CEDAR RAPIDS – No Sarah Palin.
No presidential candidates at all.
But from the opening Pledge of Allegiance to the last “God bless America,” the Tea Party Express rally in downtown Cedar Rapids Sept. 1 delivered a message any of them would have endorsed: It’s time to take back the country from the Barack Obamas, Harry Reids and Nancy Pelosis, who, as Tea Party Express Co-Chairwoman Amy Kremer said, “think we can spend our way back into prosperity.”
It was, for the most part, a pep rally for the disaffected, those who think the country, especially the federal government, is out of control.
“The country is in trouble. We’ve got a bunch of problems,” said Tom Peterson of Marion, an Air Force veteran and Kirkwood Community College student who brought his dad and his “Don’t Tread on Me” flag to the Greene Square Park rally. “I’m not going to hide my colors.”
“I’ve got a kid on the way and I want him to have the life I’ve had,” Peterson said. “I don’t see that happening the way things are going.”
It was a sentiment shared by many in the crowd of about 200, including those who said they don’t necessarily think of themselves as the Tea Party.
“I’d like to see less big government, less regulation that stifles Americans from doing what Americans do best,” said financial adviser Robin Werling and Marine Corps veteran from Cedar Rapids.
The rally got off to a rocky start when emcee Diana Nagy shouted out: “Hello, Rapid City.” The crowd laughed it off and after that speakers opted for a more generic, “Hello, Iowa.”
Kremer and a variety of speakers, musicians and comedians encouraged their audience to get involved in the political process. Many of those who come to the Tea Party Express rallies are political neophytes, added Tim Pugh of the Cedar Rapids Tea Party.
“For a lot of them, this is their first venture,” he said. “They’re reliable voters, but they’re not involved.”
“So we want to leave people with excitement and enthusiasm and a sense that we can make a difference,” Kremer said.
Brenda Kelly of Marion, a self-described political junkie, has been to more than a few political events.
“I’m passionate about changing things,” she said, “and the tea party’s not like the Democratic or Republican parties, but people who believe something has to be done.”
Involvement in the process is the way to make the change, Kremer said.
“You do it at the ballot box,” Kremer said. “If we want to effect change, we have to change the players.”
The tea party has a great opportunity this year, Kremer said, predicting that whoever gets the GOP presidential nomination won’t do it without the support of tea party members.
“That speaks more to the issues set — budget, borrowing, spending, debt and deficit – more than to an electorate,” said Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn, who spoke at the rally on behalf of Strong America Now. The group is a non-profit dedicated to educating and mobilizing a bipartisan, grassroots effort focused on eliminating the national debt and deficit using a process called Lean Six Sigma.
The tea party movement and right-of-center groups are complementary to the Republican Party, he said. As A GOP leader, Strawn said, he has no plans to tell tea party members who to support, but he welcomes their involvement.
“The more people we have getting involved the better it is for the process,” he said. The fact that many in the movement are newcomers “is a good sign for the growth of the party.”
The Tea Party Express had hinted that Palin might show up for the rally and her absence disappointed some audience members. Among them was former Benton County Democratic Chairman Robert Smith, now of Cedar Rapids.
“I just wanted to hear what propaganda she would be spewing,” Smith said as he folded his lawn chair and left the park.
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