OLYMPIA — Thousands of smaller-government activists flocked to rallies around the state Thursday as part of national tax-day protests united under the banner of the tea party movement.
One of the state’s largest rallies was held at the Capitol in Olympia, where people packed the sandstone steps to listen to speeches from talk-radio hosts, conservative think-tank organizers and citizen campaigners.
The State Patrol estimated the noontime crowd in Olympia at about 3,000. Other rallies were scheduled across the state, including an evening event in Seattle.
Republican candidates and conservative ballot-measure promoters prowled the sign-carrying, flag-waving crowd in search of support. Among them was anti-tax activist Tim Eyman, who collected petition signatures for Initiative 1053, which would make it more difficult for state legislators to raise taxes.
Organizers tried to harness the tea party’s anti-incumbent, anti-establishment mood by repeatedly asking rally participants to support conservative candidates and causes this November and through the 2012 presidential election cycle.
“You’re going to have to give your time, your sweat and your treasure,” said Kirby Wilbur, a former talk-radio host and current state director of the conservative group Americans For Prosperity.
Most protest signs called for less government and lower taxes, with a few labeling President Barack Obama as a Muslim or Communist revolutionary. While the crowd offered lusty boos at the mention of any Democratic politician, they also showed disdain for the entire political party system.
Retired teacher and trade-school recruiter John Redman, 63, of Olympia, carried a homemade sign that read “Fire the Progressives, Dems and RINOs” — an acronym for Republican in Name Only, a slam at centrist Republicans.
Redman said he’d never before attended any sort of political rally, but the tea party movement’s focus on smaller government, lower taxes and more personal freedom caught his attention.
“I think there’s just a groundswell of people like myself that are not necessarily that political,” Redman said. “But I’m kind of afraid for our country right now, the direction that it’s going.”
Vic Meyers, 59, of Kent, wore a colonial-period costume — complete with tri-corner hat — that he usually dons for Revolutionary War reenactments.
“People have just gotten used to having things taken care of for them, and we’ve moved away from entrepreneurship and a sense of independence,” Meyers said.
Democrats, who control most of the political power in Washington, didn’t leave the tax day talk solely to conservatives. In a statement, the state Democratic Party praised Obama and Congress for approving tax benefits in the federal stimulus bill, formally called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“The Recovery Act authorizes almost $300 billion in tax benefits, which will help middle-class families make ends meet and revitalize the American economy,” state Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz said. “As a result of the heavy lifting by the President and Democrats in Congress, families are receiving record tax refunds.”