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Nationwide 'tea party' protests blast spending

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  • NEW: Signs call for "no taxation without deliberation," "stop generational spending"
  • NEW: "Stop out of control spending and stop government takeover," attendee says
  • Internet-driven movement sparks protests against government spending
  • Rallies against bailouts and stimulus package held across the nation
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(CNN) -- Armed with signs reading "no taxation without deliberation" and "stop bankrupting America," tens of thousands of people spent national tax day at organized "tea party" demonstrations across the country, protesting what some view as excessive government spending and bailouts.

Protesters in Boston on Wednesday complain that government is growing too large.

Crates of tea were dumped into Massachusetts' Boston Harbor during a "tea party" protest Wednesday.

"If you look at these nine little beautiful grandbabies, I'm here for them. Our government's out of control with spending and their future's being robbed," said Mary Wojnas, whose sign had a photo of her grandchildren next to the phrase, "Stop Generational Theft."

"Stop out-of-control spending and stop government takeover and intrusion in our lives. They're here to protect us and beyond that, get out of our way," said Wojnas, who attended a rally in front of the Georgia state capitol in Atlanta.

In Massachusetts, hundreds cheered as people dressed in 18th-century style wigs and clothes tossed crates of tea into Boston Harbor, harkening back to pre-Revolutionary War protests in that city against British taxation policies.

"I think it's only a matter of time before these people quit carrying signs and start doing something else," said Ed McQueen, an Ohio resident who attended the Chicago rally. "What that is, I don't know. Quit paying taxes? Are they going to start carrying sticks and clubs? I don't know." iReport.com: See McQueen's photos

Conservatives borrowed a page from President Obama's Web-savvy style to promote the gatherings on videos and blogs.

But many insisted protesters' grievances cut across party lines, reflecting a general anger among people who contend the government takes too much from their pocketbooks.

"The importance of these tea parties is to let our elected officials know that there's a lot of people out there who are unhappy. They're not Republicans, they're not Democrats, they're everyday Americans who are concerned about our taxes," said said T.J. Welsh, an organizer of a protest attended by thousands in Jacksonville, Florida.

Financial-industry and automotive bailouts were launched at the end of George W. Bush's presidency, but many demonstrators aimed their words and signs at the Obama administration, criticizing it in part for the recently passed stimulus package. iReport.com: See map showing where some tea parties took place

The $787 billion economic stimulus bill President Obama signed in February "was basically shoved down the throat of the American people," Welsh said.

"Now is not the time to be running a $700 billion dollar plus budget through that people did not talk about, that people did not read," Welsh said.

Along with concerns over too many taxes and excessive bailouts, a common theme that emerged from the demonstrations was the threat of big government on the lives of individual citizens.

"People are tired of the nanny state and the growth of government, tired of having our money basically robbed," a demonstrator in Jacksonville said. "[We] want to return to constitutional form of government, limited government that allows people to be free and independent."

"The biggest problem we have is the government is too big ... real people understand that and say we can't take the burden of a burgeoning government," said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, whose organization, FreedomWorks, helped organize Wednesday's nationwide event.

"We need to reign in the size of government, and once having done so, we can cut taxes responsibly," he said.

Boston wasn't the only place where protesters played off the pre-Revolutionary War tea-dumping protests. As many Americans rushed to file their tax forms Wednesday, cheering crowds across the country heaved huge coolers with "Tea" painted on the side into bodies of water. iReport.com: Protest in Rochester, New York

Protesters on Wednesday said that like their colonial forebears, they felt their voices were not being heard by their government.

At one protest Wednesday morning a sign read, "I read as much of the stimulus bill as my Congresswoman." Another read, "You can't put lipstick on socialism."

McQueen, a 44-year-old litigation consultant and CNN iReporter, said he had no problem with paying taxes.

"But when no can tell us where this amount of money is going, no one can sketch it out for us, just seems like an injustice," he said. iReport.com: Check out McQueen's story

Bloggers in Seattle, Washington, were the first to bring conservatives together for a rally on February 16 against what they saw as too many government handouts to banks, the auto and mortgage industries. Protests followed in Colorado and Arizona.

The embers turned into a raging fire when later that month, CNBC personality Rick Santelli went off on Obama's policies live on air.

"The government is promoting bad behavior," Santelli said, asking why Obama would make Americans who pay their bills subsidize the mortgages of "losers."

Santelli said he wanted a tea party to happen in Chicago, Illinois, to stand up and angrily demand "No more."

Cheers erupted behind him on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange floor and a video of the rant became viral, drawing comparisons of Santelli to Howard Beale, the fictional "mad as hell" anchorman in the 1976 movie "Network."

The outrage spread, prompting rallies in the Midwest and the South.

Pajamas TV, a conservative Web site that says it gets about 1 million viewers a week, ran streaming video from several protests. PJTV hired McCain campaign poster boy Samuel Joseph "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher to act as a reporter at one of the protests. At least one video shows a protester asking Wurzelbacher if he would like to waterboard Obama.

"I don't approve of that," said Pajamas TV CEO Roger L. Simon. "I would like to hope, and I think, that most people are respectful."

Liberal tea party critics aren't buying it. They call the protests "Astroturf," saying they aren't real grassroots events, but are organized by old-fashioned Republican Party bosses.

The events have been promoted in part by FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, whose Web site says it engages citizens "in the name of limited government and free markets."

"Groups like Americans for Prosperity [are] working and helping an organizing, but no one group, no one organization, no one political party could pull off something like this," Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips said. iReport.com: Tax protest brewing in San Antonio

In remarks in Washington on Wednesday, Obama said he'd been true to campaign promises to lessen the tax burden on most Americans.

"My administration has taken far-reaching action to give tax cuts to Americans who need them while jump-starting growth and job creation in the process," the president said.

A tax cut enacted April 1, Obama said, "will reach 120 million families and put $120 billion directly into their pockets."

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The plan offers a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for working individuals and up to $800 for married taxpayers who file joint returns, according to the IRS.

Not everyone disapproves of Obama's tax policies. In March, 62 percent of people taking a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll said they approved how Obama is handling taxes. The sampling error was plus or minus 4.5 percent.

CNN's Aaron Cooper, Jim Acosta, John Couwels, Ashley Fantz and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.

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