The Vermont Tax Day Tea Party protests are over for now, but the spirit behind the April 15 demonstrations in Montpelier and Rutland continues among organizers and others in Vermont and the nation who are concerned about government spending and programs, and who are attempting to make their voices heard above persistent calls to spend more and tax more.
Co-organizer Michael Grace of Waltham became involved in the Tea Party movement after being contacted by Jessica Bernier, the Barre coordinator of the Vermont chapter of the Campaign for Liberty.
At the urging of a nationally broadcast talk show host, Grace had begun meeting with a group of concerned Vermonters and became part of the 912 Group in Vermont. The 912 Project is a nationwide, grass roots, non-partisan initiative that claims to have enrolled 650,000 members since it's inception last month. It's mission is to organize citizens into loosely structured study and action groups willing to meet with others who share similar opinions and to form their own "special interest" groups to pressure government to take their concerns seriously.
"The name of the group is based on the feeling Americans had the day after the terrorist attacks on 9-11," said Grace. "There was a more unified, national outlook as opposed to being ideologically separated."
When Bernier decided she wanted to "have a tea party" here in Vermont, Grace and the 912ers, as they call themselves, were among the people she contacted to ask if there was interest in helping to organize peaceful protests in Montpelier and Rutland on tax day.
Across the country, hundreds of similar protests were organized in much the same way, some drawing thousands of participants. According to Grace, approximately 500 people participated in Montpelier and between 200 and 300 in arrived in Rutland to peacefully protest not just income taxes, but the direction government, both state and federal, are heading with regard to over-reaching control and profligate spending.
Gov. Jim Douglas' Deputy Chief of Staff Dennise Casey said the governor was not surprised that such a large group would come to the statehouse to ask for relief.
"There are a lot of great things about Vermont but the not so great thing is the tax burden, which according to Forbes magazine is the highest in the country," said Casey. She said the governor is hoping Vermonters will push back on a legislature that she quoted him saying "is completely divorced from reality". Douglas considers it encouraging and welcome to have Vermonters come to the statehouse with their message. "We can't ask them to pay for a government that is unwilling to make tough choices," said Casey.
Not everyone is on board with the governors welcoming attitude. State Senator Claire Ayer (D. Addison County) said she "didn't see or hear any tea party activities." State Senator Harold Giard (D. Addison County) did not reply to requests for comment.
Organizers of the tea parties stressed that the protests were not driven by Republican or Democrat ideology, and were not about the Obama administration or the Bush administration, but were simply a wakeup call to both parties that many people are extremely concerned about spending and government. They were disappointed if unsurpised at the reaction of the media, who vilified and belittled the protests and those who participated. "We saw such a vitriolic response on the part of the collectivist media, but they had no good argument against the protests," said Bernier. "It was just nasty."
Mike Grace acknowledges that it can be difficult for independently minded people to join groups of this type because typically they tend to be individualists and not "joiners". He says he believes most people are in the middle of the road politically, and cites the symbolism the founders saw in the American Eagle's two wings-one of which is compassionate and problem solving, the second more analytical and pragmatic. When both are in sync, the Eagle flies straight and true. Thomas Jefferson, among others, warned that if either wing becomes dominant, the country would drift into anarchy or tyranny.
Grace said more activities are planned for the future, and he hopes to keep the momentum going and to expand the group through regular meetings.
Apparently alluding to the Jefferson eagle, Grace said "I'm finding that the more people I talk to, whether Democrat of Republican, they are coming down on the side of being fiscally conservative and socially liberal."