SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Tea party activists gathered in cities on each coast and in between Sunday to spread their message of smaller government and focus their political movement on the pivotal congressional elections in November.
Several thousand people marched along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Washington Monument to the Capitol, many carrying signs reading “Congress You’re Fired” and “Let Failures Fail and “Impeach Obama.”
“It wouldn’t bother me to make a clean sweep,” said Michael Power of Decatur, Ala., endorsing term limits for members of Congress. “There are some good ones, but we can lose those.”
In Sacramento, thousands of people poured into the former McClellan Air Force Base site; organizers of the “United to the Finish” rally expected between 25,000 and 50,000 people to attend.
Leslie and Gary Morrison of Redding drove 150 south to Sacramento with their dog Phoebe, just two weeks after flying to Washington to attend a large rally hosted by conservative commentator Glenn Beck. They said they liked the feeling of solidarity at the tea party events.
“This is a way to get people focused before the election,” Leslie Morrison said. “And it’s a way to get the tea party’s true numbers seen.”
Many attending the Washington, Sacramento and St. Louis rallies wore red, white and blue clothing and carried yellow flags with the picture of a snake coiled above the inscription “Don’t Tread On Me.”
In St. Louis, they packed the area between the Gateway Arch and the Mississippi River, and vendors sold lemonade, meat on sticks, T-shirts and other souvenirs. A band dressed in powdered wigs and 18th century clothing, belted out KISS’s “I Want to Rock ‘N Roll All Night.”
Mary Jane Corcoran, 58, who works in medical administration, made the 360-mile trip from Dayton, Ohio.
“When you’re used to your local tea party with 40 people, it’s nice to get together with a lot of people that feel the way you do,” Corcoran said. “This is like a shot in the arm to get us going for the November election.”
Organizers say the events intended to call attention to what they describe as big government run amok and to recall the sense of national unity Americans felt the day after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The rallies also represent an opportunity to build momentum before the November election. The tea party is counting on its members to turn out in large numbers and prove that the movement is a political force with staying power.
“We do not see our commitment as a short-term process,” said Ginny Rapini of Colfax, Calif., the national adviser and coordinator of NorCal Tea Party Patriots, the group behind the Sacramento event. “Our vigilance will not be finished this November, in 2012 or beyond. We see this as a lifetime struggle for all of us to preserve this precious republic that was handed to us by our founders some 230 years ago.”
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, whose nonprofit, conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks helped organize the Washington rally, said the tea partiers have shaken up the Republican party and gotten attention from lawmakers.
“Now we’re going to the general election and it’s time we gave the same lessons to the other party,” he told the crowd.
Beck and another tea party favorite, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, spoke to a crowd in Anchorage, Alaska, late Saturday — the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks — and discussed their feelings about that day in 2001.
“Here we are so many years later, and I fear we are forgetting,” Beck said.
Tea Party Patriots claims to be the nation’s largest tea party group, with 2,700 chapters, including at least 175 in California.
Party activists reject characterizations of their movement as an extension of the GOP, but the vast majority of its members are Republicans and independents who vote Republican.
But not Corcoran, who went to the St. Louis rally to show her opposition to big government.
“I’ve sort of gotten away from being a Republican or a Democrat,” she said. “I’m just a conservative.”
Freking reported from Washington, D.C. Associated Press writer Jim Salter in St. Louis also contributed to this report.