Chilly winds whipping across Ross’ Landing on Saturday couldn’t compete with the fiery rhetoric as supporters of the Chattanooga Tea Party gathered for their third annual Tax Day Rally.
“This is a fight for the heart and soul of this country,” said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., of the movement to cut government spending and lower taxes.
Fleischmann was one of a troop of speakers who decried big government and the scale of the national debt. Tea party groups across the nation held rallies keyed around the annual income tax filing day.
The past two Chattanooga rallies have drawn thousands of tea partiers, but Saturday’s drew about 100. Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, said numbers were lower because Friday’s storms forced the event to be rescheduled at the last minute.
“This isn’t really reflective of our numbers, which are just continuing to grow,” West said.
Attendees carried signs bearing messages such as “Yes we can can Obama” and “No compromise with tyranny!” Some wore shirts with the slogan “Don’t Tread on Me.”
Eileen Gerbasi said she moved to Signal Mountain from California two years ago, primarily to be in an area where people share her conservative values.
“I love being with people who value their country, freedom and faith,” Gerbasi said. “Right now I’m just trying to educate young people about those values.” Gerbasi said she gave all her nieces and nephews copies of the Constitution for Christmas last year.
Speakers included Star Parker, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Urban Renewal and Education, and longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie.
“Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you for 50 years,” Viguerie said as the audience erupted into applause.
Harold Coker, former chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party, said he welcomes the tea party’s criticism that Republicans traditionally have been too comfortable with government spending.
“I think we need to be chastised, I think we need to be rattled,” Coker said. “I think Republicans lost their way over the years and we’re finally realizing just what’s at stake.”
West said that though the tea party — now in its third year — saw great success in last November’s elections, the group still has a long way to go as it develops a strategy to influence local and national politics.
“There’s a lot of pressure for politicians to go to D.C. and forget about the promises they made to their people in their district,” he said in an interview. “Our goal is to keep those leaders focused on the issues that got them elected.”
Bob Tuke, former chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, said that though he thinks tea partiers’ beliefs about smaller government are misguided, he’s happy they’re rallying.
“That’s what democracy’s about. We’ll be out there doing the same thing in November 2012, and we’ll beat them,” Tuke said.