‘Tea party' protesters descend on state Capitol
By Jim Tharpe
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
9:18 p.m. Thursday, April 15, 2010
Georgians angry about high taxes, soaring budget deficits and the federal health care overhaul descended on the state Capitol on Thursday for a tea party that was half conservative pep rally and half a warning to Washington.
“We are going to save this county,” Ginni Thomas, chairwoman of Liberty Central and wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told 3,000 sign-waving people. “We have got to stop this. This is not a game.”
Thomas lambasted runaway government spending and so-called cradle-to-grave entitlements, which many in the tea party movement believe are undermining the future of the nation. She received one of the strongest receptions during the three-hour rally when she led the crowd in a rousing cheer.
“We’ll remember! In November!” the crowd shouted back at Thomas’ urging. It was a theme emphasized by the dozen or more speakers who vowed to take down incumbents in the upcoming elections.
Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said members of the tea party movement have been unfairly demonized by their political adversaries and the mainstream media.
“You are what’s right with America,” Reed said. “We will not be intimidated. We will not be silenced. We will not go away.”
Reed predicted in the upcoming November elections “the whole world will hear the message we deliver.”
A few politicians attended the event, including state Sen. Preston Smith (R-Rome), who recently was ousted from his committee chairmanship after he refused to back a hospital tax that Republican leaders said was needed to balance the state budget.
“This building and the Capitol in Washington, D.C., do not belong to the politicians and bureaucrats,” Smith said as he pointed to the gold dome. “They belong to the people.”
He went on to urge the crowd: “Don’t back down. Don’t let your patriotic voice be silenced.”
The downtown Atlanta rally was one of about 20 rallies scheduled in cities across the state, from Jasper to Valdosta. It was one of hundreds across the nation on “tax day,” when federal income taxes were due.
Loralee Maxwell and her husband, Roy, of Dacula showed up four hours before the 6 p.m. rally. She wanted a front-row seat and parked her wheelchair in front of Fox TV newscaster Neil Cavuto’s broadcast platform at 2 p.m., four hours before the formal rally began.
“I really don’t like the direction the government is headed,” Maxwell said. “We are moving toward a socialist state. I think more responsibility should be placed on the individual.”
Cavuto, who was greeted as a media hero, went with the rally live on TV and even scored a surprise interview with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a Democrat on the other end of the political spectrum from most of those running and attending the rally.
"We can have a robust debate in Atlanta," Reed said. "I welcome their arguments, but I have my positions, as well."
Hand-made signs were held aloft by many in the crowd. Some read: “Government Gone Wild,” “Stop Spending Their Future” and “A Revolution is Brewing.” One man carried a likeness of President Barack Obama in a Soviet-era uniform. One elderly man sat in his wheelchair holding a sign that read: “WWII Vet, My Generation Won Freedom, Don’t Give It Away."
There was a carnival-like atmosphere early on. An Elvis impersonator entertained the pre-rally crowd during the afternoon as TV and police helicopters buzzed overhead. Men dressed in Colonial America attire wandered through the gathering. Conservative radio personality and former U.S. Senate candidate Herman Cain, one of the few African-Americans at the rally, was greeted like a rock star with chants of "Herman! Herman! Herman!"
In Marietta, tea party attendees rallied in a parking lot across from the Big Chicken landmark before 200 of them boarded four charter buses to travel to the big event in Atlanta.
Speakers stood on the back of a pickup truck parked in the shade. Many in the crowd said they had attended several rallies before and came prepared. Sandy Strickland of Austell carried several hand-made posters.
“I’ve had a good life,” Strickland said. “I want the same opportunity for my children and grandchildren, and I don’t see that now.”
Martha Daughtry of Acworth dressed all in black because she was, as her own sign said, “Mourning Freedom.”
“I believe the government has overreached and overspent and is over arrogant,” she said. “There just has to be a stop. This is one small thing I can do.”
Ed Christie, 65, of Kennesaw waved a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. He joined other veterans who were asked to come to the front of the crowd. Men cheered when a song from their branch of the military played.
“I just had heart surgery so I can’t go downtown,” Christie said. “I believe in the cause. The cause is right. The cause is the people.”
Staff writers Ralph Ellis and Ernie Suggs contributed to this story.
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