"Tea party" activists drawn to Williamsburg and its portrayal of Founding Fathers
Sunday, August 1, 2010
WILLIAMSBURG -- The original Tea Party may have been in Boston, but some modern-day "tea party" activists are finding a powerful narrative this summer at a different historic landmark: Colonial Williamsburg.
Amid the history buffs and parents with young children wandering along the crushed shell paths of Virginia's restored colonial city, some noticeably angrier and more politically minded tourists can often be found.
They stand in the crowd listening closely as the costumed actors relive dramatic moments in the founding of our country. They clap loudly when an actor portraying Patrick Henry delivers his "Give me liberty or give me death" speech. They cheer and hoot when Gen. George Washington surveys the troops behind the original 18th-century courthouse. And they shout out about the tyranny of our current government during scenes depicting the nation's struggle for freedom from Britain.
"General, when is it appropriate to resort to arms to fight for our liberty?" asked a tourist on a recent weekday during "A Conversation with George Washington," a hugely popular dialogue between actor and audience in the shaded backyard of Charlton's Coffeehouse.
Standing on a simple wooden stage before a crowd of about 100, the man portraying Washington replied: "Only when all peaceful remedies have been exhausted. Or if we are forced to do so in our own self-defense."
The tourist, a self-described conservative activist named Ismael Nieves from Elmer, N.J., nodded thoughtfully. Afterward, he said this was his fifth visit to Colonial Williamsburg.
"We live in a very dangerous time," Nieves said. "People are looking for leadership, looking for what to do. They're looking to Washington, Jefferson, Madison."
"I want to get to know our Founding Fathers," he added. "I think we've forgotten them. It's like we've almost erased them from history."
It's a common point of view among tea party activists. They say their unhappiness with Washington reflects how far the federal government has strayed, through taxation and regulation, from the Founders' intentions.
"They all should come here and listen," said Bob Rohrbacher, a retired plumber from Floral Park, N.Y., who opposes President Obama and was inspired to visit Williamsburg while watching Glenn Beck on Fox News. "They've forgotten about America."
Hundreds of visitors gather to listen to the "Revolutionary City" reenactments that take place throughout the day along the historic area's Duke of Gloucester Street.
One day last week, Patrick Henry stood on the south side of the colonial Capitol building and announced that a congress of representatives from all the colonies would begin meeting annually to protect the "united interests of America." The cheers were so enthusiastic that the tourists themselves might have been mistaken for colonists, were it not for the fanny packs and trilling cell phones.