“They say a storm is coming,” conservative activist Virginia Thomas told thousands gathered under an overcast sky. “They ain’t seen nothing yet. Nov. 2 will be a storm!”
Organized by the Washington-based advocacy group FreedomWorks, the march took place on a date heralded by talk show commentator Glenn Beck as a symbol of conservatives’ political awakening. Beck did not attend.
Tea party activists used a similar march last year to galvanize their opposition to Democrats’ healthcare overhaul. In the process, they established themselves as leading voices of opposition to the Obama administration and a threat to incumbent Republicans deemed too moderate.
“Last year was our Woodstock,” said Anne Forgey, 69, a retiree from Huntsville, Ala. “I came this year because I’m still worried about our country. I’m worried about the direction we’re headed. I believe they are trying to take away our freedom.”
Like many at the rally, Forgey carried a sign linking President Obama’s policies to socialism or communism, a central charge of the small-government movement. Forgey’s placard read “No USSA” over a hand-drawn picture of a hammer and sickle from the flag of the former Soviet Union.
Although the movement failed to block the healthcare measure, it has had some success. Candidates supported by tea party groups have won Republican nominations in several states, including Alaska, where incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost the GOP primary to Joe Miller. The next test is Tuesday in Delaware, where Christine O’Donnell is trying to defeat Rep. Mike Castle for the Republican Senate nomination.
The mood Sunday was upbeat as activists marched from the Washington Monument to the west steps of the Capitol chanting, “Vote them out!” A group from Savannah, Ga., was dressed as signers of the Constitution. Others lined up to sign a massive Battle of Gonzales flag — an emblem from the Texas Revolution — brought by a group from Austin, Texas.
Police and National Park Service officials do not give crowd estimates for events on the National Mall. Attendees covered most of the Capitol’s west lawn stretching to its reflecting pool.
Many said the turnout was surprisingly strong given that a much larger rally, coordinated by Beck, was held two weeks ago.
Unlike that event, Sunday’s rally was advertised as a political call to arms and an organizational tool. Several conservative figures used it to publicize their initiatives and reach activists.
Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, touted her website, Liberty Central. Conservative media entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart accused the mainstream media of ignoring the tea party movement and promised to offer an alternative.
“We are a citizen journalism army and we are going to take our country back,” he said.
FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said his group was already looking past Election Day.
“Every two years, politicians come to you to promise to change the culture in Washington,” Kibbe said. “Politicians in Washington don’t mean it. You can’t change the culture in Washington. But what the tea party is doing today is changing the culture in America.”
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