Thousands of Northwest residents upset with the government flocked to parks, stood along streets or stormed the state Capitol in Olympia on Wednesday for “tea parties” without cups or saucers, or the need to gracefully extend one’s pinky finger.
They packed the breezeway of Spokane’s INB Performing Arts Center, where chants of “USA” and “End the Fed” reverberated off the glass walls.
They filled Coeur d’Alene’s Independence Point and cheered as students from North Idaho College staged a re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party of 1773, paddling out to a 90-foot houseboat where they pulled down a British Union Jack, hoisted a historic American Gadsden flag bearing a coiled rattlesnake and “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan, and tossed fake tea crates into the lake.
In Olympia, they arrived without torches – but some had pitchforks.
Tea party protests were staged all over the country, scheduled on a symbolic day: the deadline to file federal income taxes. They were promoted by FreedomWorks, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington and led by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, the Associated Press reported. Organizers said the movement developed through online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and through exposure on Fox News.
In the Inland Northwest, speakers cited their rights under the Constitution to “peaceably assemble to petition the government for redress of grievances.” The list of grievances was long and varied.
Many were angry about government spending, particularly the money being used in an attempt to stimulate the economy.
“We cannot borrow and spend our way into prosperity,” U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., told a crowd estimated at 2,000 to 3,000 that spilled out of the breezeway and onto the steps above the Spokane River. Dozens more people lined the sidewalk along Spokane Falls Boulevard.
Kevin Wolter, a radio talk show host, told the crowd in Spokane he was “tired of special favors to mega-corporations and big banks.”
Rob Chase, a former Libertarian Party candidate for Congress who campaigned last year for Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul, said the federal government is on the brink of losing its legitimacy. “Love of one’s country is not blind obedience to the state,” he said.
But the protests weren’t strictly about government spending.
Denise Graves, a Hayden Lake nurse, told the crowd in Coeur d’Alene she was worried about a government takeover of the health care system. The government should help out by subsidizing some clinics and treatment for some people, but the system should remain private, she said.
“Democratic capitalism produces the most stuff for the most people,” Graves said.
Speakers questioned the Federal Reserve’s right to print money, the federal government’s right to fight undeclared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and any government’s attempt to infringe on the right to bear arms. Signs demanded that the United States get out of the United Nations and that federal government stay away from piggy banks and wallets.
“Fight Fascism,” said one sign in Spokane. “Down with Socialism,” said another. “Tax the Millionaires,” said a third.
The rallies were touted as nonpartisan, but they attracted Republicans hoping to regain political momentum after last year’s election.
“All you have to be is a mildly awake Republican candidate for office to get in front of that parade,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, told the Associated Press.
Coeur d’Alene organizers said they purposely did not invite any politicians or office holders. But there and in Spokane, President Barack Obama and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats, were lampooned on signs, and mention of their names sometimes elicited boos.
In Spokane, speaker after speaker blasted state and local governments as free spending.
“We’re here to remind lawmakers that they work for us,” said Lynn Harsh, with the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, which organized the Olympia rally.
“Governor, if you’re home, we cannot survive this debt,” said conservative radio talk show host Kirby Wilbur.
Many criticized the Obama administration and the federal stimulus spending.
“They want us to hold our noses and take a little socialism, like a child taking a bitter pill,” said state Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake. But she said a little socialism is like being a little bit pregnant: “Sooner of later, you’re going to give birth to a full-blown Marxist.”