By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Anti-tax conservatives gathered downtown Wednesday as part of a nationwide "Tea Party" rally to protest government bailouts and spending.
More than 300 people stood in a steady drizzle holding signs sporting messages such as "Stop bankrupting our children and our grandchildren's future," "American Exception not European Socialism," and expressing support for a flat tax. One man held a sign that read "Taxed Enough Allready" with the first letters highlighted to spell TEA.
"To me, it's all about just stopping the government overstepping its bounds," said Strasburg resident Kim Bishop. "That's what we're asking them, to just follow the Constitution, let the states give out health care, let the states give out the things they need and let the federal government do what it was meant to do which is to unite the states and not divide them."
But Bishop noted the "Tea Party" deals with more than just taxes, even though it came on the day when federal income taxes are due.
"I don't think anyone is opposed to taxes," Bishop said. "What we're opposed to is excessive taxation and ridiculous spending."
Spectators drove from points in Virginia and West Virginia to attend the rally. Clint and Jim Hillman came from Arthur, W.Va.
"It's what they're doing with the money -- just spending, spending, spending way too much," Clint Hillman said. "The states are supposed to be, and the people within the states, are supposed to have control and the federal government is trying to spend money in every area of our life, and once they do we're beholden to them."
Other ralliers showed more frustration.
"It's ridiculous -- the notion that the government has first dibs on my paycheck is absurd, and it's contrary to the basic principles of economic freedom," said Jeremy Hunley, of Stephenson.
Speaker and rally emcee Andrew Nicholson told the crowd that people across the country at more than 750 rallies "are telling the federal government 'we are taxed enough already.'"
"We demand accountability from this and also the previous Republican administration -- accountability on where our billions and billions and billions of our tax dollars are disappearing to," Nicholson said. "We demand that the government stops bailing out failing companies and failed ideologies."
Republican state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel likened the day's rally to the 1773 Boston Tea Party, in which a group dumped tea into the Boston Harbor in protest over a tax imposed by England on the beverage. Vogel recalled that she and others in the General Assembly pushed for legislation to create a budget transparency bill "to see where your money goes."
"I stand before you not as a policymaker or as a legislator but as a mom, somebody who owns a small business and as somebody who's married to a person who's working hard to run a small business, who has to today really sit back and take a deep breath and pay those taxes because I'm ... handing it all over to the government," Vogel said. "I mean it's absolutely staggering the degree to which we've been taxed."
Referring to recent economic bailouts, Vogel added that, in a matter of days, the country has seen "unprecedented government spending."
Clifford Thies, a professor of economics and finance at Shenandoah University, warned about the effects of deficit spending and the accumulation of debt by the U.S. government. Thies noted that historically, as governments raise taxes, their economies fall.
"We are slightly older than 200 years and time of corruption is setting in," Thies said. "Our hope is that democracy will allow us to be self-reforming."
Other speakers included members of the Canfield family from Clear Brook.
"[Our forefathers] would be rolling over in their graves today to know that not only is our tea taxed, but our income, our property, our necessities, our commodities, gasoline, anything we need to live, is being taxed, except for medical care in Virginia," Canfield said.
As part of the rally, spectators sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "America the Beautiful," though few appeared to know the second verses of either patriotic tune.
At the end, Nicholson urged spectators to sign a petition asking senators and congressmen to "reject the fiscally inept bailout policies of the previous and current administration."