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Anger, frustration clear at local Tea Party

by Jordan Green

Gerald Hutchinson, a Greensboro management consultant, said he had only learned about the April 15 “Tea Party” rally a few days earlier when he Googled “Tea Party” and “Greensboro” to find the local organizing website. As well-wishers stopped by to shake his hand, he explained that he immediately applied his professional expertise and advised that the event needed an agenda.

Hutchinson said he suggested reading the Declaration of Independence, and then ended up making some contextual comments. “Enough is enough,” chanted the crowd thronging Governmental Plaza and climbing the stairs to the second floor of the Melvin Municipal Building, as Hutchinson spoke early in the program. “We’re fed up with the government spending like drunken sailors,” Hutchinson said. Without referencing the president by name, he denounced the Obama administration’s stimulus package as being “stuffed with pork,” continuing, “We are fed up with our treasury printing money like it’s going out of style.” Lt. James Hinson of the Greensboro Police Department estimated the crowd count at “upwards of 500,” while organizers gave figures of between 1,500 and 2,000. Hutchinson later noted on a local organizing website that 798 people signed a “Tea Party Pledge” that was circulated at the event. “I see many patriots in this audience,” Hutchinson told them. “The modern-day Tea Party is not revolutionary. It is not for militant action.” Speakers largely stuck to a focused message of low taxes, limited government and decrying the ballooning national deficit, but the collection of individuals that began planning the Greensboro event in mid-March on the Greensboro Tax Day Tea Party blog (www.gsoteaparty. wordpress.com) have sometimes pulled in opposing directions. One poster advocating the abolition of the Federal Reserve, who was identified as “Reality,” suggested on May 21: “Come prepared for a revolution, not a party.”

The website warned that “protesters with signs that are not in line with the theme of the event will be asked to remove them from the demonstrations,” including those featuring “campaigning, racially inappropriate slogans, anything that suggests violent or unlawful activity and/or partisan slogans.”

Despite the prohibition, homemade signs likening the Democratic Party to the Nazi Party and describing President Obama as a “thief” were spotted mixed in with classic conservative sentiments such as “Restore the republic; stop socialism” and “Don’t spread my wealth… spread my work ethic” and quirky messages like “What’s next? Tax a fart?” Kevin C. Dockery of Greensboro, a speaker and organizer who is a registered Democrat, hammered home the point of nonpartisanship. “My family has seen me standing in my living room screaming at my television,” he said.

“We need to stand up to the bailout. We need to stand up to the excessive spending. I would rather be a radical patriot than sitting as a couch potato screaming at my television.” The energy and participation in the Tea Party protests has been somewhat spontaneous, comparable to the proimmigrant demonstrations that erupted across the country in the spring of 2006, but the anti-tax rallies havebeen heavily promoted by Fox News and, on the state level, by AmericansFor Prosperity North Carolina.

KevinDockery, a newly unemployed motorcycle technician, was among a handfulof people who took it upon themselves to organize a tax day Tea Partyin Greensboro to protest deficit spending and taxation. The April 15event drew thousands across the country. (photos by Jordan Green)

The national AmericansFor Prosperity organization has taken a stance against federallegislation that would make it easier for workplaces to unionize andagainst the notion that climate change is caused by human activity. TheSourceWatch website reports that Americans For Prosperity has received$1 million from the Claude R. Lamb Charitable Foundation, which in turnreceives funding from Kansas-based Koch Industries, “the nation’slargest privately held energy company.” SourceWatch reportsthat Fred G. Koch, the company’s namesake, was a founding member of theultraconservative John Birch Society. Organizers credit RickSantelli, a CNBC cable news commentator, with originating the idea ofthe tea parties. On Feb. 19, Santelli assailed the HomeownersAffordability and Stability Plan from the floor of the ChicagoMercantile Exchange, charging, “The government is promoting badbehavior. “This is America,” he said, gesturing towardpersonnel on the floor. “How many of you people want to pay for yourneighbor’s mortgage that has an extra mortgage and can’t pay theirmortgage? Raise their hand.” The crowd responded with boos. “We’rethinking of having a Chicago tea party in July,” he said. “All youcapitalists that want to show up at Lake Michigan, I’m going to startorganizing.” Santelli’s comments also implied that the Obamaadministration is moving the United States towards socialism. “Cubaused to have mansions and a relatively decent economy,” he said. “Theymoved from the individual to the collective. Now they’re driving ’54Chevys.” Melissa Pechan, a stay-at-home mother, said she wasinspired to initiate the Greensboro Tea Party after viewing Santelli’srant on YouTube. “I never took part in anything remotely likethis,” she said. “It was all organized locally. Americans ForProsperity lined up a couple of people who would be willing to speak,but we wanted it to be nonpartisan, so we did it ourselves. We were alljust volunteers.” Between the time of Santelli’s charge andthe April 15 tea parties, supporters have tacked on a broad array ofconservative causes, including implementing a flat tax and crackingdown on illegal immigrants. One poster identified as JackUrban wrote on the Greensboro Tax Day Tea Party blog in late March:“This illegal invasion is so damn out of control; it’s like we arewatching a crime in progress and are powerless to do anything to stopit. I know how to stop it but then I would be in jail and that is notwhere I want to be. The problem is we must get the Republicans back inpower in 2010 because the libs will never do anything to stop theillegal invasion because for Democrats illegals are votes for their[SIC] to keep them in power. Democrats are truly evil people that onlyhave their interests at heart and not the people they are supposed tobe working for. We have the same problem in Asheboro with the stinkingillegals hanging out the windows of the emergency room.” Thosesentiments were absent from the stage and scarcely evident onattendees’ signs on April 15. One exception was made to theself-imposed focus on fiscal issues: Speakers championed patriotism,the military and war-fighting. Dockery reminisced about Sept.11, 2001. “I went out to my garage, picked up a two-by-four andstrapped it to my 1964 Dodge pickup truck,” he said, as the crowd gavea resounding cheer, “and upon that two-by-four I hung Old Glory.” AndJacob Hibbert of Myrtle Beach sang a song penned by his mother thatchastises those who advocate redirecting the funding for the US wars inIraq and Afghanistan to meet social needs.

“Ifyou listen to the media, you might just disagree,” he sang. “They saythis war is tearing down our sound economy/ Let me be the one to tellyou why they’re feeding you those lies/ They’re covering up forgovernment that’s been robbing all us blind.” The Greensboroevent attracted a wide array of people including Guilford MagistrateMichael S. James and William Marshburn, who was scheduled for trial onMonday for threatening to kill city council members in relation totheir decision to annex his property. The event even attractedsome tax opponents who fit more in the anti-capitalism camp than withthe brokers on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. “A middleground might be for people to have part-time jobs instead of full-timejobs, to have more free time to do things like gardening,” said MeganIngram, who describes herself as a professional student. “A part-timejob doesn’t need to be paid. It could be strictly volunteer…. Part ofthe reason I think it’s important to have a parttime job or to havedifferent jobs if you’re going to have a job at all is it’s lessdisabling, less wear and tear on the body. You know, if you’re afulltime trucker sitting in one position all day, you might end uphaving to get a hip replacement.” Hutchinson, the managementconsultant, outlined a moderate conservative agenda. “I would like tosee us cut our spending,” he said. “I would like to see some of ourpork repealed. I would like to see us depend on the greatcharity of individuals as opposed to assigning responsibility to thegovernment. Government has a role as a safety net, but it has grown soexpansive and inefficient that everyone here seems to knowinstinctively that it ain’t right.

Participants expressed themselves with a variety of homemade and sometimes clever placards.

Some protesters ignored a notice on the Greensboro Tax Day Tea Party blog warning that partisan signs would be removed.

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