Citizens protest stimulus package, bailout plan

A crowd of 300 gathered in West Side Park in Champaign on Wednesday to participate in a nationwide “Tax Day Tea Party,” meant to protest President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and bailout plan.

The event was one of hundreds of protests across the country that voiced opposition to Obama’s fiscal policy and the expansion of government power.

Participants at the Champaign event came from across Illinois.

The event invoked the spirit of the Boston Tea Party and Revolution-era patriotism. Many in the crowd wore American clothing and carried signs decrying a “socialist” redistribution of wealth.

Organizers played country music during breaks, and speakers shared anecdotes and quotes from American leaders emphasizing the importance of hard work and personal achievement.

One of the speakers, Randy Stufflebeam, is a member of the Constitution Party who plans to run for governor. Stufflebeam called the protest the first step toward “taking back our country,” adding that the government is becoming a domestic enemy almost as dangerous as foreign ones.

“Our states need to start declaring our sovereignty,” he said, pointing to the 16th and 17th Amendments as the greatest detriments to the U.S. Constitution.

He said the amendments, which respectively allow the Congress to levy income taxes on its citizens and require senators to be popularly elected, need to be repealed to restore the Constitution.

There was also strong criticism of President Obama. Neil Marshall, a resident of Bethany, Ill., referred to several controversial moments in Obama’s presidency, including his bow to Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, which the administration denies happened, and his support of immigration reform.

While some crowd members cheered Marshall’s criticism, Kevin Waite, Urbana resident and co-organizer of the protest, said taking political sides was not necessarily a point of the rally.

“We are not anti-Obama,” Waite said. “However, we do call on President Obama to rescind these bills by executive order.”

Waite said the protesters’ primary concern is that members of Congress did not have time to properly review spending bills. He also criticized “pork” in the bills.

Jim Davis, a resident of Heyworth, Ill., said that President Obama had rushed his economic policies, perhaps because of fear of the economic crisis.

But not everyone supported the “tea party.”

There were several small counter-protests across the country, including one that drew about a dozen people at Fountain Square in Cincinnati, Ohio. A counter-protester held a sign that read, “Where were you when Bush was spending billions a month ‘liberating’ Iraq?” The anti-tax demonstration there, meanwhile, drew about 4,000 people.

Shelley Masr, an Urbana resident, called out to the crowd that these taxes were necessary for benefits such as education, police, firefighters and public parks.

“Saying ‘we don’t want taxes’ is ignorant,” Masr said. “I think this country needs to think through and discuss our tax policy.”

While some attendees engaged Masr in debate, one man stood in her face and screamed obscenities.

William P. Gorrell, a resident of Bement Township, said that previous administrations’ tax policies had caused an upward redistribution of wealth, which affected most of the participants without their knowledge.

“I do have sympathy with these people. The bailout should have been given to the people,” Gorrell said. “There are a lot of things the left and right could come together on.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report