Well, Tea Party Day came and went, and I did not attend a single gathering.
For those of you who have known me for many years, that news probably comes as a surprise.
After all, this is the guy who organized a property tax increase protest back in 2005 and on the Fourth of July of that year led a column of Walker County “ordinary citizen” taxpayers on a march from the courthouse to the District Appraisal Office over on Sycamore Street, a mile or so away.
I don’t recall the headcount, but quite a number of folks showed up and followed me, some with handicaps trailing behind in cars and trucks.
I was hotter than the weather over the attempt of the four taxing entities — city, county, hospital district and school district — to raise our property values again, significantly jacking up our taxes, after two years of double-digit percentage increases. (Because of the vast tax-exempt acreage in Walker County — university, prison, state and national forests — property owners shoulder an inordinately heavy tax burden, one of the reasons I chose to move out of the county.)
Shouldering a Civil War musket with a wooden dowel flying the Texas and U.S. flags sticking out of the barrel, I led the protesters through that sweltering heat to the parking lot of the ADO, where it was our intention to burn our tax statements. Of course, there was a countywide burn ban on, so we just cut the statements up and put them in a garbage bag, and I burned them later. We “ordinary” taxpayers made our statement.
Because of our public demonstration and the appearance of tax protestors at numerous hearings, three of the taxing entities backed down.
The school board didn’t have to, naturally, since no matter what their designs in terms of taking our money and using it, they always throw up this line: “But what about the chirren?” Dangle the children before the tightest of wads, and he’ll reach for the wallet. It’s extortion, but what can he do? No matter that most of the new revenues will drift to the administrative end of the spectrum, you gotta think about the chirren, you cain’t cheat the chirren.
Lost that one. Expected to.
This was one of several public battles I was involved in over the years, and most of them I won.
I am not boasting here, merely letting you know how tough it is for me to avoid being actively involved in the anti-tax fervor sweeping the nation.
I strongly believe in social protest when the powers arrayed against you or, put more benignly, who merely presume to be in charge of your destiny, appear to be taking advantage of their authority to advance agendas that are based on neither common sense nor genuine wisdom nor the lessons of history but on ideologies and/or (usually and) the desire for personal profit, in terms of power and/or (usually and) wealth.
This time, though, I decided to watch from the distance of our living room and enjoy my retirement from active social protest. Let someone else carry the flag this round. There comes a time when your Lady and your dogs occupy your private hours, as rightly they should.
But, oh, my heart was with them, these members of America’s silent majority who finally seem to be articulating their frustration.
If you watched Fox News Wednesday — and I specify Fox because the other major networks paid little attention to the protests or took a negative stance on them, encumbered as they are with an absurdly mindless, rabid commitment to liberalism — what you saw was what I have longed to see for most of my adult life.
You saw people like your neighbors, members of your church, folks waiting in line at Kroger, parents at Little League baseball games or PTA meetings, AARP members, former members of the military, construction workers, septic-tank pumpers, Joe the Plumber, Carol the Carpenter, Maude the Mechanic, Frank the Farmer, Roy the Rancher, Tess the Teacher, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers (still some of them around, you know) — hard-working Americans with families and dreams and a sense of financial responsibility and a genuine fear for the fate of our country — take to the streets and make their message clear: We will no longer hide behind our closed doors and permit you to ruin this country without letting you know how we really feel about it.
And, by God, you are going to listen to us, one way or another. Know something?
We may be to you the great unwashed, a bottomless pit from which you may extract tax revenues, but, by God, we make this our country, work and we will not let you destroy it without a fight.
Know something else?
We are far more intelligent than you give us credit for being and we vote!
Oh, it was time for this!
You know something, Mee-shell? I have always been proud of my country! But I tell you this: I was simply overwhelmed with pride when “average” Americans — the ones you and the Prez denigrate as those “who cling to their Bibles and their guns” when things get tough — became something more than average and joined together to let the folks in Washington know that we have had enough, that we are worried about our country and its future and about the future of generations to come.
Those of you who watched the parties on TV or attended one: Did you notice the absence of profanity, facial pallor, scrawny limbs, tattoos, weird hairdos?
Did you hear anyone addressing the camera who sounded as if he/she wouldn’t know Washington State from Washington, D.C., anyone who wouldn’t be able to rattle off the three branches of government if asked?
Did you notice that the partygoers didn’t look like a pack rounded up on college campuses or in the ghetto? Did you hear late-sixties, early-seventies anti-war songs in the background? Did you hear anyone badmouthing the military?
Did you see anyone shred or burn or stomp on an American flag? Did you hear anybody bashing God or America? (Oh, they bashed our politicians, but I’m certain that they often wonder just how American some of our elected and appointed officials are.)
Did you see any signs reading, Burn, Baby, Burn? Did you see anyone wearing a tag that labeled himself/herself Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, conservative, moderate, or liberal? (Well, you might have noticed one or two, but every one of them had on a tag reading American, whether you saw it or not.)
Did you see anyone with anti-gun signs? Did you see any signs that read, “Half America goes to bed hungry. Where is our food at?” or “If America is fair, where is my share?” Did you hear anybody asking anything of the government except that it do what is right for the productive people of this country and for the generations to come?
Did you notice that the crowds weren’t all white? Did you notice that there was no evidence of violence before, during, or after the protests? How many uniformed policemen did you see?
How many officers in riot gear did you see in the background? Did you hear anyone who sounded as if he/she was motivated by a personal agenda? Did you see any signs that read, “If I fail, I get a bail”?
Did you notice that when the protestors headed back home they left the party grounds looking pretty much as they did before the party? (They didn’t leave acres of litter for someone else to clean up.)
This was a decidedly new and different kind of social expression, and I suspect we’re going to see more of it in the months and years to come.
I love it when ordinary citizens unite behind a just cause. It takes a whole hell of a lot to generate collective anger among these people; but when you do, you may bet that that energy is going to be focused and that it will gather momentum and something good will come of it. Watch out, you folks in Washington who happen to have pushed a little too hard this time. I suspect that coming down the pike is change of a different sort than what you anticipated.
As for O’Bummer’s argument that he inherited a burning building: You throw water on the damned flames, Mr. President, not gasoline!
So, you go, silent majority. You are finally mad enough to take to the streets. May your righteous anger sweep across this land and center its energy on Washington and strike fear in the hearts of all who have turned their backs on you and America as we knew it.
It is no longer enoug to simply endure. It is time to prevail!
Paul Ruffin, Texas State University System Regents’ Professor and Distinguished Professor of English at Sam Houston State University, may be reached c/o English Department, Box 2146 SHSU, Huntsville, TX 77341-2146, e-mail email@example.com.
Well, Tea Party Day came and went, and I did not attend a single gathering.
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