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The Tax Day Tea Party movement may draw its inspiration from the Boston Tea Party (illustrated above), but some critics say the politics are wrongheaded. The 1773 affair was not a protest against big government. It was a protest against England's refusal to allow the United States to govern itself at all.
The Tax Day Tea Party movement may draw its inspiration from the Boston Tea Party (illustrated above), but some critics say the politics are wrongheaded. The 1773 affair was not a protest against big government. It was a protest against England's refusal to allow the United States to govern itself at all. Time Life Pictures/Mansell/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
On April 15, the deadline for filing taxes, conservatives are planning Tax Day Tea Parties around the country. Inspired by the Boston Tea Party in 1773, the rallies are designed as protests against the use of taxpayer money for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the stimulus package and other government spending.
But some historians and beverage makers say it doesn't make sense for java-loving Americans to rally around tea.
Tea party protests began in early 2009. In February, CNBC market analyst Rick Santelli raised the idea of a "Chicago Tea Party" to protest a federal initiative to refinance mortgages.
On the Internet, Facebook pages and Web sites such as TaxDayTeaParty.com and MillionTeaBags.com have attempted to attract disgruntled taxpayers. But some Americans do not believe the movement is a true grass-roots effort.
"The tea parties don't represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They're AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects," economist Paul Krugman wrote in Monday's New York Times.
The turnout on Wednesday may give a better sense of how widespread the movement's support is. For now, YouTube provides a sense of atmospherics. People who have turned up for similar gatherings carry signs that say: Silent Majority No More! No Taxation Without Deliberation, and Stimulate Business, Not Gov't. In Cincinnati, people threw tea bags into a garbage can.
At the end of a video on the official Tax Day Tea Party Web site, a young girl wears a T-shirt that reads: Obama, Get Your Hands Out of My Piggy Bank.
Fox News is among the idea's biggest cheerleaders. Sean Hannity plans to host a show from Atlanta's protest. Newt Gingrich, Joe the Plumber and others will also be participating in the nationwide event. Jon Stewart of Comedy Central has mocked both the concept and the Fox News host Glenn Beck, one of its most vigorous proponents.
But there are others who are merely puzzled by the connection between tea and protesting these days. Here, then, are five arguments against the Tax Day Tea Party:
1) The politics are wrongheaded. The irony is that the idea springs from the original tea party in Boston against Great Britain. It was not a protest against big government. It was a protest against England's refusal to allow the United States to govern itself at all. Now that the U.S. has sovereignty and is able to govern itself, a tea party protest is pretzelish in its logic. "The people who were involved in the Boston Tea Party were protesting because they had no representation. These people have representation," says Benjamin Woods Labaree, a retired historian in Amesbury, Mass., and author of The Boston Tea Party. The contemporary protest, he says, "is totally irrelevant. There is no connection."
2) Tea is an affordable drink. In these economic times, when pennies are being pinched and thrift is cool again, tea is one of the cheapest drinks on the market, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Overall, imported teas represented a $7 billion industry in 2008, up from $4.2 billion in 1997. Fancy teas are feeling the effect of the global downturn, but everyday, working-class teas – which cost about 3 cents a serving — are rather impervious to bad times, says Joseph P. Simrany, president of the Tea Association. "Overall, we're not seeing much of blip." For years, the U.S. imported about 180 million pounds of tea a year. Last year that skyrocketed to 257 million pounds.
3) In the U.S., tea is nonpolitical. "We can't get involved in politics," Simrany says. "Tea is as neutral as Switzerland."
4) Tea is a drink of serenity, not anger. Julee Rosanoff, one of the owners of the Perennial Tea Room in downtown Seattle, says, "Tea is a calming drink. When people sit down to have a cup of tea, they are not in a hurry. It's relaxing and constructive for discussion."
5) Tea is not really an American drink. Coffee is more associated with the American way of life, and any railing against American activities should involve java. If you have to protest, Rosanoff says, coffee is a better drink to toss overboard: "It's a waste of good tea to throw it in the harbor."