Under the glow of the sign outside Country Place Restaurant on Shallowford Road, homemade posters, loads of enthusiasm and at least one tri-corner hat were on display as local anti-spending protesters prepared to head to Washington, D.C.
Bryan Haddock of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Tennessee told the crowd of more than 100 gathered outside the restaurant Thursday night that they were headed into "a battle of rhetoric."
"I will stand next to every one of you guys on the field of battle if that's what it takes," he said.
The trip to Washington, sponsored by the Chattanooga Tea Party group, is part of the national 9/12 Project organized by television and radio host Glenn Beck. The project will culminate in a Saturday march on the National Mall to protest federal spending.
The group of protesters going to Washington left at about 9 p.m. Thursday and will stay through Sunday.
Keith Talley, spokesman for the Tennessee Democratic Party, said protests are "part of the American way," but he said the national debate should "be more civil."
He said many protesters who were vocal in protests at the town hall meetings held by members of Congress last month were driven by "vested corporate interests" that want to "kill legislation" such as energy bills and health care reform.
"There's a lot of misinformation out there," he said.
But Melinda Crawley, who rallied supporters Thursday night, said the group heading to Washington represented the true grass roots. Ms. Crawley said she had a "bone to pick" with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has referred to Tea Party protesters as "astroturf" rather than sincere grass-roots protesters.
"You're not in touch with the American public!" Ms. Crawley said.
Someone in the crowd then shouted, "Pe-lousy!"
Another speaker at the rally, Patsy Nickle, said the protesters were filling the void left by the death of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who often was called the liberal lion of the Senate.
"I want you to roar!" she shouted into the microphone. "We are the new lion!"
ON THE BUS
Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Matt Wilson is in Washington, D.C., with the group of local protesters. He will be with them through their return on Sunday.
* On Saturday: Read coverage from the group's counter-protest at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
* On Sunday: Read about the 9/12 March on Washington.