Tea Time

Local taxpayers join nationwide series of protests

A Tax Day Tea Party in Massapequa NY on April 15, 2009. (Credit: Laura Carroll).

A Tax Day Tea Party in Massapequa NY on April 15, 2009. (Credit: Laura Carroll).

By Joseph Kellard

For Frank McQuade, it was a tough decision to skip his annual trip to the gala dinner at the New York State Republican Convention in Manhattan last week and instead have some tea. The Long Beach attorney joined about 350 protesters who lined the sidewalks of Sunrise Highway at the Massapequa train station in a Tax Day Tea Party, one of hundreds held across the country.

The sign-wielding, American flag-waving Nassau County protesters voiced their discontent with what they called government’s burdensome taxes, ongoing bailouts, massive spending and pending inflation, as rush-hour motorists honked in solidarity.

“Duty really calls to be at the tea party, because the answer at this point is not parties, not the entrenched,” said McQuade. “… Taxation is choking off initiative, watering down the free market system and is going to burden us with debt that is going to change the face of this country not as we anticipated when [President] Obama was elected.”

For the protests, tea became TEA, standing for “taxed enough already,” and the gatherings — on April 15, for obvious reasons —were likened to the Boston Tea Party of 1773. There were some 25 protests on Long Island alone, from Hicksville to East Hampton, and according to one estimate, there were more than a half-million participants nationwide.

In Massapequa, some voiced their concern with what they described as their fellow Americans’ loss of personal responsibility and can-do spirit, while others characterized Obama, former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain as fundamentally alike on economics, and a few expressed alarm that Obama had pushed out General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner.

Many flashed hand-made signs reading, “No taxation without representation,” “Dump the tea, dump the tax,” “We the people, not we the government,” “Foreclose the White House,” “I am not your ATM” and “No socialized medicine.”

Mike Friechter, a Bellmore attorney who held a sign that said “Obamanomics: Trickle up poverty,” said he believes the president is governing as a socialist.

“Growth is unlimited by imagination, hard work and the American spirit,” Friechter said. “The idea of punishing people for being successful in life is counterproductive. It just makes everyone equally poor, and that’s what we’re protesting against. We want the politicians to know that we won’t be silent about this outrageous spending.”

Tom Walsh, owner of a home-inspecting business, called politicians at all levels “tax crazy,” and said that while he is forced to cut back, they continue to expand government budgets. “We’re committing suicide and they’re spending us into oblivion,” said Walsh, a Syosset resident. “People have no idea what a trillion is, and we’re never going to pay this money back.”

The idea of punishing people for being successful in life is counterproductive. It just makes everyone equally poor, and that’s what we’re protesting against.
— Mike Friechter

While a few politicians were in attendance, including the Nassau County Legislature’s minority leader, Republican Peter Schmitt, the Massapequa organizers made it a point not to invite government officials. “This is not an affiliation with any political party,” said organizer Laura Gill. “This is really just American taxpayers on Long Island coming together who are just looking to be really vocal about our displeasure with what is going on.”

Gill, who works in insurance, said she organized the event mostly through word of mouth and a Web site, and got involved because Obama’s stimulus bill “will take a heavy toll on hardworking American taxpayers,” she said. “They feel that their American dream and the future of their children is going to be gone.”

Another party-goer, Charles Hapaey, said he is most concerned about the impact increased government spending will have on future generations. “We have to stop it now,” said Hapaey, noting that his property taxes have risen $9,000 since he bought his West Islip home in 2002. “Otherwise they’re going to have a problem that they’re not going to be able to deal with in the years to come.”

Hapaey, who was holding a “Don’t punish success” sign, said his wife works as many as 70 hours a week on her own local newspaper, and he fears that Obama will reverse President Clinton’s “workfare” programs, which took people off the welfare rolls. “If she’s going to put in that time and be successful, why should I be paying for someone who wants to put in 30 hours a week, not put in the time and do just enough to get by, and then I have to supplement their income?” Hapaey said. “I’m not happy with that.”

A nationwide protest is planned for July Fourth. Gill said she plans to keep in touch with other participants, and discuss ways to effect change, from becoming watchdogs of Washington to voting together. “I think what the tea parties will do is make people realize that this is not what the American people want, and nobody is behind it except for the very small few who are going to benefit from it,” she said. “Let’s get back to the American dream. You reap the benefits of working hard, and no more handouts.”

* This story originally appeared in the Long Beach Herald in 2009.