CHICAGO (CBS) - As Tea Party activists protested taxation and government spending in Daley Plaza Thursday, a group of counter-protesters called their movement racist and told them to "go home."
At least 50 counter-protesters representing a variety of organizations gathered at the southeast corner of Daley Plaza Thursday. Some held signs proclaiming themselves "proud taxpayers," others held LGBT rainbow flags and called for gay rights, "free health care on demand," and end to immigration raids, and other causes.
They chanted at the main crowd, "Teabaggers go home," and, "2-4-6-8, we don't need your teabag hate."
The Tea Party movement generally unites on the fiscally conservative principles of small government, lower taxes and less spending. Beyond that, the ideology of the people involved tends to vary dramatically.
But many of the counter-protesters said they think racism has overtaken the message of the movement.
"I'm out here because I grew up in Marquette Park, during the time when racism was very heavy there, and I know it when I see it," said counter-protester Fred Mecklenburg, "and this is the same thing. It's a racist movement."
Activist Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network said the Tea Party movement has become "a magnet for various racists and xenophobes who are attempting to scapegoat immigrants and others." He said rather than protesting against taxes, he is protesting against military spending.
"If this country didn't spend as much on the military as the rest of the world combined, then we could have health care for all. We could have free education for all," Thayer said.
Thayer also disputed the characterizations of the Tea Party as a "grassroots movement." He pointed out that as of around noon, despite widespread publicity and media coverage, only about 1,000 people had come to the Tea Party protest.
"We live in a city that's majority-minority, and I think the complexion of this group belies their racism, their sexism and their anti-gay bigotry," Thayer said.
Many of the counter-protesters defended President Barack Obama, who was the subject of many hostile signs in the main Tea Party protest. One woman held a sign reading, "Chi-Town is Obama Country. Teabaggers go home. Get out of our city."
But a couple others in the counter-protest held signs disparaging Obama for being too conservative, and continuing wars started under President George W. Bush.
The main Tea Party protest in Daley Plaza is one of several demonstrations in the Chicago area and 800 planned nationwide. It's all part of 47-city "Tea Party Express" that will wind up in Washington D.C. at the end of the day.
This year's theme involves health care reform. They're calling it: "Repeal it and Replace Congress."
Adam Harrington, cbs2chicago.com
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