ATLANTA, Sept 10 (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech to Congress on healthcare reform has galvanized activists opposed to his proposals who plan a mass march on Washington on Saturday as the next step in their campaign.
Groups that reject Obama’s reform and seek limited government and lower taxes said that nothing they heard in Wednesday night’s speech to a joint Congress session would deter them.
Instead, it provided fresh fuel for their opposition to the government plans for the $2.5 trillion sector, in part on the grounds that it would raise the country’s budget deficit — a charge Obama denies.
That opposition took the form of often rowdy town hall meetings over the summer and Saturday’s march provides a new opportunity for the campaign to seize the agenda, they said.
“Every group (going to the march) has its own agenda but we have a common agenda to get the country back,” said Jack Staver, who leads a Tea Party Patriots group in northern Georgia and plans to attend the march.
At least 20,000 people are expected for the march, said Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union, a conservative group.
The event will gather groups including FreedomWorks, the National Taxpayers Union, the Tea Party Patriots and Smart Girl Politics, all of which rely on the Internet and social networking sites to communicate with members.
The groups said they have seen a spike in membership and activism since a political fight over a big economic stimulus package passed by Congress in February, and again more recently over healthcare.
“We are educating and motivating citizens to get involved in this debate through petitions, faxes, phone calls, personal visits,” said Ron De Jong of the conservative Grassfire.org group. “Obama’s speech has only galvanized our opposition.”
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But supporters of Obama said he succeeded during the speech in clarifying a series of gross distortions of his reform plans perpetuated by conservative opponents for political reasons.
Marches on Washington are a potent symbol because of a 1963 civil rights march at which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Saturday also falls one day after the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Groups participating in the march said Obama’s speech made little difference to their opposition plans.
“There wasn’t anything new in the speech except that it gave us new talking points,” said Rebecca Wales of Smart Girl Politics, a conservative women’s organization founded last year.
For many conservatives, the stimulus package, Obama’s energy reform bill and now healthcare reform evoke raw anger because they view them as fundamental violations of the way the United States should be governed.
“He (Obama) is an out-and-out Communist,” said Lynn Kartchner, who runs a gun shop in Douglas, Arizona. “He’s a Socialist to the core and he doesn’t really care who he has to steal from to get what he wants. What he wants is power.
“He wants as many people as possible totally dependent on the government, just like the Soviet Union,” Kartchner said.
These activist groups share a common position with many Republican politicians as well as with lobby and industry groups opposed to Obama’s healthcare plans. Many draw inspiration from conservative talk radio.
Opposition to healthcare provides a focus for conservative energy but, in the longer term, several activists said they were focused on congressional elections in November 2010.
Republicans lost ground in congressional elections in 2006 and 2008 but many conservatives believe public anger over healthcare reform proposals provides an opportunity to change that trend. (Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in Arizona; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Bill Trott)