, carpooled, walked and braved the inclement weather to have their voice heard, their presence felt, and be part of a national re-awakening of the silent majority.
In addition, these fine Pennsylvanians brought two van loads full of canned and dry goods to support the Bethesda Mission’s efforts of taking care of those in need in our community. While the pile of donated food seemed overwhelming, it was no surprise because "We the People" have always supported each other through voluntary means.
But with the Tea Parties coming to an end, what next? It is time to become "Ten Minute Citizens."
Take ten minutes a day, six days a week, to familiarize yourself with the issues, educate yourself on political philosophy and economics, and then put your knowledge into action—write letters to the editor, call your lawmakers, join a civic organization, etc. To be a "Ten Minute Citizen," you need not quit your job and dedicate your life to politics. You only need to commit yourself to engaging in the process once again by holding your elected officials accountable.
So while the Tea Parties were a great success in demonstrating the nonpartisan outrage against the bi-partisan spending binges in Harrisburg and Washington, they were hopefully only the beginning of We the People taking back our government.
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Nathan A. Benefield is Director of Policy Research and Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO with the Commonwealth Foundation (www.CommonwealthFoundation.org), an independent, nonprofit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg.
Permission to reprint is hereby granted provided the author and affiliation are cited.
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