2,000 protest Obama policies at 'tea party' in Cranberry

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Under a sunny sky in a Butler County park, John and Norene Auer were marking their 20th wedding anniversary.

"We decided what we wanted to do was celebrate our freedom," a smiling Mrs. Auer explained.

So the Latrobe couple joined a throng of like-minded activists in one more of the "tea party" demonstrations that have sprung up across the country, protesting the policies of the Obama administration and what some conservatives see as an alarming drift in the nation's capital.

They were part of a crowd that flocked to North Boundary Park in Cranberry yesterday afternoon.

They were galvanized by word-of-mouth, the Internet, and the arrival of the Tea Party Express, a cross-country bus tour that would also make stops in Ohio and Johnstown yesterday on its way to a planned Sept. 12 rally in Washington, D.C.

"This is the warm-up for 2010, which will be the warm-up for 2012, when we'll end socialism once and for all," said Mark Williams, one of the featured speakers, to loud applause from the crowd.

Mr. Williams is a longtime radio talk show host from Sacramento, Calif., who is one of the leaders of the Tea Party tour. With him was Deborah Johns, who also rallied the crowd in opposition to President Barack Obama and what she characterized as the dangers of liberalism during a program of speeches and songs that lasted more the two hours.

The health care proposals that Mr. Obama was to discuss in a televised address a few hours later was the chief lightning rod for the crowd's derision, but speakers, signs and T-shirts also expressed opposition to bank and auto industry bailouts and what was repeatedly described as the administration's intent to impose a Socialist regime.

Dancing over the heads of the crowd were signs with messages that included, "Think Green Recycle Congress," "No to Public Option No to Trigger Option," and "Impeach the Marxist Muslim."

Mike McMullen, a telecommunications consultant from Hampton and one of the local organizers of the event, said, "I'm an active Republican, but there are Democrats, Republicans and Independents on our tea-party organizing committee."

Gesturing toward a crowd that he estimated at more than 2,000, he added, "This is the silent majority."

Actually, they weren't all that silent as they loudly cheered the anti-Washington denunciations.

Mr. Williams, the author of a book titled, "Exposing the Socialist Agenda," said his goal was to "throw the Marxists out of the White House and Congress."

"The system that allows me to speak freely is being attacked from within," he said.

Ms. Johns, the mother of a Marine, said she was impelled to leave her job in finance in favor of full-time activism in reaction to what she saw as the "bashing" of American troops by the anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan in 2004.

Before this cross-country journey that started in Sacramento, she had devoted her energy to an anti-Obama bus tour in the waning weeks of the 2008 campaign.

One of the frequent targets for the crowd's and the speakers' antagonism was the widespread notion that a health care measure would impose "death panels," arbitrating whether the elderly would be allowed to receive health care. This oft-repeated and widely rebutted accusation is rooted in the languages in one version of the legislation that would allow Medicare to pay for voluntary end-of-life planning.

Protesting the culture of government irresponsibility, Ms. Johns charged that this administration bailed out the Bank of America and AIG. The decision to pour billions of government dollars into those and other institutions were actually taken during the previous administration, although the current one has followed in implementing those and other financial rescues. Speaking afterwards, Ms. Johns acknowledged that those policies were initiated in the Bush administration, and said she had lost faith in the Republican president.

"In the last year, it just seemed like he gave up," she said.

Ms. Johns also repeated a widespread Internet-reinforced accusation in claiming that the American Civil Liberties Union had filed suit to have crosses removed from military cemeteries. According to Factcheck.org, there is no basis to that rumor, which may have started with reports of a since-settled suit in which the ACLU sued the Defense Department to allow the use of a Wiccan symbol of the graves of service members who practiced witchcraft.

Among the other speakers were William Owens Jr. and his wife, Selena, who spoke out against suggestions that opposition to the Obama administration were rooted in racism. Mr. Williams, an African-American, is the author of a book titled "Obama: Why Black America Should Have Doubts."

A few hours later, and a few turnpike exits away, another independently organized Tea Party took place at the Boyce Park ski lodge in Plum. Among the speakers were businessman and talk show host Glenn Meakem and former Rep. Pat Toomey, the candidate for the GOP nomination to challenge U.S. Arlen Specter.

Politics Editor James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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