Tens of thousands of people turned out at so-called tea parties across the United States Wednesday, the deadline for filing federal tax returns. The name for the events refers to the 1773 dumping of tea into Boston harbor by American colonists protesting British taxes imposed on them. The focus of Wednesday's tea parties was not as clearly defined, but more of an outcry against big government.
Judging by the signs displayed at the Houston tea party, the protest was either about the government stimulus bill or the $1 trillion budget or gun-control legislation or immigration or anger at the government in general. There were dozens of signs directed at President Obama, but the Democrat-controlled Congress was also a target of many.
Tea parties heavily promoted
The nationwide tea parties were heavily promoted by conservative talk radio programs, the Fox News Television Network and some conservative organizations, but participants said they came to express their personal frustrations with what they regard as an expansion of government power in recent years.
Susan Fontaine was one of them.
"[It is the] first protest ever in my life and we are tired of the federal government's intervention," she said. "We are tired of them trying to tell us how to run our lives and we are tired of the taxes going up."
Fontaine says she is not partisan, having voted for both Democrat and Republican candidates in past elections. A similar view was expressed by a protester named Monty, who wore a tee-shirt that proclaimed, I love my Bible and my gun.
"All our freedoms are being taken away, all our liberties are being taken from us," he said.
Monty said he is upset with both parties, noting that the Bush administration increased the national debt and promoted the first massive bailout bill last year, months before Mr. Obama took office.
Organizer addresses criticism
Houston Tea Party organizer Felicia Cravens, a Republican, says the event is not a partisan affair and that some party officials initially frowned on her involvement in it. She also says stories of the tea parties having been given massive funding by conservative organizations are exaggerated.
"A lot of people are saying that we are being sponsored by corporate lobbyists," she said. "I went into debt to get this event done and I have recruited people from the Libertarian end of the spectrum to the Republican end and we have Democrats on our team as well."
Republicans are most vocal
But Republican politicians have been among the most vocal supporters of the tea parties. The Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, spoke at two tea parties Wednesday, railing against what he called excessive federal spending.
He is among a handful of Republican governors who has turned down money from the federal stimulus package because he says requirements attached to the money would end up costing the state more than what it would receive.
Many conservatives in Texas have expressed dissatisfaction with the governor over the past couple of years and he is facing a strong re-election challenge next year from fellow Republican and US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.