Staging A Revolt

At Anti-tax Tea Parties Across Maryland And The Nation, Protesters Demonstrate Their Discontent

April 16, 2009|By Laura Smitherman and Jonathan Pitts | Laura Smitherman and Jonathan Pitts,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com and jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

British expatriate Andrew Summers saw no irony in joining hundreds of rain-soaked protesters Wednesday in Annapolis for an anti-tax tea party modeled after 18th-century Colonial revolts.

"Justice is justice no matter where you're from," said Summers, who moved to Baltimore 17 years ago. "I'm tired of the government using us as an ATM machine."

Protesters filled the Annapolis City Dock - one of hundreds of tea parties held across Maryland and the nation - to toss tea bags into the water, sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and listen to fiery speeches against the economic policies of President Barack Obama and Gov. Martin O'Malley. The protests were timed to coincide with the annual tax-filing deadline.

Organizers said the tea parties, promoted by conservative news media outlets, reflect burgeoning discontent with what they characterized as big government and out-of-control spending by Obama's administration, which enacted a $787 billion stimulus package of tax cuts and funding for infrastructure and other projects designed to reverse a downward economic spiral.

In Maryland, protesters also decried fiscal policies under O'Malley, who pushed through tax increases two years ago to end persistent budget shortfalls that reappeared as the economy slid.

Not to be outdone, liberal groups held rallies in several states Wednesday promoting Obama's budget plan and characterizing the tea parties as being orchestrated by special interests seeking to maintain tax breaks for corporations and the rich. Tom McMahon of Americans United for Change, a Democratic-aligned group, called the tea parties "cheap political theater" aimed at helping multimillionaires like Paris Hilton.

Obama took the opportunity Wednesday to call for a simpler tax code and defend the stimulus plan, which he says cuts taxes for 95 percent of families and saves jobs.

O'Malley was on a family vacation and unavailable for comment. Spokesman Rick Abbruzzese noted that state spending has been reduced by $3.5 billion since O'Malley took office. He added that while the Democratic governor backed a $1.3 billion tax increase in the 2007 special session, he also worked to make the income tax structure more progressive.

The angry sentiment at tea parties "comes from a general anxiety about the economy and misinformation from conservative talk radio," Abbruzzese said.

Several bristled at suggestions that tea parties are right-wing displays. "Look at us; we're a regular grandpa and a working mom," said Anne Marie Fitzpatrick of Felton, Pa., who attended a Harford County tea party with her father and hundreds of protesters. "Is it radical to be concerned about the future of your country?"

"I'm scared about the debt burden these politicians are placing on the coming generations," she said, carrying a sign that read "Keep Your Hands Off My Kids' Piggy Banks," with photos of her two young daughters.

Homemade signs were a staple of the events. One declared that the bearer trusted Tony Soprano more than Obama and Democratic congressional leaders. Another suggested sending Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to Guantanamo Bay. Pasadena resident Alex Yarema's poster board read: "Obama, O'Malley, Oh no."

"I'm terrified for what's happened to my country," Yarema said, explaining that he's worried about a rise of socialism. He was one of many who said that regardless of whether they are paying lower taxes now, they fear future tax increases will be sought to pay for today's spending.

Though there appeared to be few Obama supporters in the crowds, some insisted that the tea parties were nonpartisan critiques of politicians who don't answer to the people. Tony Passaro of Bel Air, who said he sent out more than a thousand e-mails to help organize the rally, also blamed former President George W. Bush for excessive spending.

"He was somnolent for eight years; he betrayed the people," said Passaro, a businessman who owns fitness clubs. He said he doesn't object to paying for vital services such as the highway system or a military that keeps the nation safe.

"But you shouldn't pay for what you're not getting," he said, calling federal energy and education agencies "useless institutions."

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