Teabaggers Stray Off Topic, HuffPosters Report
Over 2,500 HuffPost citizen journalists have helped provide comprehensive coverage of the Tax Day Tea Party protests. Click here for the latest photos and video.To join our citizen reporting team, sign-up here.
While a majority of the protesters who attended tea parties across the nation convened to oppose to taxes, many conservatives viewed these gatherings as a platform to voice their other political grievances.
Many of the over 2,500 HuffPost citizen reporters who signed up to cover the Tea Parties found that pervasive griping about taxes served as a backdrop for other issues that elicited more vehement outrage from attendees.
The diversity of grievances belies the viral growth of anti-tax tea parties through various conservative networks, each with its own hot-button issue.
Conservative organization helped spread the word, but aggressive promotion by Fox News likely did the most to spur high turnout. In Toledo, Ohio, RJ Walker said of the twelve people she spoke to before the rally, "All were Fox News viewers and heard about the party by watching Fox."
Estimations of nation-wide attendance range from Nate Silver's reasoned approximation of 250,000 protesters to Mike Huckabee's cavalier estimation of six million, which he gave live on Fox News' Sean Hannity Show.
Tanner McCracken reported from Hoover, Alabama, which hosted one of the largest gatherings in the country:
"Though no official figures are available, the estimated attendance as announced during the rally was over 7,000. As dubious as this claim may be, the traffic this event garnered was undeniable; the normally 20-to-25-minute drive from downtown Birmingham to Veterans Park took me an hour and a half. The event was emceed by locally-based, nationally syndicated radio hosts Rick Burgess and Bill "Bubba" Bussey, who riled up the crowd with conservative jokes ranging from homeland security "spies" keeping tabs on the "right-wing extremists," to hunting Somali pirates with deer rifles."
The heavily attended parties appeared to veer the furthest away from tax related issues. At another large rally, this one in Phoenix, Jake Tommerup reported that while "the most popular theme did seem to be an aversion to taxes," many of the hand written signs were considerably off topic.
In addition to mass-produced visuals like the yellow and black "Taxed Enough Already" signs seen at other T.E.A. parties around the country, numerous verbose hand-lettered signs expressing sentiments about everything from government to guns suggested that the mostly white crowd here was largely comprised of Ron Paul supporters, Constitution Party fans, NRA members, McCain-Palin voters and Republican Party sympathizers.
One sign in Chicago even took aim at the Huffington Post, reports Daniel Hough who spoke to the sign-bearer.
I politely asked her what her sign said and she held it up proudly for me to take a picture and added just as proudly, "they're liberals!"
I could not help myself and leaned in slightly, smiled and in a friendly way said "...so am I." Her face immediately contorted into rage, and she blurted out, "You can't be here. You have to leave!" I smiled and politely told her, no I didn't, it's a free country and I can go where I want in a public place, especially in the city where I live, and a block from where I work.
Many citizen journalists reported that protesters brought the issue of gay marriage to the table. Eric Aguirre, who attended an assembly in College Station, Texas, described how one of the guest speakers, a World War II veteran, spoke about gay marriage.
He said that while he believed that God made you the way you were, he felt there were limits to how marriage is defined. He said God made men, and God made women, and marriage is between each of those sexes. The crowd erupted in applause. Texas was not the only state where anti gay marriage statements were cheered by tea party protesters.
Counter-protesters organized in Boston to support the issue of gay rights. Demonstrators threw boxes labeled "taxes" into the water, reports Booklynne Peters. The event's participants took issue with filing their federal taxes as "single" when many of them have been living in committed relationships for years.
Another recurrent theme at tea parties across the nation was the right to carry weapons. In Chicago, Dave Hossler explained how Eric Mancow, a local radio personality, kicked off the protest by saying, "I don't care what you believe in. I'm a Christian, I'm American and I'm proud of it [...] Hi, ACORN. You are a morally bankrupt organization. I'll keep my God and my guns, thank you very much."
Carla Cheshire observed that some of the loudest cheers during a rally in Houston, Texas came when several of the guest speakers alluded to the right to bear arms. In addition, citizen journalists described a number of cardboard signs reading messages like, "I'll keep my faith, my guns and my money, and you can keep your change!"
Protesters also spoke out about immigration, especially in Border States. Several HuffPost reporters noticed the presence of "Americans for Legal Immigration," a group who call for the deportation of illegal immigrants. Many cardboard signs blamed immigrants for costing the government too much money, and taking away the funds that could be spent on "Real Americans." Lakshmi Sankar, in New Jersey, explained, "The message was supposed to be all about taxation," but according to her, other messages prevailed, such as "anti-immigration" and the "upholding of American-born citizenship."
In Orange County, Syd Flatt noted a preponderance of anti-immigration signs and observed an absence of ethnic diversity in the crowd:
Noticeably absent were Asians, who comprise 16% of the OC's population. Historically, Asians were overwhelmingly Republican, yet there were few in attendance. This could be an indicator of a decisive shift in the political structure of Orange County.
Many reporters underlined the fact that the crowds that gathered at the tea parties were not racially diverse. And as Flatt put it, "What they lacked in diversity of race they made up for in diversity of reasons to protest."
Reporting contributed by Matthew Palevsky, Thibault Chareton, Kelly Van der Kwast, and the HuffPost citizen reporters who are highlighted above.