WASHINGTON (AP) — Tea party activists gathered in capitals on each coast Sunday to spread their message of smaller government and focus their political movement on the pivotal congressional elections in November.
From the grounds of the Washington Monument, with the Capitol looming at one end of the National Mall, Michael and Judy Parsons-Power of Decatur, Ala., said lawmakers had lost touch with the people they were elected to represent.
"It wouldn't bother me to make a clean sweep," said Michael Power, endorsing term limits for members of Congress. "There are some good ones, but we can lose those."
Thousands of people were expected to rally in Washington, St. Louis and Sacramento, Calif., as tea party leaders try to energize conservatives in the political campaign's homestretch.
"I want to be a person who just keeps the pressure up," said Gene Kollak, who drove 13 hours from Fairfield, Ill., to the nation's capital.
Many attending the Washington rally, the first of the three events, carried yellow flags with the picture of a snake coiled above the inscription "Don't Tread On Me."
Organizers say the events were 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, described the Democratic Party now in control of the White House and Congress as "confused and demoralized. The great source of energy, right now, on the field of politics is the grassroots activists for small government. They're going to turn out the vote for the small-government conservative," he told CNN's "State of the Union."
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.
Two tea party favorites, conservative commentator Glenn Beck and 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.
Hindery reported from Sacramento, Calif.