Tea and politics are historical tradition

Along with Grand Junction police and organizers of today’s tea party, we have no idea how many people will show up at Lincoln Park at noon to demonstrate their opposition to President Barack Obama’s tax policies and other issues.

But, given the fact this is Mesa County, where anti-tax sentiment has deep roots, the turnout may well be substantial. That is, if the weather isn’t too dismal.

Mesa County isn’t alone in the demonstration, of course. Many other tea-party gatherings are scheduled around the country on this, the day when most Americans’ income taxes are due.

Other tea-party events have already attracted thousands of people.

But what does it all mean? What will it accomplish? Not surprisingly, there’s a great difference of opinion on that score.

Liberal commentators and editorial pages, and even a few conservatives, say the tea parties are of little political consequence. The protesters have few alternatives to offer. They are just angry and spouting steam. In a few months, the Internet excitement that helped fuel the demonstrations will evaporate and the movement will be largely be defunct, these folks say.

No so, argue many conservative and independent writers. This is a very real, grass-roots uprising, tapping into deep-seated anger by many Americans about the direction their country is headed, they say. The tea-party movement is attracting people who have had little involvement in politics heretofore. It could become political force that costs Democrats control of Congress next year and may even knock Obama out of the White House in 2012. At least that is the hope of many backers.

Only time will tell which assessment of the tea parties is correct. But there is clearly a historical connection.

The organizers of the tea-party events claim a heritage that dates back to tax protesters in colonial Boston. However, those protesters were clearly breaking British law at the time, and they risked their lives and freedom with their actions.

Today’s tax protesters can gather at events in Grand Junction and across the country thanks to a hard-won right established by those Bostonians and their counterparts from 12 other British colonies when they split from England: the right to peaceably assemble and petition the government over grievances.

People opposed to the government in Thailand learned this week they have no such right.

Try gathering a large crowd to protest government policies in Venezuela or Iran, China, Russia or most nations of the world, and see what happens.

The tea-party protesters — along with pro-Obama groups that are said to be organizing counterprotests today — are exercising a right enshrined in the U.S. Constitution 218 years ago. May that legacy never wane.


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