TUPELO – Ann Stokes brought her 10-year-old son, Cameron, to the front lawn of City Hall on Wednesday to witness what the Columbus physician called history.
The Stokeses were joined by more than 800 people in Tupelo who gathered as part of a nationwide protest of what supporters say is runaway and unwarranted government taxing and spending.
The gatherings, pushed primarily by conservatives and modeled after the Boston Tea Party, were called “tea parties,” for Taxed Enough Already. Stokes said she wanted her son to understand what was going on.
“We’re here to support the tea campaign and to tell Congress that Americans can have a say in what we believe is not right,” she said. “It’s history.”
The nationwide rallies were directed at President Barack Obama’s new administration on a symbolic day: the deadline to file income taxes. Protesters even threw what appeared to be a box of tea bags toward the White House, causing a brief lockdown at the compound.
In Northeast Mississippi, about 75 people turned out for a noon rally in Pontotoc. Saltillo’s tea party drew about 40 people to the Food Giant parking lot across from City Hall.
In Jackson, a protest on the Capitol grounds drew about 2,500 people.
Barbara and Jack Ward, originally from Trinity, Texas, heard about the tea party in Tupelo and decided to make the drive from their home in Red Bay, Ala., on Wednesday morning.
“We’re here to protest what’s happening in Washington,” said Barbara Ward. “It’s scary … and it’s enough to make me want to march and protest about it.”
Demonstrators carried signs, waved U.S. flags and clapped and cheered when they heard something they liked.
They also booed heartily when state Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, mentioned Congress’ approval of a stimulus bill in February “that is $1 trillion of your money.”
“Washington has robbed from our future generations,” said Nunnelee, who is considering a race for Congress next year. “In addition to robbing from our grandchildren, Washington also has robbed from our parents and grandparents.”
He received thundering applause when he said Washington’s actions are “an attack on freedom and an assault on our liberty.”
Many in the crowd agreed, including Martha Thomas of Saltillo. She carried a sign that said “Can We Lay Off Congress?” and she brought along her husband, Danny, to Tupelo.
“We’ve never done anything like this,” she said. “But we want to take a stand for what’s going on.”
Grant Sowell of Tupelo, the lead organizer of the Tupelo event, said he was very pleased with the larger-than-expected turnout.
“There’s been a lot of sacrifices by a lot of people to get this together,” he said. “But we’ve been flooded by e-mails from all over, people wondering what they can do.”
Some critics dismiss the idea that the tea parties were a grassroots movement, arguing that conservative organizations and Fox News have helped push the events.
“If they saw the e-mails I got, they’d see that, yes, we there are many conservatives, but I’ve heard from Democrats, independents and Libertarians.
“If doing what we’re doing is extreme, then I call spending trillions of dollars extreme, and sometimes, one extreme calls for extreme action.”
University of Mississippi School of Law students Holly Sawardecker, Isaac Callison and Dave Swank also attended the event. The trio also are members of the Ole Miss Federalist Society, a group of conservative and Libertarians, but said they weren’t attending on behalf of the organization. Rather, they said they are just as alarmed at the level of government spending as everyone else should be.
“I’m getting tired of reading about the big spending and then next to that is an article about our nation’s debt and how Americans can’t afford it,” Sawardecker said.
The tea parties were promoted by FreedomWorks, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington and led by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, who is now a lobbyist.
Organizers said the movement developed organically through online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and through exposure on Fox News.
While FreedomWorks insisted the rallies were nonpartisan, they have been seized on by many prominent Republicans who view them as a promising way for the party to reclaim its momentum.
“All you have to be is a mildly awake Republican candidate for office to get in front of that parade,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
The movement attracted some Republicans considering 2012 presidential bids.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich addressed a tea party in a New York City park Wednesday night. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal sent an e-mail to his supporters, letting them know about tea parties throughout the state. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford planned to attend two tea parties.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Business Editor Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dennis Seid/Daily Journal