Politics, patriotism mix at Luther Burbank
By ELIZABETH CELMS
Mercer Island Reporter Contributor
July 8, 2009 · Updated 4:34 PM
Over 100 people gathered at the Luther Burbank amphitheater last Saturday for an outdoor “Tea Party and Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration.” The patriotic event, organized by a Bellevue-based group called Conservative Enthusiasts, was reportedly one of among more than 1,000 across the country during the holiday weekend.
Group founder and Bellevue resident Mark Sussman said the gathering was intended to both celebrate the national holiday and engage in a discussion of ideas that most conservatives believe in. He declined to characterize the Fourth of July gathering as a protest, preferring activities suitable “for the entire family.”
“I certainly think it’s OK to recall on our country’s birthday the [U.S.] Constitution,” he said. “There ought to be a serious side to the celebration.”
Sussman said he applied for a permit to meet at Luther Burbank Park because of its central location and natural beauty. The event took place from noon until 3 p.m. and included games and contests, patriotic singing and children’s activities. The festival was anchored by a list of political speakers, including State Republican Party Chair Luke Esser, State Attorney General Rob McKenna and Canadian Tsimshian tribe member Calvin Helin.
The “Tea Party” idea came from the historical Boston Tea Party of 1773, a protest against England levying taxes against the American colonists. The British government’s tax on tea became the focus of citizen discontent.
This year, conservatives seized on the historic narrative to protest federal tax and spending policies. Others voiced their disappointment with President Barack Obama and his administration.
“I think the Obama administration is resisting liberty, raising taxes and harming the American people. We have to protest Obama’s agenda,” said speaker Steve Beren, a self-proclaimed “conservative activist” who has run for congress in Seattle.
The audience watching Beren speak from the Luther Burbank amphitheater buoyed his statements with hearty cheers and waving flags.
Most of the crowd were non-Island residents and Conservative Enthusiast members, although a number of curious Island passerby, sharing the park on the Fourth of July holiday, stopped to watch the event from a distance.
Bellevue City Councilmember Conrad Lee said he was surprised not to see Mercer Island Councilmembers at the event. Lee was not shy to share his political inspiration for attending the Tea Party.
“This is a great event to remind us that we need to be responsible in spending our own money and not raising taxes when the economy is bad,” he said.
The Tea Party, which ran from noon to 3 p.m., was open to the general public. Sussman and Conservative Enthusiasts put on a similar protest earlier this year that drew hundreds to downtown Bellevue in April.