“George Washington” was there, decked out in revolutionary garb and waving a stylized liberty tree flag with the motto “Appeal to Heaven.”
As some Americans scrambled to finish their IRS forms by the midnight tax day deadline, conservative tea party activists streamed into Washington – and to rallies around the country – to protest Obama administration policies, rising government spending, and what they see as threats to fundamental freedoms. In the nation’s capital, the main show will be Thursday night, when protesters gather at the Washington Monument for a long-planned Tax Day protest.
But earlier in the day, several thousand people gathered on Freedom Plaza along Pennsylvania Avenue, positioned part-way between the White House and the Capitol, for a celebration of free speech and protest. The mood was almost joyful on this sunny, summery day, as participants debated and discussed the issues of the day with each other, the media, and left-wing counter-demonstrators.
A sampling of the signs
“Reelected? You must be smoking Reid,” said another, referring to the Democratic Senate leader, who faces a tough reelection battle.
One sign advertised www.GOOOH.com, pronounced “Go,” for Get Out of Our House. “It is time to clean out Congress!” it announced.
“Stop the spending” signs were common. So were the mass-produced yellow “Don’t Tread on Me Flags” with the coiled snake, a symbol of American independence.
John Wagner, an environmental engineer from suburban Detroit, came out with his wife to “send a message to Congress,” he said. He’s also here for the “group encouragement” with other tea partyers and to encourage like-minded people to run for Congress.
Mr. Wagner is unwilling to use the correct name for his member of Congress – Rep. John Dingell (D), the longest-serving member, at 27 terms – and blasts him for, in his view, voting against the wishes of his constituents on health-care reform.
“Members of the House do not have the right, under the Constitution, to vote on their own views or on their party’s views,” he says. “That’s tyranny. That’s what our ancestors fled.”
Wagner doesn’t know who he will support in November. “Maybe I’ll vote for the Republican, depending on who it is, or the Libertarian or someone else,” he says. “But I do know I’ll go door to door in my district against [Mr. Dingell].”
Dan Egtvedt, a pharmaceutical rep from northern Virginia wearing a “Take Back America 2010” T-shirt, says he was at the tea party protests on Capitol Hill last month on the eve of health-care reform’s passage, and is clearly still irked by the bad press the opponents of reform got. “The claims against the tea party are false,” he says. “There was no spitting or racism.”
Others at Thursday’s rally were leery of the media, too.
“During the last administration,” said Tom Miller, a retired steel worker from New Philadelphia, Ohio, “six people from Code Pink would show up at something, and they’d be all over CNN and MSNBC. I was here for the 9/12 protest last September, and the only one who covered it was Fox.”
Miller denied that he’s a “birther,” a subset of conservatives who believe President Obama was actually born in Kenya and is not the legitimate president. But, he added, “I would like to see his birth certificate.”