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Tea partiers rally on Boston Common

Caitlin Yoshiko Buysse

Thousands of Tea Partiers descended upon the Boston Common last week, protesting high taxes and big government.

The event marked the final stop in the 20-day, 47-city “Tea Party Express” tour for the conservative grassroots movement that proclaims “Taxed Enough Already!” as its slogan.

Noticeably absent from the gathering were recently-elected Sen. Scott Brown, and former Gov. Mitt Romney.

Ted Tripp, a resident of North Andover who attended the rally, succinctly summarized the grievances of the Tea Party.

“There’s too much spending, they’re too intrusive in our lives, budgets are out of control, taxes are too high, and they’re taking our freedom away every time they pass a bill!” he said.

But it was former Alaska Gov. and unofficial Tea Party leader Sarah Palin that the crowd of an estimated 5,000 people came to see. As the event’s keynote speaker, she hailed Boston, saying, “if anyone knows how to throw a tea party, it’s you!”

She then launched into a fiery speech, criticizing the “Obama-Pelosi-Reid spending spree,” and naming in particular the “three trillion dollar Obama-care scheme that they had rammed through.”

“Now, I’m not calling anyone un-American,” she emphasized. “But the un-intended consequences of these actions, their results are un-American. Is that what Barack Obama meant when he promised the nation that he would fundamentally transform America?

“We’ll keep clinging to our Constitution and our guns and religion,” she exclaimed, “and you can keep the change!”

Paying tribute to the historic Tea Party, Palin’s supporters waved bright yellow flags emblazoned with a coiled rattlesnake atop the slogan, “Don’t Tread on Me”— an image that was popularized during the American Revolutionary War. Some followers dressed in colonial garb, while others forwent historical references and sold “Born Free, Taxed to Death” buttons and “I love Fox News” T-shirts.

Jim Ryans, a candidate for Massachusetts House of Representatives from the 18th Essex District, expressed his enthusiastic support for Palin and the Tea Party. “The people have had enough of the taxation that’s been going on in Beacon Hill, and Sarah Palin represents that, bringing the government back to the people,” he said. “People are really angry, on one hand, but they’re really happy on the other, because they know we can take back our government.”

Linda from Warren shared some of that anger. Upset that the government is “taking away our rights,” she said, “The process when the health care reform bill was passed, it didn’t matter what the process was anymore. It was just whatever Obama and his socialist friends wanted to do. And I think Deval Patrick is the same way.”

But not everyone agreed. When former President Bill Clinton visited Boston in January to stump for Martha Coakley’s senate bid, he harshly criticized the Tea Partiers.

“The right-wing Republicans have appropriated [the Boston Tea Party] on the theory that the Tea Party was a revolt against government. And that is not true,” he said. “What they were against was the abuse of power.”

This sentiment was echoed by Ted Kennedy, a Beacon Hill resident who attended last week’s Tea Party to protest Palin. “To take the name of such a great organization, the people who I consider real patriots, having their image basically stolen by these folks . . . I think it’s an insult to the people of Boston,” he said.

The Boston Tea Party of 1773 was an important episode of colonial resistance that led to the American Revolution. Colonists opposed England’s policy of taxation without representation — not the amount of taxes they had to pay.

Hundreds like Ted Kennedy also flocked to the Boston Common, holding signs with slogans mocking Palin and chiding her followers. One sign, held by a group of young protestors, said, “Representing Fake America”— a dig at Palin’s comment during the 2008 presidential campaign that small towns are the “real” America.

Another sign, staked into the grass, said, “If she only had a brain” next to a picture of Palin.

But Karen Reed from Brookline took a calmer approach to protesting, using the afternoon as an opportunity to meet other Bostonians. Reed simply disagrees with the selfish attitude she sees in Tea Partiers.

“We have to think beyond me, myself and I, and we might be better off!” she said.

A recent CBS/New York Times poll found that 34 percent of Americans — and 64 percent of Tea Partiers — believe  the Obama administration has raised taxes, despite the president’s frequent iterations that 95 percent of working families will receive a tax cut this year.

In fact, under Obama, middle-income Americans are paying federal taxes “at or near historically low levels,” said the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-profit think tank based in Washington, D.C.

One-third of the 2009 Stimulus Package was made up of tax credits. Under the Making Work Pay tax credit, working individuals will receive a $400 tax credit, and couples will receive $800.

This year, a family of four in the middle of the income spectrum will pay only a 4.6 percent income tax, the second lowest rate in 50 years. The lowest tax came in 2008, when another stimulus-related tax cut was in place. Federal taxes are also at or near their lowest rates in decades.

But these figures do not sway Tea Party loyalists. In an interview with NPR last week, Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, said she simply does not believe that taxes have decreased.