The tea party has something in common with fine wine: it gets better with age. This year’s 9/12 rally came replete with the types of moveable signs that were clearly crafted with care and the types of activists who are quick on their feet with chants and chatter. It was all sponsored in large part by FreedomWorks, a non-profit organization that fights for limited government, and serves as a central force for a strictly volunteer tea-party army.
“There is only one power on this earth big enough to destroy this country,” said FreedomWorks chairman and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, during the Capitol rally. “That is government. Our founding fathers knew that and feared that. That’s why they wrote the Constitution.”
The turnout at Sunday’s 9/12 march was smaller than the number of people who had attended last year’s blockbuster 9/12 rally, possibly due to the fact that Glenn Beck had sucked up the energy of some tea partiers at his 8/28 “Restoring Honor” rally two weeks ago. Also affecting turnout was the weather: a steady drizzle dampened the event from the start of the day until about an hour before it ended. Considering those two factors, the turnout was indeed impressive, according to Freedomworks president Matt Kibbe.
“Is there anyone here who is going to let the rain dampen their plans to take their country back? Is there anyone here who is going to let the rain dampen their plans to remember in November?” he asked. The questions were met with a resounding “no” from the crowd.
The 9/12 march began at the Washington Monument, with a non-denominational religious service starting at 10am, and then a line-up of speakers from local activists groups. Then, the attendees swarmed down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Hill and set up camp in front of Congress, where they stayed until 5pm.
The kitsch factor was high. A sign-making event put on by FreedomWorks on Saturday resulted in the kind of elaborate displays that have come to symbolize the creativity and energy of tea party activists, including 3-d representations of tar and feathers, and a sign that featured President Obama's moveable mouth.
The march was also highly politicized, with a theme of “Remember November,” in reference to the upcoming mid-term elections. Most speakers stuck to that theme on podiums in front of the Capitol and the Washington Monument, and the crowd seemed to have it on repeat. Armey referenced the importance of the elections by pointing to the many primary elections that the tea party has influenced, such as Joe Miller in Alaska.
Mike Pence, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, was a keynote speaker at the Capitol, and was met with chants from the crowd: “Sign the contract!” The crowd was ostensibly referring to the GOP's "Young Guns" platform, put out by Reps. Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy, who consider themselves the vanguards of constitutional conservatism. Pence has reportedly been “shut out” of the contract, which is set to be released in bookstores on Tuesday.
Despite the hullaballoo, Pence hit hard with an small-government, anti-incumbency message. He himself is a third-term incumbent, but has worked hard at maintaining an outsider image.
“We do not consent to runaway federal spending by either party. We demand an end to the spending once and for all,” said Pence. “We must fight for what has always been the source of American greatness: God and freedom.”
Many of the attendees said similar things to the speakers that manned the podiums.
“The government is heading in the wrong direction, since President Obama we’ve gone much further into debt, and our spending is out of control,” said Joe McKeney, from Farmville, North Carolina. “I believe it has to do with the liberal attitude in Congress. We need to get back to a smaller government, with fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget.”
Another attendee, a father of six children and grandfather of nine, said he came for his family.
“I’m sick and tired of the way the government has been running.... The government is supposed to be for the people, and instead, its all politicians doing whatever they damn well please. And it just isn’t right,” he said.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people that are like me, that are conservative, that want less government, that are just peaceful, passive people, that have allowed the Dems and liberals, Member by Member to eat away at our liberties, our freedoms,” he said. “The constitution is not a flexible document. It was never intended to be interpreted as a work in progress or a flexible document.”