Tea Party on the River

WHEELING – The $787 billion bank bailout. The $3.6 trillion budget. The auto bailouts. AIG bonuses.

All these issues – along with what many believe is a now unresponsive federal government – came to a head Wednesday as protesters nationwide gathered to demand government accountability.

In Wheeling, nearly 2,000 residents turned out at the city’s Heritage Port for the “Tax Day Tea Party,” one of more than 2,000 such events that took place nationwide.

Attendees at the local event symbolically dumped tea bags into a trash can. It was a local version of the Boston Tea Party, organized in many cities by a loose coalition of political groups.

“But the question is no longer how long we will have to pay for tea, but for billions of dollars of pork,” said Dave Soltis of Moundsville.

He spoke of government leaders he believes are unresponsive to those they represent.

“They feel like they can play God and run a company when none of them has had to make a payroll,” he added.

It was expected that between 1,500 to 2,000 people would attend the event, and despite a light rain it appears that mark was reached.

Those turning out were quick to answer with a strong voice when asked why they were there.

“The Constitution – I’m protecting my Constitution,” said Linda Timberlake of Wheeling, huddling under an umbrella. “This administration is trying to destroy it.”

Ron Clark of Triadelphia noted he was “outraged about the bailout,” which occurred during the final months of the Bush Administration.

“They’re spending the money that belongs to our grandkids,” he said of Congress. “And I think our representatives in government don’t listen to us.

“This protest probably won’t go anywhere, but we have to do something. It seems you can’t vote them out.”

Krujetta Clark, who accompanied Roy Clark, also expressed her concerns.

“We’re so far away from the Constitution,” she said. “We have to return this country to what it should be and take a stand.”

Many in attendance made note of what they termed “irresponsible spending” by the federal government, and they believed many of their elected officials don’t read the spending bills of which they vote in favor.

This was the case in particular with the $787 billion bank bailout, as members of Congress admitted after its passage that they had not read the bill.

“Some have asked, ‘Why the tea parties?'” said event organizer Mike Camden of Wheeling. “I can’t speak for everyone, because there are (more than) 2,000 of these happening across the nation. But over the last several years, I became concerned as government became more expansive and began spending more.”

He said he wrote his federal representatives, but received no response.

“I thought, ‘These people work for me,'” Camden continued. “Even if they just say, ‘I don’t agree with you,’ they owe us a response.”

He said it was among the goals of the local tea party that U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan and U.S. senators Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, all D-W.Va., “collectively listen to us.”

Some in the crowd added, “and Charlie Wilson, too,” referring to the Democratic congressman who represents the district on the Ohio side of the river.

Teenager George M. Kellas III of Wheeling made reference to a book written by his late father, George M. Kellas II – “America Sees This Book” – when he spoke of money the U.S. is giving to foreign countries as its own national debt increases.

Kellas noted the $50 billion given to the country of Georgia in its battle against Russia, and how this in itself would cost each American $150.

“I want to be part of a country that wants to help us – not rob us,” Kellas said.

College student Matthew Cummins of Wheeling called for business tax freedom in the U.S., proclaiming, “Liberty is the only stimulus we need.”

“There are no incentives for achieving,” he told the crowd. “We’re being punished for being innovative.”

Wheeling business owner Don Meredith spoke of “the decline of values in society, fiscal irresponsibility in government, an overextended military, and government’s failure to protect our borders” against illegal immigration.

He urged those present to “teach their children responsible spending, register to vote, engage elected officials about their thoughts, to vote for responsible candidates and hold them accountable.”

Donna Crawford, a grandmother from Moundsville, said she is rethinking about retiring and collecting Social Security as she is uncertain about the future and how much she will be taxed.

“I think government thinks we’re a Robin Hood society where you rob the rich to feed the poor,” she said. “But who are the rich? The government thinks we are.”