A Wide-ranging, Soggy Protest

April 16, 2009|By JEAN MARBELLA

So much tea, so little hot water.

No, it was a cold rain that soaked the tea bags decorating various umbrellas and handmade signs Wednesday on Annapolis City Dock, one of hundreds of rallies held across the country to protest ... well, it's a pretty long and not entirely agreed-upon list.

Taxes, first and foremost, given that this was April 15, the day income taxes were due. President Barack Obama, for another, even though the legislation he signed in February will reduce taxes for most Americans, at least in the short term. The bailout, the stimulus, the deficit, government spending, socialism, dictatorship, oligarchy, Geithner, Pelosi and Reid would make the list, as well as conservatives' usual villains, ACORN and the media.

It was an impressive show, even if the crowd didn't number in the thousands as in some other cities, especially those where a torrential rain wasn't pouring down - and up and sideways too, it sometimes seemed Wednesday afternoon. No, what was most impressive was not so much the crowd's size as its spirit. This may have been an angry gathering, but it was a happily angry one, relieved to find a focus for whatever free-floating unhappiness they've been living with of late, and others who were similarly aggrieved.

That they had to stand in the rain to express it? Even better - no sunshine patriots Wednesday, no sirree. People got slapped by their neighbors' flags flapping wetly in the wind or poked by each other's umbrellas, and yet there was little of the down-in-front umbrage of your basic ballgame or concert. It helps to all be on the same side.

How often do you get to brush off your obscure Ayn Rand references, after all, and promise or threaten the world that "Atlas will shrug," as one protester's sign did?

The Annapolis event drew widely, even from cities that had their own tea parties, since the state tax increases enacted during the special session two years ago remain a sore point for some.

Being in Annapolis, the occasional politician turned up. The event's emcee said, though, that this was a day for any elected officials in the crowd to listen to citizens rather than the other way around, even as he ultimately turned the microphone over to state Sen. Andy Harris. He would also say that the separation of government and business must be as sacrosanct as the one between church and state, even as the pastor giving the invocation called for no more taxes while invoking the name of Jesus Christ.

As if to counter the frequent criticism that bailout and stimulus opponents only oppose things rather than support anything, speakers piped up for liberty, capitalism, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers, the troops and Sam Adams beer.

That last one may have been a way to link to the original Boston Tea Party that protested taxation without representation, and that yesterday's parties were meant to invoke. Still, it is hard to argue that we don't have representation at this point - maybe just not the representation many in the crowds Wednesday had voted for. Which gave the events the feeling of a continuation of last year's elections by those on the losing side.

"I voted straight Republican," said Charles Chapman, a salesman from Towson who attended the Annapolis event. "So I have no representation at this point."

Nick Eldredge, also from Towson, seemed an unlikely protester in that he sells renewable energy products, something he agrees will benefit from new tax breaks. It's the rest of what big government does that he was protesting Wednesday.

"The bailout has done nothing for the working person," he said. "There's not one thing that the government has run that runs well."

Kent Rayburn, an architect from Baltimore, didn't vote for Obama either, but he attended the rally for a reason that went further back than November.

"I've been concerned about taxes since I got my first paycheck. I was 16, and I was supposed to make $1.75 an hour," he said. "But when I looked at my paycheck, it didn't add up to that. I went to my father and he told me, 'The part you're missing went to the government.' "

While it might have taken him many years to take action on that concern, Rayburn said recent events made it time to speak out.

"Our country is in deep, deep trouble," he said. "The march toward socialism has been going on since the '60s. But it has gone into fifth gear, speeded up and rolled downhill recently."

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