On April 15, my friends Sid and Carole Spinak invited me to join them at the Tea Party rally at the Plaza of the Flags in Santa Ana, just behind the courthouse. Never having attended such a gathering and wanting to see what it was all about, I agreed to go.
After all, it was Tax Day.
And it was quite an assemblage of people. From what I saw it was a grassroots movement that had almost no formal organization or individual candidate behind it. Nor could I perceive any racism of any kind. Instead it appeared to be a gathering of people joined by common views and frustrations at the direction that our great country has been taking over the last decade.
The most common themes discussed by the speakers, and represented by the handmade signs carried by those present, were getting back to limited government and away from socialism, reducing government spending and lowering taxes, and getting back to individual responsibility and away from the concept that government can do everything for us.
For many reasons, it was uplifting to see so many people willing to take the time to exercise their rights of free speech, and to show a tangible concern over our country’s present situation. Many of them carried American flags, and others carried “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, or their own handmade signs.
Some of the signs defined “TEA” as “Taxed Enough Already,” which also explained why some of the sign carriers were “TEAd off.” Other signs made their economic views quite clear by saying things like “The American Dream Is Not a Handout,” “Free Market, Not Freeloaders,” “Stop Spending,” and “You are not Entitled to What I Earn.”
My friend Sid’s sign actually won my personal contest for being the most creative and artistic. It said: “Uncontrolled Spending; Massive Debt; Unlimited Government; We do not Consent!”
Much of the attention and wrath were aimed at the new health-care legislation (I am unable to call it “reform”), such as “Obamacare: the Efficiency of the DMV, and the Compassion of the IRS.” Of course the members of Congress were also the objects of a large amount of scorn.
For example, “Want a Job? Replace Congress,” “The Servant is not the Master,” “Cadillac Care for Congress — Clunker Care for Us,” and “Next Time Read the Bill Before You Sign!”
In addition, and from what I can tell, the Tea Party movement is not just a gathering of so-called right-wing Christians, even though that is what the media tries to imply. To the contrary, there was a wide diversity of people present, and even a few signs saying things like “Dems Against Obama Policy.” I even met August Lightfoot, who has commented both favorably and unfavorably in print about my weekly columns. In fact, it was a pleasure to shake the hand of someone who cares enough to be so active.
The old patriot Patrick Henry also made an appearance, and gave a reprise of his historic: “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death” speech. Something like this is always good for all of us to hear.
But many of the speakers were current political officeholders and candidates for political office. That really surprised me, because it is my sense that the movement tends to mock and spurn politicians. In fact I wondered how many people in attendance actually appreciated the irony of Scott Baugh, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, being at the microphone and saying things like, “Throw the bums out!”
One of the big criticisms of the Tea Party movement was that there were similar events staged on Tax Day last year, but that nothing much had happened since. In fact, it could be that many of the signs used this year were simply left over from last year.
Well, it takes more than that because the answer is not to let your passions and beliefs be dormant. I twice ran for federal political office, once as a Republican and once as a Libertarian, and those experiences left me with the demoralizing conviction that money is much too important in our elections.
To counteract that problem, each of us must be much more active in pursuing and upholding our beliefs — whatever they may be.
So when someone knocks on your door or asks you at a supermarket to sign a petition or give your support to a candidate, thank them, regardless of whether you support that particular position or not. We need everyone’s participation in this process.
And that includes your participation as well. Educate yourself as to the issues. And no matter what your position is, find others who share it, and then hunt for and support a good candidate to promote it in public office. Our politics and economy have become a mess because We, the People, have been lazy. Shame on us!
Finally, regardless of what your political affiliation is or the issues you hold dear, I hope you agree with the person who held up the Tea Party sign “Our Kids Will Inherit this Mess.” And I also hope you agree with the person whose sign read “It Is Time to Water the Tree of Liberty.” This is an important period in our country’s history, and it is our children and grandchildren’s liberty and economic futures that are at stake!
Thus, each one of us should be doing more than carrying a sign once a year at a rally. Why? Because, once again, if our government isn’t working, we have no one to blame but ourselves!
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of “Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts” (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his website at www.judgejimgray.com .