“Liberty and order will never be perfectly safe, until a trespass on the constitutional provisions for either, shall be felt with the same keenness that resents an invasion of the dearest rights.” – James Madison, fourth president of the United States
Every generation has had them – protesters in America utilizing their First Amendment rights to speak freely.
In the 1950s, America faced challenges to segregation and saw the rise of Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed that peaceful protesting was a way to be heard. Until that time, segregation was forced in most of the United States; and in the South, it was law. King’s relentless pursuit on behalf of the black community played an enormous part in Congress’s eventual passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
In the ’60s and early ’70s, America experienced the antiwar protests, initiated primarily by college students who were not pleased with the draft increase, and who wanted to be heard. Draft dodging became a problem, while protesters across the country demonstrated their defiance against the war, with hippies advocating the message love not war.
What started out as a message of peaceful existence became a living controversy with repeated outbreaks of violence.
The most violent demonstration brought on by these young draft/war protesters was perhaps the Vietnam War protest held at Kent State University in Ohio in May 1970. Kent State was a catalyst that provoked numerous other aggressive protests held at various university campuses across the states.
Certainly the recent protests surrounding Proposition 8 in 2008 caused the nation to take notice, as supporters of the proposition marched up and down the streets of Hollywood and various surrounding cities in Los Angeles County, declaring, “What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!”
History shows an assiduous opposition between the owners and the working class in a fundamental struggle for power and survival, and while the issues vary, there remains a common thread: Protesting, for whatever reason. is the result of opinion, displeasure, dissent, objection, disapproval, and is usually declared publicly and often directed at some person or institution in power.
There is a need to be heard, and whether one agrees with the opinions of protesters or not, their influences are hard to ignore. Such is the reality of the current Tea Party movement that is spreading across the nation, and Ventura County is no exception — that voice is in crescendo mode.
The Tea Party movement strikes a chord of curiosity as questions arise about its contentions with the current administration. What, precisely, are the issues? Is this a potentially dangerous “right-wing” organization, as some believe it to be?
David Stewart, a software engineer and spokesman for the Ventura County Tea Party says, “This all started with the government forcing the banks into these ridiculous loans. Then there are the federal departments, like the Department of Education, which are huge money drains. There’s just too much federal control. The government feels like they have to be involved in every aspect of our life.”
Many Tea Party movement enthusiasts — there is an estimated 1,500 to 3,000 members in Ventura County — share the belief that freedom is principal, and the love of liberty, not the love of government, was the driving force behind America’s founders. Men like Thomas Jefferson and the American Revolutionary War hero Gen. John G. Stark (whose toast, “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils,” became the motto for the state of New Hampshire) valued our divine right to live free. Jefferson’s famed quote, written in the Declaration of Independence, is hard to dismiss.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”
If man-made government is not the end-all and be-all for advocating our rights, but merely a means to assure that every American’s rights for freedom are upheld, then should government be a vehicle and not the main objective?
Ventura Tea Party organizer George Miller says, “Government is a leech upon the people, and has used their wealth to grow into a greedy monster that is now sucking up most of the oxygen in the room and stunting the nation’s growth.”
Initially, the grass-roots movement began with informal meetings protesting high taxes, spending and the government bailouts, but with time, the concerns have broadened and intensified over the last two years; and now there is widespread interest in this group, especially since Glenn Beck and Fox News started talking about it. Today, the Tea Party movement is disquieted about fiscal responsibility, constitutional adherence, the loss of freedoms through too much government control and that $121 trillion looming over the United States in financial obligations. Fiscal obligations that Miller declares, “We’ll never be able to catch up!”
One of the oddities about this so-called movement is that that one person does not drive it, nor does it have an actual list of members or chapters, yet there is a rising concern among fellow Tea Partiers that President Obama has lost touch with the middle class, and according to Republican Congressman Peter T. King, who is serving his ninth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, “Obama has an agenda that he’s going to pursue — no matter what.”
Naturally, heath care is a part of that agenda, and it is a matter of serious concern to Tea Partiers here in Ventura County.
Stewart is convinced that part of the reason this administration is pushing the health care program is to “control resources.” He says, “Congress should eat what they cook! Why do they have special treatment, their own set of health care benefits, retirement and receive a full salary for life? I find this extremely offensive!”
There is an age-old saying, “There are two sides to every coin,” and there are some who believe this campaign is unsubstantiated and concerning.
What is the president’s response to the Tea Party campaign? According to a recent report issued on CNN, the “Tea bagger rallies amuse the president.” Obama says, “I think they should be more grateful to me for cutting their taxes.”
However, the movement does not amuse some Ventura County residents. Brian Leshon, the Ventura County Democratic Party chairman says, “The Tea Partiers are unrealistic. When these Tea Partiers talk about losing their freedom and [about] fiscal regulations, we did regulate them. We went from the Great Depression to the biggest prosperity we’ve ever had. When Bush deregulated many of the banks and stock markets, we had a crash. We had regulations and we had prosperity; we removed the regulations and we crashed. The Tea Partiers fail to recognize this.”
But many believe there is no longer an incentive to work when half their income is being taken out in taxes. In addition, some say the insurance industry could have been fixed, but the lack of regulations has helped to create a monster.
Miller says, “Give me liberty, not debt!”
“The government created these hard times with the banks forcing the private sector for all of these ridiculous loans! We do need safety nets, but it should stay at the state level,” says Stewart.
No matter what party affiliation one has, it’s hard to imagine that anyone wants higher taxes, more debt and less freedom. The arguments that surround government spending, increased taxation and Constitutional adherence are numerous.
The Tea Party claims that there has been a divergence from upholding the Constitution, which was established to protect the rights of every American. Is it an actual departure from Constitutional adherence or an abandonment of the values established in the Constitution? Certainly times have changed, and some things that were not tolerated in society back in the 1700s, are accepted today.
Ventura County criminal Attorney Ken Amirian of Krupnick & Krupnick says that there are a couple of theories on constitutionality. “We have originalists and texualists. Originalists adhere to the Constitution like a decree, giving the Constitution the meaning that its words were understood to bear at the time they were written, and it does not vary.
Texualists don’t focus so much on the intent, but take the words and focus on the ideals.”
In a sense, it is similar to those who take the Bible literally, or simply adhere to the ideals and principles and hold to the belief that it’s inspired but not literal.
Stewart spoke candidly about the judicial process, and the notion that the Constitution is not a “living document,” but something that bends and adapts with the times, as being “very offensive to him and the way our forefathers thought.”
Judicial theorists have debated constitutional interpretation and adaptation since its conception, and the issue of constitutional adherence is nothing new under the sun. In an essay written for the publication The Progressive Conservative, U.S.A., U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia says, “What do you think your judges are doing when they interpret the Constitution? It’s sad to tell you that, after 200 years, there is no agreement on this rather fundamental question: What is the purpose of the enterprise of judicial interpretation?”
With a 200-year debate legacy, one can only wonder if this question will actually ever be answered. Perhaps part of the problem surrounds the word interpretation. Since interpretation is expounding and subjective, can it really ever be black and white? Can it ever be so resolute?
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a longtime Republican, discusses the Tea Party movement. “Things are not as simple, and things are not as black and white as many of those folks on the Tea Party side think they should be. As a legislator or anyone elected in office, you are not presented with black and white choices. It’s not that way. You are presented with a certain choice and you have to make the best one you can, and you have to move the ball in the best direction, and that might be done by hitting a single or double as opposed to a home run.”
Dr. Daniel B. Lee, an associate professor of sociology at California State University, Channel Islands, has spent extensive time studying protests, and believes that protest movements operate within the medium of fear.
Lee maintains that, “Protest communication makes sense only in its terms of an underlying distinction.” He believes that the Tea Party movement actually doesn’t have a clear program or issue, which is both a weakness and strength.
The restlessness that is currently prevalent in our nation will undoubtedly draw members, however, “Protest movements operate within the medium of fear. Fear motivates or mobilizes individuals to join movements. Considering current economic and political conditions, many people are anxious and willing to turn to any alternative to the status quo, even one that is as undefined as the Tea Party. The test for the Tea Party will be to see how clearly it can state its own program and still attract enough followers.”
In his recent essay The Trouble With Elitists Theories, world-renowned historian and author Victor Davis Hanson wrote, “There is an unfocused but growing anger in the country — and it should come as no surprise. Nobody likes to be lectured by those claiming superior wisdom but often lacking common sense about everything from out-of-control spending and predicting the weather to dealing with enemies who are trying to kill us all.”
With a $30 trillion deficit, inflation compounded over the last 30 years, unemployment at an all-time high since the Great Depression, the health insurance monster, increased taxation, a lethargic economy and out-of-control spending by Congress, clearly something is amiss. There is a rising frustration felt by Republicans, Independents and Democrats across the country over the issues at hand. While protesting may not be your cup of tea, ignorance is never bliss. In a time of so much diversity, one can only hope that every American who values freedom and the right to equality will examine the facts, and then choose wisely.