Turning the protester stereotype on its head, well-scrubbed, button-down conservative activists turned out at the Capitol on Friday to protest big government and the $700 billion package it produced to rescue the nation’s financial sector.
Signs reading “Big government failed” and “I want a get out of bail free card” were sprinkled throughout the estimated crowd of 800 gathered at the Capitol Reflecting Pool.
“We want real solutions to real problems. We don’t want Band-Aids,” said Russ Hauptman, a Wilmington, N.C., resident and member of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), organizers of the rally.
The Washington-based conservative group was founded in 2004 to oppose high taxes and government spending. Its 280,000 members are proponents of free-market economies, and the group believes poor government policies led to the current economic crisis, said Annie Patnaude, spokeswoman for AFP.
The goal of the rally was to send a message to lawmakers that thousands of Americans want the government to limit its involvement in the economy and allow market forces to work freely, AFP President Tim Phillips said.
Lawmakers intend to “use the economic problems to push for the biggest expansion of government in decades,” Mr. Phillips told protesters Friday.
He vowed, to cheers, that his organization would not allow the growing financial crisis to be blamed on the greatest economic system in the world.
Loud applause came from the more than 200 North Carolina residents in attendance. “Free markets work,” said Dallas Woodhouse, North Carolina state director for AFP. “They work all the time and they work every time.”
Mr. Woodhouse and Mr. Phillips agreed that Republicans and Democrats shared blame for government interference in the economy. Mr. Phillips told the crowd that many fiscal liberals mean well but their laws have unintended consequences.
Mr. Woodhouse said he hoped the rally would show Congress that many people from the heartland of America want less government involvement in their lives.
“You’re accountable to me,” was Mr. Hauptman’s message to Congress.
One thing the AFP does not want to see when a new administration takes office is a new New Deal, which would do more harm than good, Phoenix resident Tom Jenney said.
“Government has created a giant mess,” he charged, adding that more government is not the solution.
Michigan resident Lana Theis, who joined AFP last year, said she has always advocated fiscal responsibility in government and was excited to discover an organization that shared her beliefs.
“I’m here to support the cause,” she said.
Friday’s rally ushered in the second AFP summit on Defending the American Dream, a two-day event that includes speakers, workshops and panel discussions designed to give the 1,800 registered attendees the tools they need to spread the message of fiscal conservatism in their home states, Ms. Patnaude said. The summit ends Saturday at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington.
AFP had been planning the summit for more than six months and always intended to hold a rally, though the subject was not decided until recent actions by the government put defense of the free market at the forefront, Ms. Patnaude said.