While a half-dozen men dressed in Colonial three-cornered hats played the military march “Yankee Doodle,” several hundred angry Santa Barbara residents made their way through the downtown streets on Saturday, April 4, in protest of recent federal and state tax increases as well as government bailouts and the recent stimulus package. Calling their protest a Tea Party – a nod to the biggest little protest in American history – those in attendance carried signs bearing slogans like the popular “NObama” alongside “Stop Rewarding Failure” and “The Un-Free Market Failed.”
The march began at the County Courthouse, following a fully costumed Paul Revere on horseback, crossing over to State Street and settling in front of a stage erected between Merrill Lynch and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. “You see what that building says?” said a man to reporters while gesturing toward the Bankruptcy Court fa§ade. “That’s where we’re all headed. Not just us, but the whole country.”
It was this fear that brought so many into the street on Saturday. The predominating theme of the day was criticism of President Barack Obama’s fledgling administration and its spending policies. Sacramento did not escape blame of its own, and likewise the City of Santa Barbara was scolded for increasing debt. Nearly every speaker focused on his or her belief that government has been growing too fast in recent months. On the way to the bankruptcy court, the chant heard by all downtown was “Revolt! Repeal! Recall!”
“We’re reverting to feudalism,” said farmer Will Barmore of higher taxes and growing government. Barmore, whose family has been operating its small Santa Barbara farm for 150 years, believes the protest’s aims should be seen without party bias. “It’s the elites versus the masses,” he said, articulating his reasons for protesting on Saturday. “It’s not a partisan issue.”
Among the speakers on Saturday were California State Senators Tony Strickland and George Runner; Carpinteria City Councilmember and head of Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association Joe Armendariz; Andrew Caldwell of COLAB (Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business); Lompoc Mayor Dick DeWees; screenwriter Andrew Klavan; and UCSB student Gabriela Murillo. Political singer Lloyd Marcus also contributed to the protest, singing songs attacking President Obama. “Mr. Obama,” sang Marcus, “don’t talk down to us!”
President Ronald Reagan was remembered and missed again and again as speakers cited him as the greatest president in memory. Reagan was quoted at the rally more than any other figure from American history.
Armendariz, when asked what had brought him to the protest, joked: “The great weather? My Mercedes?” In fact, he was worried that the rise of taxes will mean an unprecedented rise in government involvement in business and in the lives of all Americans. “Something isn’t working,” he said. “I’m not willing to place blame, but it’s not supposed to be this way.”
Political watchdog Caldwell said that the economic problems in California are largely the fault of government and go beyond those facing the nation. “You can’t blame the recession,” said Caldwell. “California was in debt in times of economic boom.” Chants against Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger were numerous, beat out in volume and anger only in response to any mention of his predecessor Gray Davis.
Strickland, whose election campaign made great importance out of the state tax situation, nodded toward the chanting crowd and claimed that California has the third largest unemployment in the country. “People are mad,” he said. He heavily protests the passing of upcoming Prop. 1A, which proposes changes to the California budget and includes further tax increases.
Andrew Klavan spoke in the manner of a standup routine, likening liberal government to a zombie attack, the paying of taxes to having one’s flesh devoured. The difference between the two, he said, was, “Zombies never try to devour your flesh and tell you it’s good for you. If you don’t let them, they don’t tell you you’re being greedy.” He called on everyone concerned to “keep organizing until the night of the living government is over for real.”
KABC radio host and rally emcee Tammy Bruce took the microphone between the various speakers, keeping the attendees as focused and rowdy as possible. “Let this rally be a reminder that we are mad as hell,” she said. “We’re not going to stop! We’re bitter and clingy and we’re going to use it!”