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WASHINGTON -- Thousands of protesters descended on the nation's Capitol for April 15 tax deadline protests as activists offered up a new "Contract From America" aimed at using the winning formula of the 1994 Republican revolution while also developing a direction for the burgeoning movement.
Those behind the document say that by asking visitors to the website contractfromamerica.org to propose and vote on the agenda, the results are a list not "handed down from on high by old-bull politicians, but one handed up from the true grassroots in this country."
"After garnering nearly half a million votes in less than two months, the Contract from America has now been finalized into a blueprint that will serve notice to public officials about what the people want for their future," reads a press release from the contract's organizers
When the votes of more than 443,000 were cast, the top ten planks were:
(1) Require each bill to identify its constitutional authorization
(2) Defund, repeal, and replace government-run health care
(3) Demand a balanced budget
(4) End runaway government spending by imposing a statutory cap limiting growth in federal spending
(5) Enact fundamental reform to simplify and lower taxes
(6)Create a Blue Ribbon task force that engages in a complete audit of federal agencies and programs
(7) Reject cap-and-trade
(8) Pass an “all of the above” energy policy
(9) Stop the 2011 tax hikes
(10) Stop the pork
The Contract from America may be an effort at organizing the party. Tea Party insiders admit organizing them is "a lot like herding cats," but they also claim that's exactly the way they like it.
"Look we don't (need) leaders for this," said Dick Armey, the former Texas Republican congressman who now leads FreedomWorks and was part of both the 1994 Contract With America and the new contract.
"This is endemic, it's in the DNA of the American people. We love freedom, we understand what works in the world because we are in the world and we really our government to grow up and mind its own business," Armey said.
However, for a movement that prides on the absence of professional political leadership, Thursday's festivities featured some of the best known partisans on the right.
Aside from Armey, a former House majority leader, Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Steve King, R-Iowa, and Jack Kingston, R-Ga. -- all reliable partisan battlers -- were in attendance.
Bachmann fired up the crowd at Thursday's event in Washington.
"This November, what do you say, let's take back our country," she yelled.
The crowd at the earlier of two rallies scheduled for Thursday was not a huge one by Washington, D.C., standards, coming in at about 3,000 to 4,000 people.
A day earlier organizers downplayed expectations, saying only about 5,000 to 10,000 people were expected to show up because they have encouraged people across the country to cultivate protests in their hometowns.
Tax day protests did occur nationwide, with the D.C. rally marking the end of a 23-state Tea Party Express tour targeting vulnerable Democratic Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Arlen Specter or Pennsylvania as well as nine House members who voted for health care reform.
Anti-Tea Party counter-protesters carried a huge banner that read "The Other 95 percent. Say thanks for your tax cuts Obama." They walked around the crowd but represented only a miniscule percentage of the ralliers.
Speaking from the podium, Kingston welcomed the counter-protesters. "Welcome. I'm hoping that you'll learn something."
Tea Party activists have been on the lookout for infiltrators. In recent weeks, Web sites such as crashtheteaparty.org have urged people to "act on behalf of the Tea Party in ways which exaggerate their least appealing qualities (misspelled protest signs, wild claims in TV interviews, etc.) to further distance them from mainstream America and damage the public’s opinion of them."
Armey offered a message to any would-be infiltrators.
"My daddy told me when I was boy, it's better to be persecuted than ignored. We must be meaning something to these folks or they wouldn't be attacking us."
However, Armey did express concern about the havoc infiltrators could wreak on the movement.
"Why don't you have the decency to be proud to be you for crying out loud? Just don't come in here like a bunch of juvenile delinquents on a lark and try to sabotage our event. We have a right to present ourselves to the American people without mischaracterization. It's hard enough for the conventional press in America to get it, who we are and what are the lessons of liberty that we are so committed to, without you confounding the picture with your antics."