Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tea Party in Benton County Today

This Wednesday, April 15th, is when federal and state income taxes are due. It is also the day that “Tea Party” protests will be held in thousands of cities all across the United States, including twenty-six locations in Arkansas. That includes one on the Bentonville town square from 5:00 to 7:00 PM. The event organizers are a very loose coalition of people who are upset about the bailouts of major Wall Street financial institutions as well as excessive government taxing and spending overall.

The original Boston Tea Party was an event in American history just before the Revolution. Patriots upset with a new English tax on imported tea boarded a ship laden with tea and tossed the cargo into Boston harbor before the tax could be assessed. The act was an escalation of the protests against English tyranny that culminated with the Revolutionary War for Independence.

The new Tea Parties are billed as peaceful, legal protests against a government that many feel has gotten away from the common citizens. It stands for “Taxed Enough Already”, but the local organizers are taking aim at government spending, not just taxation. They feel that the increasing use of government debt is a threat to the future of the nation and can only mean increased taxes later when it is time to repay the debt.

I spoke with the local organizers of this event, Scott Winn and Dorothy Hess. What I find so striking about these Tea Parties is that it seems to be a spontaneous outpouring of protest over government action. While some elements of the establishment are attempting to hijack it, there is no powerful entity funding or otherwise serving as the driving force behind the movement. Neither Winn nor Hess is a member of either the Republican or Democratic parties. They made it clear that they are unhappy with politicians in both major parties. “The Bush and Obama administrations are both wrong” said Winn, in referring to the bailouts and the continued policy of demanding that banks have a quota of loans from “underserved populations” in their portfolio. Many of those loans later went bad, worsening the crisis.

“Government intervention helped start the banking crisis” Winn said, because of increasing government pressure to extend credit to people without an adequate credit history. “It is a perversion of banking for the government to tell people who they must have loans from in their portfolio.” He added.

Many banks were not failing. Some of the biggest banks are the ones that took the biggest risks- risks that blew up on them. “If a company takes a risk, let them fail” said Winn, “The bail outs are a ridiculous spending of our money to prop up failed businesses. Now every decision those companies make will be political, not market-driven.” He also noted that the Wall Street High Rollers kept the profits when their high-risk strategies were paying off, but now want to pass the costs onto the taxpayer on their losing bets.

Hess was also upset at the response of Congress to the crisis, “They spent two trillion dollars of our money and none of them even bothered to read the bills that spent it.” Every member of Arkansas’ congressional delegation voted for the bail-outs.

There will be an open-soapbox for anyone who wants to give a two-minute speech to the crowd. Hess asked people to come on down to network and sign petitions. She has also asked that people bring signs and flags to the event on the Bentonville town square Wednesday the 15th from 5-7 PM.

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