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Cherish those who have the courage to speak out

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By Richard Eckstrom

 

Something special happened on April 15: Tens of thousands of South Carolinians from all walks of life assembled for “TEA parties” at dozens of locations across the state. Their rallies, of course, came on a day many people have come to dread – Tax Day.

From the Lowcountry to the Upstate, ordinary citizens gathered at modern versions of the Boston Tea Party. They met not only to voice disapproval of the gigantic “stimulus” bill hurriedly passed by Congress, but also to appeal for a new direction for America – in particular, to change our leaders’ indifference to how they spend our hard-earned tax dollars.

I was particularly struck not by the size of the crowds at these rallies, but by the diversity. Those attending the rally on the steps of the State Capitol appeared to represent a cross-section of our state – young and old, blue-collar and white-collar, folks of all races and backgrounds.

As I surveyed the crowd, I thought about how fortunate we are to live in a land where such a gathering is possible, and how we owe deep gratitude to those who fought for the freedom to assemble that we often take for granted. Many who attended had served in the military to guarantee this freedom. Yet others could not attend, because they had paid the ultimate price for this freedom we enjoy as Americans.

Of course, not everyone shares my positive view of these rallies. Many in the media have cynically dismissed them as “tax protests,” and members of one major political party have stooped to ridiculing and belittling those who attended. The president himself told a newspaper reporter that taxes were being “used as a wedge” to scare people.

With all due respect, Mr. President, taxes are not a “wedge” being used to scare people. It is heavy taxes that scare people, and it’s a disservice to everyone to try to marginalize people simply for expressing their growing concerns over their heavy tax burden. For many Americans, taxes have become too high and too burdensome. And let’s not fail to mention that tax revenues are increasingly being used for things of little worth to most taxpayers.

I’d argue that citizens who take the time to gather and deliberate on the future of their state, their nation or their local community should not only be respected, they should be cherished – whether at a tea party to express frustration with the rapid growth of government, or to speak out about a local zoning matter in any community in our state.

Their views should be valued – even when we disagree with them. Unhindered public expression is an American ideal. Those in positions of public trust – from our U.S. congressman down to our local council representative – have a particular obligation to make sure citizens feel they can safely speak their minds, and that their voices will be heard.