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Modern-Day Tea Parties Give Taxpayers Chance to Scream for Better Representation

Tea Parties

We're fed up and we're not gonna take it anymore. 

Such is the rallying cry building across the country as taxpayers take a stand against what they see as reckless spending in Washington -- all part of a peculiar and rather sudden movement called "tea parties." 

Some small, some large, locals converge at the parties to voice their frustration over the federal government's economic policies. The protests have sprouted up from coast-to-coast and city-to-city since late February. 

The biggest one so far is scheduled for April 15, tax day, when hundreds of cities will play host to a coordinated, nationwide tea-party protest. 

"People are getting killed -- they're getting hammered with taxes and it's not the way this country is supposed to be run. ... We want to fight back," said Kristina Mancini, who's helping organize the April 15 rally in Fishkill, N.Y. 

"Sitting back and being quiet never helps." 

The grassroots phenomenon, while largely ignored in the mainstream press, has caught fire on the Internet, where platforms like Facebook and Twitter have served as launching pads for demonstrations. 

Though nobody -- so far -- is dressing up like a Mohawk Indian and throwing barrels of Darjeeling into Boston Harbor, organizers draw their inspiration from the original Boston Tea Party of 1773. 

Whereas colonists back then were revolting against, among other things, unfair tax policies, the impetus now lies in federal spending and intervention that many fear will lead to a crushing tax burden. 

"It's not exactly taxation without representation. It's more taxation with inadequate representation," said Michael DePrimo, with the American Family Association, which is helping promote the events. "People are really getting riled up ... people want to get involved, they want to help and they want to attend. I'm not so sure this'll be a one-time thing." 

The historical parallels may seem sparse. America is no longer a colony. It is not ruled by a king. 

But just as the 18th century decrees of the King of England drew outrage from American colonists, several acts of modern U.S. government intervention have stirred similar upheaval. 

The Stamp Act? Now it's the Wall Street bailout. 

The Tea Act? Now it's the $787 billion stimulus package. 

The Quartering Act? Now it's the pork-filled omnibus spending bill. 

The Boston Massacre? That would have to be the proposed $3.55 trillion 2010 budget, seen by tea partiers as a fiscal massacre. 

The Sons of Liberty of today is led by people like Rick Santelli, the CNBC reporter widely credited with helping spark the tea-party fever nationwide (though tea parties were being held before Santelli plugged them). 

During an infamous on-air rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in February, Santelli called for modern-day tea parties to protest the economic trends in government. 

He stirred up traders by shouting that the government was promoting "bad behavior" with its mortgage rescue plan. "This is America," he said. "How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills?" 

Though he was mocked by the White House, Santelli might as well have yelled, "Give me liberty or give me death!" 

Jenny Beth Martin, a Republican activist who's helping organize one of the higher-profile tea parties in Atlanta, said Santelli's rant led shortly afterward to a conference call of 22 activists, including herself. 

From there, she said, organizers put together 48 tea parties -- from St. Louis to San Antonio to Chicago -- on Feb. 27. 

There have been scattered tea parties since then, but the next nationally coordinated event is on tax day. 

She said 360 events are on the books for April 15, with "dozens more" scheduled every day -- she anticipates more than 2,000 participants in Atlanta. 

In the Boston spirit, Martin said they might even toss some tea bags, "maybe into a barrel." 

The movement, while nonpartisan, has largely involved conservatives -- who are testing out a role long reserved for the other side of the political spectrum. 

"Conservatives aren't known for their protest abilities, and protests in business suits and umbrellas, it was kind of a funny sight," Martin said, recalling the rainy-day event in Atlanta on Feb 27. 

But the protesters have forged their own cheeky, anti-spending brand. In videos of the rallies on the Pajamas TV Web site, one protester sported an arm band that said "POOP -- Prisoners of Obama's Policies." Another held a poster that read "Let Them Eat Pork!" 

The tea party movement has generated a host of unique Web sites dedicated to promoting upcoming protests and covering those that have already happened. The Pajamas TV site is even recruiting "citizen reporters" to cover the April 15 protests. 

"This is about the people. This is about what we have to say," said Nancy Armstrong, who's organizing the tea party in Wichita, Kan. Armstrong, who attended one of the parties in northern Kansas in late February, said she's expecting at least 1,000 people at the local post office in Wichita on April 15. 

Margaret Hyland, who's helping organize the rally in Astoria, Ore., said the parties are just gatherings for "regular people." 

"We just feel that the government is not listening to the people," she said, adding that the stimulus package was a big factor in her decision to get involved. 

"I do not understand how we can throw money at this problem and solve it," Hyland said. "If I was doing my personal budget and discovered I was deeply in debt, I don't think I would go out and borrow a lot of money to throw at it."