AUSTIN – Inspired by a rant from financial pundit Rick Santelli, a movement sprang up to hold tea parties around the nation to object excessive spending and taxation. Santelli has since been left far behind and many others have climbed on the bandwagon, but the tea party movement carried on and today it exploded in tea parties in cities and small towns around the nation, protesting bailouts, stimulus spending and the growing deficit.
In Austin 1500 people attended a noon rally to hear speeches from local activists and politicians, including anti-tax advocate Michael Quinn Sullivan, Mike Voorhees from the Travis County chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus, Railroad Commission Chairman Michael Williams and Texas Governor Rick Perry. The crowd was young and enthusiastic and diverse, with Republicans and libertarians and independents all there to express their opposition to bailouts and stimulus spending and their desire for governmental reform. A second, larger rally was scheduled for after work with a reported turnout of over 5000.
Many different groups were represented, including Ron Paul's non-partisan Campaign for Liberty, the Texas Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, anti-toll-road activists and local issue groups whose interests cross party lines. Major sponsoring groups included FreedomWorks and non-partisan conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. Despite concerns that activists from groups like MoveOn.org and ACORN would attempt to disrupt the event, they were nowhere to be seen and the mood was one of unity and calm determination.
Some in the media looked on the rallies with suspicion as manufactured events from FOX News and the Republican Party, dismissing them as nothing but partisan grandstanding or simple tax protests, but turnout nationwide was much larger and more varied than anticipated and the message at the rallies was focused on broader issues than just taxation. The rally in Lafayette Square in DC was a disappointment, with the star power of the speaker list overwhelmed by the torrential rain. Turnout was much better in other major cities, with thousands turning out in Portland, Olympia, Morganton, Dayton, Cincinnati and almost 2000 other cities around the nation. Over 4000 showed up to hear Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher speak in Lansing in one of the areas hardest hit by the recession and job loss of the past year. Reportedly the largest turnout was in Atlanta where 15,000 showed up to protest.
When asked about the tea parties at a tax day appearance, President Obama reiterated his promises of no tax increases for 95% of taxpayers and tax cuts for the middle class and promised to simplify the tax code. He did not address concerns about stimulus spending or the deficit.