- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

The grass-roots “tea party” movement that swept across the country April 15 to protest federal tax and spending hikes will hold demonstrations in Washington and elsewhere this summer and fall when Congress will be battling over President Obama’s biggest budget proposals.

Leaders of the Tax Day rallies that drew an estimated 600,000 people in nearly 600 cities and towns say the seemingly spontaneous local protests have grown into a more muscular movement concerned that the escalating growth and cost of government threatens to undermine economic freedom.

Organizers say rallies are planned here and around the nation on the Fourth of July to tie the movement’s goals to the nation’s founding principles; on Sept. 12, when Congress is expected to be in the midst of debate over Mr. Obama’s plans on health care, energy and global warming; and on Oct. 2, when supporters expect that debate to be continuing.

“There is no central governing body behind this,” said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity and one of the movement’s many informal leaders.

“It’s a genuine grass-roots movement, so I think you will continue to see an array of grass-roots protests giving voice to their concern that they have of losing their freedom, specifically their economic freedom.”

There appears to be no unanimity among the disparate groups around the country about the various rally dates.

“Some will say July 4, or Sept. 12, while others will have a rolling series of events in their localities,” said Mr. Phillips, who has been speaking at numerous gatherings since the tea party protests and has chosen Oct. 2 for his organization’s focus in Washington.

Since the protests made headlines around the country, the thousands of little-known, first-time protesters who organized and promoted the events appeared to have faded back into obscurity. But leaders monitoring these anti-tax-and-spend groups say they actually have been busy organizing themselves through a spurt of new Web sites and local meetings. Many have become involved in local politics.

“In some areas we’ve noticed tea party activists are getting involved in local government in school boards, town councils, and a lot of national Web sites are popping up to organize for another massive tea party day push,” said Adam Bitely, director of new media at Americans for Limited Government.

The Web sites have names like “TeaPartyPatriots.org” and “TaxDayTeaParty.com.” Mr. Bitely runs NetrightNation.com, which aggregates all of the Web sites and reports on the movement’s progress. “It’s kind of a general post on what everyone’s doing,” he said.

Nearly a month after the protests stunned the traditional conservative community by their sheer size and spontaneity, veteran organizers here are still taking stock.

“I was surprised by the number of people willing to go out and demonstrate in public against spending too much [and] the spark of tax increases. It’s a much more sophisticated, philosophical electorate than I had believed existed,” said Grover Norquist, the veteran tax-cut crusader who runs Americans for Tax Reform.

“Nobody issues orders to this group, no one institution, no one person. This is the future of parallel organizing, person-to-person organizing, everything the Internet allows you to do,” he said. “This is a ‘leave me alone’ coalition.”

Early signals suggest that a large political head of steam is building under the upcoming demonstrations.

“I am amazed by the energy created by all of this and I think that is what you are going to see in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 12,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a coordinator for the free market advocacy group Freedom Works, chaired by former House Republican leader Dick Armey of Texas.

“Congress will be back in session after its August recess, talking about budgets. We’ve got 3,000 people signed up so far on our Web site, but it’s early and the energy level is high,” Mr. Steinhauser said.

The April 15 tea parties have already had an influence on Washington officials. Just days after the rallies, President Obama asked his Cabinet to find $100 million in spending cuts in their department budgets - a hastily-crafted initiative that Republicans ridiculed as a minuscule fraction of his $3.5 trillion budget.

Republicans, however, have been just as unsuccessful in tapping into this group of voters Mr. Steinhauser describes as “sort of a mixture of libertarians, independent-minded people who lean conservative and even Democrats who are leery of all this spending in Congress.”

“I’m not sure Republicans have learned how to tap into this group yet,” said James Sibold, the former DeKalb County Republican chairman in Georgia.

• Donald Lambro can be reached at dlambro@washingtontimes.com.old.

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