9/12 Biddeford Tea Party Report

On a drizzly Saturday roughly 40-50 Mainers gathered at Mechanics Park in Biddeford.  The purpose?  A Tea Party.

I drove down a crowded turnpike toward Biddeford not knowing what to expect.  I had never attended a Tea Party before.  Would this event be full of fringe elements?  Would there be counter protesters from the other side of the spectrum?  I was assured by event organizer J. Fred Staples (who ran for Congress in 2000 against Tom Allen as a Libertarian) that there should be minimal rowdiness.  Still, the only impression I had from the media was of these events being very rowdy affairs.  These things were spinning in my head as I was stuck in traffic on Route 1 in Saco. It took me almost as long to drive from Cumberland to Saco as it did from Saco to Biddeford.

Mainers gathered to speak out against government spending, government expansion, and to support Taxpayer Bill of Rights efforts. “Freedom is in peril in America. People need to stand up and do something about it or our children will live under tyranny,” said organizer Fred Staples.  “Government has become too big, too expensive and too intrusive.  Government is brute force and must be restrained.  This gathering is part of a nationwide movement to restore liberty to our country.”  The event in Biddeford coincided with a large gathering in Washington D.C.

I arrived a little late, missing News Channel 13 by a few minutes.  Chris Cinquemani, chairman of the More Green Now campaign, had already begun speaking.  More Green Now is seeking to cut the auto excise tax by 50%, which would save Mainers $80 million a year. Cinquemani stated that Maine’s excise tax is 7th in the nation and that 22 states do not levy any excise tax.  “In a rural state like Maine where so many people have to drive so far to earn a living and raise a family that’s wrong.  People cannot afford this tax.  It’s preventing people from putting newer, cleaner, safer cars on the road.”  A yes vote on Question #2, argued Cinquemani, would provide relief to families struggling to make ends meet.

Next I spoke with David Crocker, Chairman of TABOR Now.  Crocker said the TABOR initiative would help government grow at a more natural rate rather than “grotesquely increasing itself year after year.”  Crocker also believes Maine’s fiscal problems stem from government overspending at all levels.  “[Maine’s] economy is collapsing because people here can’t sustain that level of government spending,” he said.

Beth O’Connor read her “Letter to America.”  O’Connor’s reading was passionate and really got the crowd fired up.  The letter, first seen as an advertisement in the Portland Press Herald, got national recognition from pundit Glenn Beck.   O’Connor’s speech highlighted her strong belief in individualism and a free society.  O’Connor attacked political corruption, divisive politics, and overbearing government.  Two marines, one a Korean War vet, the other an Iraq War vet, followed O’Connor.  Both gave rousing addresses, mostly off the cuff.  The Korean War veteran put his current concerns in historical context.  The Iraq War spoke of what he believed were the damaging effects of high taxes and over regulation of small business in Maine, pointing to many examples within sight of the Tea Party’s location.

Kevin Crocker of WLOB followed the two veterans.  After Kevin Crocker spoke Fred Staples opened the microphone up to the public.  Citizens expressed their anger over what they believed was a government out of control in regards to spending, taxation, and interference into our private lives.  One of the speakers, Toby Shannon, a teacher from the midcoast, came to share ideas with like minded people.  Shannon expressed concern about the direction, or lack thereof, in American education and lack of encouragement of critical thinking.  “We’ve allowed the [school system] to grow to where it’s become an indoctrination jail. We have kids who are growing up not knowing anything about their history.  They’re not knowing anything about what makes this country run.  I spend a quarter of my class getting kids to remove their hats out of respect.  That’s what we’ve come to.  We’ve dropped from 1st to 19th in the world among industrialized nations and we say that’s progress.”  Children have replaced critical thinking  with trying to adopt the teacher’s beliefs just to impress teachers, said Shannon.  In Shannon’s experience, all sides of an issue are no longer being explored. Shannon strongly advocated that parents take an active role in their child’s education at home and in school.

There was a bit of Obama bashing at the event.  None of it was particularly offensive, but it could certainly turn off some who might otherwise be attracted to the tea party message.  That sort of rhetoric was minimal.  The gathering was organized and civil.  Those attending represented all age groups and socio-economic backgrounds.  The tea party was basically a gathering of friends and neighbors to speak out against increasing government intervention in our lives.

There was a popular bumper sticker during the Bush administration that read “If you aren’t pissed then you aren’t paying attention.”  Those that gathered in Biddeford on 9/12 are paying attention.  They are standing up and speaking out against what they feel is mismanagement of our money and lives by the State and Federal governments.  There is a lesson I took away from the day’s events and it is one for conservatives, liberals, and all ideologies to learn from:

We need to pay attention.

Democracy works best when voters are informed and involved.  It is every citizens responsibility to research issues, candidates and to engage on behalf of their concerns, and perhaps most importantly to vote.  Get involved in your state and country.  Get involved in your future.

Otherwise, you have no excuses.

(Cross-Posted @ Augusta Insider)

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