Chicago Tea Party rallies on Tax Day

By Heather McGraw

The U.S. government changed the deadline to file taxes this year but that didn’t prevent the Chicago Tea Party from holding its third annual Tax Day rally to gather support for the movement.

Tea Party members gathered outside Daley Plaza on April 18 to hear speakers from across the nation talk about the party’s future and what impact the Chicago group will have on it.

Speakers at the event included Rep. Joe Walsh, of Illinois, R-8th District, and potential Tea Party presidential candidate Herman Cain, who is a political activist and radio talk show host based in Georgia.

“[The Obama administration is] in denial that they can tax this nation to prosperity,” Cain said at the protest. “They are in denial that lowering taxes is how you get an economy really going. “

Cain then gave the crowd his five-point plan for a direct spending stimulus, which included lowering the corporate tax rate and making tax rates permanent. While he hasn’t officially announced his candidacy for the 2012 presidential elections, he has started an exploratory committee.

Chicago Tea Party Coordinator Steve Stevlic said tax day provides the group with a great opportunity to come together to share the message that they have been taxed enough already.

“When it comes down to it, we’re opposed to big government policies that limit people’s freedom and their opportunity to succeed and be happy,” Stevlic said.

Keeping a strong Tea Party movement going in Chicago is a challenge, according to Stevlic, but he said every individual who joins the movement largely helps the group’s impact.

“I think we’re one of the more influential groups in the country,” Stevlic said. “There are a few larger groups than us because we are working in a very blue state and a blue city, but this is where the Tea Party movement started.”

Stevlic said many members of the group see the city as the home of the Tea Party because of Rick Santelli, a Chicago native, who is often credited with being one of the movement’s founders. Santelli was not at the rally but another group of Chicago residents was.

There was a counter protest by members of the American Friends Service Committee, a national Quaker social justice organization, along with Chicago high school students. Mary Zerkel, co-coordinator of the Wage Peace Campaign for the American Friends Service Committee, said the group’s pro-tax message is almost the opposite of the Tea Party’s.

“It is interesting to all of a sudden have this group come by, which has kind of swept up the media interest in this issue so strongly,” Zerkel said.

The American Friends Service Committee supports taxes, but according to Zerkel, the group feels the revenue made from tax dollars is misspent by the government.

“We think everybody should pay taxes, but we think the money should be used for positive social purposes like roads, schools, teachers and health care,” Zerkel said. “Educating young people is a lot more important than dropping bombs on other countries.”

According to Zerkel, once people start paying more attention to the extreme ideas the Tea Party is pushing, like Paul Ryan’s budget proposals, which include cuts to Medicaid, the group will lose a lot of its appeal to the average person.

But Stevlic said the Tea Party has some big goals in mind for the coming years. The movement’s future plans include using the summer to start putting a focus on the 2012 elections, according to Stevlic. He said the Chicago group also plans to organize a Midwest Tea Party convention in the fall that will have a town hall-style forum, where people will be able to ask questions directly to potential presidential candidates.

“The way we look at it is we have nowhere to go but up,” Stevlic said.