Tea party's tax day rally draws 500
Russ Hall, 68, of Lawrence County, and other tea party supporters take part in the tax day rally in Market Square on Friday.
From left, Colin Anderson, 23, Julia Watkins, 24, Faith Auden, 19, and Zach Zobrist, 33, dress as billionaires at the tax day rally in Market Square on Friday. They said they were present to "thank" the tea party for its support in extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and maintaining plenty of tax loopholes for corporations and wealthy individuals.
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With the goals of the tea party movement evolving a bit since its launch two years ago, supporters held a back-to-basics rally Downtown Friday that voiced complaints about health care reform, government spending and anything related to President Barack Obama.
The Pittsburgh version of the movement had an inaugural tax day rally on April 15, 2009, in Market Square and returned there Friday. Like the square -- much of which was closed last year for renovation -- the conservative movement has changed, too.
The activists see their fingerprints all over the Republican takeover of the House and in GOP victories last year in Pennsylvania's races for governor and U.S. Senate. Instead of merely voicing complaints about leadership in Washington, they also have grown more accustomed to the nitty-gritty of campaigning.
"We're putting more into elections. We don't need to do as much of this anymore," said Kris Duda, 56, of Bridgeville, who has attended all three tax day rallies in the square. She and her husband, Kevin, are now helping to push for a private school voucher bill in Harrisburg while continuing to seek repeal of Mr. Obama's health measure.
"If Obama is re-elected, it's going to permanently change this country as we know it," he said.
Allen Gourley, 53, of New Bethlehem, came to the rally with his wife, Faith, to share their worries about government regulation, tax rates and debt. "Who are they to put their foot on my neck and stomp me into the ground?" he said.
Before Friday's event, lead Pittsburgh tea party organizer Patti Weaver worried that supporters "are getting burned out" on the rallies and instead are giving more time to grass-roots campaigns. Still, about 500 people turned out for Friday's sun-baked event, mingling with the noontime lunch crowds.
Underscoring the tea party's role in the GOP, Ms. Weaver, a former candidate for Allegheny County executive, invited fellow GOP candidates Chuck McCullough and D. Raja onto the stage.
The crowd included a couple dozen counter-demonstrators from the union-affiliated group Pittsburgh United, who were dressed in formal wear and quietly protested about tax cuts the tea party supported for corporations and top income brackets. "Tea Party: Thanks for believing ... anything," one of their signs said.
A brief and unrelated altercation occurred when a tea party activist tried to remove a worker for the United Steelworkers of America from behind the rally's stage.
Wearing a USW sweatshirt, the worker briefly argued with some in the crowd before leaving, holding her middle fingers in the air.
"It's a free country and I can stand here just like everybody else can stand here," said Lori Bookwood, of the USW political office, after leaving the rally. "The first thing that usually happens at a tea party event are the old men saying nasty [things] to me because of their whole abortion thing, whether I agree with it or not ... Then when they find out I'm union it's a whole other story, and then when they find out I'm a single mom, I'm going to hell."
Speakers at the event included talk radio hosts Rose Tennent and Glen Meakem; Frank Gaffney, who wrote a book about Shariah law; opthamologist and health reform opponent William Christie; and union electrician Dale McCoy. Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella was due to speak in favor of Marcellus Shale exploration but left early when the 80-minute rally wore on.
on the web
To watch a video of the rally, visit post-gazette.com