The Tea Party movement, with its passion for fiscal conservatism that has rallied a predominantly Libertarian and Republican base around events that symbolize government spending, has its chants and anti-government protest signs set for a day that symbolizes what it hates most: taxes. While last year's April 15 gathering, which saw 300 protests across 50 states, was a "coming out" for the movement, this year, organizers believe, will be a force that government leaders on both sides will have to reckon with. From strategy meetings, presentations to representatives on Capitol Hill, and protests on the National Mall, tens of thousands of Tea Party activists are expected to descend on the nation's capital for tax day.


Leading up to April 15, the Tea Party Express -- a bus tour of activists -- took off from Nevada March 28 and is driving across country, making stops to visit with other activists along the way, to be in Washington, DC, for the protests. There is also a Tea Party-sponsored essay writing contest and a list of 10 pillars, voted on online, to promote demands the Tea Party Patriots will hold politicians accountable to in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

As for the big day, they have scheduled strategy-sessions and meetings with representatives all day, culminating in a 6pm protest at the Washington Monument, says Tom Whitmore, a retired C.E.O. in Virginia and activist for the Tea Party Nation, another leading movement faction. He was at last month's tense health care debate and admits, "That day there was a lot of trouble, people started getting mouthy, pushing."

Are these tax-day events for those merely disgruntled with their own 1040 forms? Probably not. If the Tea Party is anything, it is a backlash against what they see as out-of-control government spending by both parties. "I actually have no problem paying taxes to a government that doesn't waste them on heroin spending binges," says Shelby Blakely, the executive director of the New Patriot Journal, the online media platform for the Tea Party Patriots. A 29-year old stay-at-home mother of four in Eastern Oregon, Blakely, like her fellow-activists, fears a loss of American independence due to the growing U.S. debt, which currently clocks in at $12.7 trillion.

"We don't touch social issues, because if we don't clean up the financial aspects of our country, it won't matter what we think about abortion -- it will matter what China thinks about abortion," she says. "The reason that I do this is that I am terrified that China, because they hold so much of our debt, will actually be able to dictate the way we live."

As for the tone that verged into nastiness, particularly slurs targeting African American Congressmen and openly gay representative Barney Frank, Andrew Ian Dodge, a freelance writer and author of the dystopia novel, And Glory, and a Tea Party Patriot coordinator in Maine, insists that the movement can't be judged by what he considers to be a few bad apples. "It's not your First Amendment right to be offensive and call for violence," he says. "[The movement is] actually bringing together a lot of people who are conservative from a lot of traditions. You are a fiscal conservative or you aren't. The rest about your life is irrelevant."

Dodge cites the movement as exceptional because it is fiercely leaderless, with state organizers like himself preferring to be called "coordinators," there to help out as little or as much as needed. "A lot of these people don't like being ordered around, especially if they're not being paid."

Like Dodge and Blakely, Whitmore denies that, despite her association with the movement, Sarah Palin is their leader. "There are so many different Tea Party coalitions," says Whitmore. "I think anyone who's serious in the Tea Party movement would reject that notion."

Regardless, Palin was paid $100,000 to speak at the recent gathering in Harry Reid's hometown of Searchlight, Nevada. And the organizations of two former Congressmen, Newt Gingrich's American Solutions and Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, provide general support to the grass-roots activists, such as open-bar networking and appreciation events and media training.

As for what's next after tax day? "We want to do more of a journalistic thing," says Blakely, referring to her online platform. "It's our job to hold politicians accountable between elections. That's what media does."

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