WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Lauren Sheriff calls herself a "newbie" in the Tea Party movement, but she was partying with the best of them Thursday on Pennsylvania Avenue.
"It's fabulous," said Sheriff, a housewife who first attended a rally a week ago in her hometown of Milwaukee, then followed the Tea Party Express tour on through another seven stops. She then returned home before catching a plane to D.C. for yesterday's final rally of the spring tour, which filled Freedom Plaza, two blocks east of the White House.
Spending a few days following the third nationwide bus tour -- which hit 47 cities in 19 days -- inspired respect for those who made the whole trip.
"I don't even know how they did it. I'm tired… it was grueling," Sheriff said.
Grueling as the tour has been since starting March 27 in Harry Reid's hometown of Searchlight, Nevada, the voices and faces on the stage were still cheerful, and none so cheerful as the blonde woman who stood backstage a few steps away from Mrs. Sheriff.
Former Saturday Night Live star Victoria Jackson entertained the mid-day crowd with her song, "There's a Communist Living in the White House." In her trademark ditzy-blonde style, the comedienne's tune humorously reprises the history of President Obama's leftist associations and actions, and has already gathered more than 270,000 views on YouTube.com.
An evangelical Christian who belongs to an L.A.-area Tea Party group, the Pasadena Patriots, Jackson crossed the country on the bus as part of a tour that also featured special guest appearances from Andrew Breitbart, Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Joe the Plumber, Ann Coulter and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Palin headlined a rally Wednesday in Boston, not far from the site of the original 1773 Tea Party, but didn't make it to D.C., where the mid-day event at Freedom Plaza was followed by an evening rally in front of the Washington Monument that drew a crowd estimated at 25,000.
"I'm really happy with the turnout," said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, main sponsor of the later rally.
Thursday's attendance was a fraction of the massive crowd that attended last year's September 12 rally in front of the Capitol, but that was a Saturday, not a weekday when millions of Americans were struggling to finish their federal 1040 forms in time for the midnight tax-filing deadline.
"The crowd is energized," Kibbe said. "I think the message, after [last month's passage of] ObamaCare, is that [Tea Party activists] aren't… backing down, they're not going home. They're mobilizing and they're going to make November 2 a referendum on ObamaCare."
FreedomWorks has been involved with the Tea Party movement from the beginning. Kibbe noted that Mary Rakovich, an activist from Fort Myers, Florida, who had been trained by his organization, helped organize a February 2009 protest against the stimulus bill that was then pending in Congress. Rakovich gathered fewer than a dozen conservatives for that protest at a joint appearance of President Obama and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. But from that tiny demonstration grew a groundswell of activism that has, among other things, pretty much destroyed any possibility that Crist can win the GOP Senate primary, despite backing of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Perhaps the biggest sign of Tea Party success is a new wave of attacks on the movement from the Left and a surge of attention from the liberal media. Most bizarre of the attacks was the announcement earlier this week of "Crash the Tea Party," an effort by liberal activists to infiltrate rallies in an effort to discredit the movement. That project was organized by Jason Levin, who told the Associated Press that he believes most Tea Party attendees are "homophobes, racists or morons" -- although perhaps not so moronic as a saboteur who gives advance notice of his plans for sabotage. He was put on paid leave by the Oregon public school that employs him, under suspicion that he may have done his activism during work hours. How did his infiltrators fare Thursday? "They came, they saw, they failed," as Michelle Malkin summarized it.
Whereas the liberal media once ignored the Tea Parties, they now seem obsessed with the movement, commissioning polls and sending reporters to cover rallies. Obama himself has begun taking shots at the movement, telling a Democratic fund-raising crowd in Miami that his opponents should thank him for cutting their taxes.
Of course, nearly half of all American households don't even pay income tax, but one who does was driving a cab in D.C. yesterday. Shewagezaw Tilahun is also a small businessman who says he sometimes puts in 17-hour days between his job as a cab driver and working at the convenience store he owns. A native of Ethiopia and a Christian who keeps an Amharic-language Bible in his cab, Tilahun voted for Obama in 2008, but said he plans to vote Republican this year.
As he drove down 15th Street toward the rally at the Washington Monument, the cabbie praised America as the "land of opportunity" and stressed the importance of hard work and education. He asked about the purpose of the Tea Party rally. Told the movement is about economic freedom and defending the Constitution, Tilahun proclaimed, "I support this idea 101 percent."
He was too busy working to attend the rally, but the cabbie's message was as powerful as any spoken from the stage.