Reveling in their vault to prominence, members of the Tea Party movement from the Pittsburgh region will gather Saturday to mark the anniversary of their first local demonstration.
A year ago, prodded by a the televised anti-bailout rant of CNBC personality Rick Santelli, southwestern Pennsylvania conservatives threw together their first conclave, in Market Square on Feb 27. More and bigger demonstrations have followed, here and across the country.
The local group will celebrate Saturday from 9 to 11:30 a.m. at St. John's Lutheran Church of Highland on Cumberland Road, McCandless. In addition to a documentary film on the history of the movement, the meeting will include breakout session on topics including health care, global warming, and the Constitution.
As the anniversary loomed, Patty Weaver, one of the key organizers of the local movement, distributed the "Declaration of Tea Party Independence," a statement of the group's principles prepared by the national Tea Party Patriots, perhaps the largest organization among the diffuse groups that operate under the Tea Party label across the country.
After months in which traditional Republicans have increasingly courted Tea Party activists, the declaration stressed the movement's distance from party structures.
"We declare ourselves INDEPENDENT of the Democratic Party and its power drunk junta in Washington D.C., which is currently seeking to impose a Socialist agenda on our Republic," the statement declares.
But at the same time, the statement says that, "We Declare ourselves INDEPENDENT of the Republican Party, which has in the past manipulated its Conservative Base to win election after election and which then betrays everything that Base fought for and believed.
"We reject the idea that the electoral goals of the Republican Party are identical to the goals of the Tea Party Movement or that this Movement is an adjunct to the Republican Party," the statement continues.
And the skepticism is not confined to parties. "The Tea Party movement refuses to give false credence to the self-aggrandizing, self-deluding lie that ANY PART of the Fourth Estate is free of the self-serving agendas of those who own them," the statement adds.
A year after its birth, surveys show that the populist movement has made notable inroads into political discourse. More than half of Pennsylvania's registered voters -- 62 percent -- are aware of the Tea Party movement, according to a Franklin & Marshall College poll released yesterday.
More support the movement's goals (39 percent) than oppose them (29 percent), and that support is found across party lines, although, understandably, most often among Republicans.
Those who said they were strongly or somewhat in support the movement include 58 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents and 19 percent of Democrats. Forty-five percent of all those polled would be likely to vote for a candidate who supports Tea Party goals.