I remember the frenzied excitement when CNBC’s Rick Santelli went off on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. It was February of 2009 and I was riveted by the playback footage of his rant. It was as if the outrage, shock and fear we were all feeling was being mirrored by an every day guy on TV- very strange and very unusual. It was beginning to feel as if the ground beneath us was quaking and that the pillars of our Republic were in danger of crumbling.
What led to this uncontainable emotion? Out of control spending by an out of control Congress. This was at a time when we still hoped that the massive Healthcare legislation might eventually be defeated. We were astonished by the audacity of hoping to spend close to a trillion dollars and then label it as a “Stimulus.” In case you all have not noticed, it wasn’t very effective.
The TEA Party was first galvanized on tax day of that same year, April 15th, 2009. I attended that first rally in Atlanta on the steps of the capitol. (More accurately, throngs of people wrapped around all sides of the building and filled the grounds and sidewalks up to the edges of the roads.) Most of the signs were very clever commentaries on the general consensus that we are Taxed Enough Already (TEA). One of my favorites said, ”This little piggy went to the market, but this little piggy stayed home because all it had left was some CHANGE.” There were some bizarre, fringe Communist student protesters from a nearby university, but I did my best to ignore them and hope I wouldn’t be photographed standing too close to them.
Since that time the TEA Party has become the target of any strategy by its detractors that might stick. The first attempt at dismissing it: claims that it was “Irrelevant.” “Small.” Destined to “run out of steam.” And now the nuclear option has been employed-“Racist.” Somebody better warn Herman Cain to stop being an adored, keynote speaker there!
For me, the TEA Party did not seem like a perfect fit. But I sure am grateful to all those citizens who have decided that it’s finally time to get involved, demand answers at town hall meetings, and stand in the gap with their “Don’t Tread on Me” signs waving. As we look back one day with the clarity that comes from a long view of history, it just may be that liberty and justice for all was at stake.