- Associated Press - Sunday, September 12, 2010

SACRAMENTO, Calif. | “Tea party” activists gathered in cities on both coasts and in between Sunday to spread their message of smaller government and focus their political movement on the pivotal congressional elections in November.

Several thousand people marched along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Washington Monument to the Capitol, many carrying signs reading “Congress You’re Fired,” “Let Failures Fail” and “Impeach Obama.”

“It wouldn’t bother me to make a clean sweep,” said Michael Power of Decatur, Ala., endorsing term limits for members of Congress. “There are some good ones, but we can lose those.”

In Sacramento, thousands of people poured into the former McClellan Air Force Base site; organizers of the “United to the Finish” rally expected between 25,000 and 50,000 people to attend.

Leslie and Gary Morrison of Redding drove 150 miles south to Sacramento with their dog Phoebe, just two weeks after flying to Washington to attend a large rally hosted by conservative commentator Glenn Beck. They said they liked the feeling of solidarity at tea party events.

“This is a way to get people focused before the election,” Leslie Morrison said. “And it’s a way to get the tea party’s true numbers seen.”

Many attending the Washington, Sacramento and St. Louis rallies wore red, white and blue clothing and carried yellow flags with the picture of a snake coiled above the inscription “Don’t Tread On Me.”

At one point, sign-bearing demonstrators in downtown Washington were passed by a presidential motorcade as Mr. Obama was returning from a Sunday pick-up basketball game.

Organizers say the events were intended to call attention to what they describe as big government run amok and to recall the sense of national unity Americans felt the day after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The rallies also represent an opportunity to build momentum before the November election. The tea party is counting on its members to turn out in large numbers and prove that the movement is a political force with staying power. Already the movement has proved itself a force in a slew of GOP primary battles around the country this summer.

“We’ve lost respect in the world. We are going broke. The American dream is dying and our social and cultural fabric is unraveling,” said Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, who spoke at the Washington rally. “People are scared. If we do not succeed in November, all that once was good and great about this country could someday be gone.”

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, whose nonprofit, conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks helped organize the Washington rally, said the tea partiers have shaken up the Republican Party and gotten attention from lawmakers.

“Now we’re going to the general election, and it’s time we gave the same lessons to the other party,” he told the crowd.

Tea Party Patriots claims to be the nation’s largest tea party group, with 2,700 chapters, including at least 175 in California.

Party activists reject characterizations of their movement as an extension of the GOP, but the vast majority of its members are Republicans and independents who vote Republican.

Story Continues →