Tax Day Tea Parties

In a CNBC meltdown about the stimulus bill, Rick Santelli proposed a modern-day tea party to protest unjust taxes. Santelli and his network have since disavowed the idea, but Fox News has taken up the cause. Hundreds of protests are going on Wednesday.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Income taxes are due today and many Americans consider that reason enough to protest. Throw in general frustration with the Obama administration, Democrats, Republicans, national debt and assorted other pet peeves about the government and you have tax day tea parties. NPR's Robert Smith has this report on a few of them.

ROBERT SMITH: The original Boston tea party was a covert action. Dozens of columnists sneaking aboard a British ship under the cover of night to dump tax tea shipments overboard. Today's tea parties were all that getting attention. Let's start in Staten Island, New York.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Man #1: It is about time we stop spending all this money. Give us liberty, not death.

(Soundbite of protest)

SMITH: A few hundred protesters stood in a cold drizzle to yell at the office of a Democratic congressman across the street. Loretta Jamboy(ph) passed out the symbolic items.

Ms. LORETTA JAMBOY: Everybody want a tea bag for the tea party that we're at?

Unidentified Woman #1: Well, bags. No strings on them.

SMITH: So, you have these new fangled tea bags that don't have strings.

Unidentified Woman #1: Yeah. And I couldn't bring decaf, they're too expensive. And I'd get taxed too much on it.

SMITH: Everyone here had some sort of beef with the government. But with no formal agenda and staffed by volunteers, everyone was responsible for their own demands.

Unidentified Man #2: The states making their own gun laws is against the constitution.

Unidentified Woman #2: I want the government to start listening. I want them to stop spending money. They're spending money we don't have on things that are not going to stimulate the economy.

SMITH: Your sign says expose the facts. You've got a problem with the Federal Reserve.

Unidentified Man #3: With the Federal Reserve system exactly, you know, our dollar is no longer backed by gold, backed by silver, backed by anything tangible.

SMITH: John Perry, Alanson Garcia, and Alex Leonard(ph) say if anything links the protest together, it's the loathing of big government. And the biggest symbol of that? Well, on April 15th, it has to be taxes. In Nashville, Tennessee, almost 3,000 people gathered on the plaza down the hill from state capitol. Among them Craig Tice(ph) who works for himself as a mechanic. He's got plenty of time while he works to listen to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on the radio.

Mr. CRAIG TICE: For me, the biggest issue is they want to tax to rich, which I think is a very bad idea because you have the people that are making the money, paying the bills and you want to up and up - all that does is affect everybody else down the line.

SMITH: Tice himself says he's middle class. He'll probably get the tax cut in the stimulus package. But he says he'd like to be rich someday. Organizers say that by the end of the evening, the number of protests will number more than 300. All conceived and put together, they say, by grassroots activists - not that there wasn't a little partisan fertilizer. Conservative groups like Freedom Works lent their organizing muscle on the Internet. Freedom Works was founded by former Republican Congressman Dick Armey. Conservative bloggers and talk show hosts jumped on board. Fox News began publicizing the events early and often. Fox hosts are broadcasting live today from various tea parties.

And although the events are officially nonpartisan, the Republican National Committee has a related tea party promotion on its Web site. You can send a tea bag to President Obama or Democratic members of Congress. Still, with all the anti-Obama signs, many in the crowds were just is likely to vent their anger against Republicans, whom they say have lost their conservative bearings.

(Soundbite of protest)

Unidentified Man #4: Today is the beginning folks, April 15th 2009, to be our taxation independence day.

SMITH: In Greensboro, North Carolina, about 400 people showed up at the central Government Plaza. Sal Gutierrez(ph) and his mother Pamela(ph) were both laid off from their jobs over the last six months. They see the stimulus package and the bank bailouts and ask where is the benefit for us?

PAMELA: Every year, doesn't matter who's in office that it gets worse and more greed.

Mr. SAL GUTIERREZ: That's pretty much it. I mean, and it's on both sides of the aisle. It doesn't go one way or another. You know, we've got Democrats and Republicans, you know.

SMITH: Gutierrez says these rallies are the sign that it's time to fight back. He just hopes that someone's listening.

Robert Smith, NPR News.

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