Tea Partiers Flood Streets All Around America
WASHINGTON - Backers of the "Tea Party" movement marked Tax Day on Thursday by descending on the nation's capital for demonstrations and seminars in which political pragmatism vied with boiling anger against President Barack Obama.
"He's a socialist," said Terry Oldham, a plumber from Rockville, Md. Oldham said "taxes upon taxes" drove him to join a midday rally.
In meetings before and after different rallies, veteran political strategists tried to channel the movement's energy from street theater to boiler-room organizing. The Tea Party movement, which is strongly against taxes and big government, has no national leader and is not aligned with either major party.
"We are laying the groundwork for a 2010 victory," Mark Williams of the Tea Party Express told a group of activists at the National Press Club. Sal Russo, a former aide to President Reagan, urged the Tea Party adherents to set realistic goals.
"We'd love to beat Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco, but she's too strong," Russo said of the House speaker, a Democrat. "We try to keep our focus on the doable."
A few blocks away, in the amphitheater of the government building named for Reagan, members of the Tea Party Patriots got practical advice about how to get the best news coverage for their rallies and how to lobby members of Congress. "Do I have to tell you to mind your manners?" said former House majority leader Dick Armey of Texas.
Daryn Iwicki of the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based organization that trains conservative leaders, delivered blunt advice on the need for image improvement. "The way the media looks at us is a bunch of old white folks saying crazy things," he said.
Other speakers stoked anger.
"We're on to this gangster government," Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told the cheering crowd at the lunchtime rally where the Tea Party Express closed out a 47-city bus tour. "We need to take out some of these guys."
Several thousand people attended an evening rally near the Washington Monument. Earlier in the day, the Associated Press estimated several thousand also rallied at Freedom Plaza, a few blocks from the White House. Anti-government fervor was spirited and on display at both.
Yellow flags bearing the slogan, "Don't tread on me," were flying high. "Impeach Obama" posters and T-shirts were spotted. One poster depicted the president as a vampire about to sink bloody fangs into the neck of a prostrate Statue of Liberty. "I fought in Vietnam to stop Communism and now I have one in the White House," another sign read.
Inside meeting rooms, activists listened to lessons in political organizing. Target lists of candidates designated for support or opposition were passed out by leaders of the Tea Party Express and FreedomWorks, a Washington-based organization that Armey heads. They discussed ways to translate fervor into action.
Among the candidates getting Tea Party support: Sharron Angle, a Republican seeking her party's nomination to run against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "I feel a little lonely today. I usually bring Smith&Wesson along," said Angle, jabbing at the District of Columbia's gun control laws.
Participants vowed to volunteer in this fall's campaigns. "I have never been active before in my life, but this president has galvanized me," said Bob Boyd, 58. The telecommunications worker from North Brunswick, N.J., said he plans to donate time and money to defeat his congressman, Democrat Rush Holt.
Mary Nail of Cocoa Beach, Fla., said she had "gone grandma" for five years after serving on the local City Council and as an aide to former representative Dave Weldon, R-Fla. "But all of this happening has brought me back out," Nail said. "I'm very afraid of higher taxes and not being able to survive in this country."
Thousands turned out for other Tea Party events in Kentucky, Texas, Wisconsin and elsewhere across the nation.
At an Austin rally, the Associated Pres reported, Jim Dillon walked through the crowd carrying an AK-47 that he said was unloaded and legal. A state trooper stopped Dillon, examined the weapon and let him continue walking with it.