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700 to 900 attend 'tea party'

A crowd estimated at 700 to 900 people filled the front lawn of the Grand Forks County Courthouse for a "tea party," giving voice to many expressing dissatisfaction with the political status quo.

Ed Schafer
Former Bush administration Secretary of Agriculture and former North Dakota governor Ed Schafer rallies the 'tea party' crowd Tuesday evening on the lawn of the Grand Forks County Courthouse. Herald photo by John Stennes.

A crowd estimated at 700 to 900 people filled the front lawn of the Grand Forks County Courthouse for a "tea party," giving voice to many expressing dissatisfaction with the political status quo.

Terry Bjerke, Grand Forks City Council member, was one of several guest speakers, and took his shots at critics of tea parties and at President Barack Obama.

He didn't see many "Nazis" or "un-American" types in the crowd, Bjerke said. "What I see is a lot of community organizers. And we are going to follow the example of our president and organize our community. . . . We need to take our country back."

Later, he said he meant "take it back from socialistic" programs and politicians.

About two dozen people who lined up for the microphone were given about a minute to speak their piece.


David Waterman, a Grand Forks business owner, said it was the job of the Christian church, not government, to care for the sick, the poor and those in need.

Another counseled everyone to listen to one another, harking back to ancient Greece's example of democracy.

There was a theme of evangelical Christian faith expressed by many of those who spoke, and several pastors were in attendance.

Some blamed Republicans in Washington, as well as Democrats.

But there was a Republican color to the event, measured by the guest speakers and the tone of most comments.

Former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer, who was Bush's secretary of agriculture for a year, was the main speaker, closing out the 105-minute event with a six-minute address. Schafer said while it was clear there were Republicans, Democrats, Independents "and even Rastafarians," in the crowd, that was not what it was all about.

"We are all here because we are people who care about our country and we want our voices to be heard."

Schafer quoted North Dakota native and the late chaplain of the U.S. Senate, the Rev. Richard Halverson: "Only as America blesses God can God bless America."


Eliot Glassheim, a Democratic legislator and member of the Grand Forks City Council, was perhaps the only liberal office holder in the crowd.

Glassheim said after the event he's never seen this sort of political movement of discontent, at least since the 1960s. He said wished he had spoken up.

"I wanted to say I believe in government," he said. "Certainly, when you have a flood in Grand Forks, you see how important government is."

But he wasn't sure it would have been useful for him to speak out in such a crowd, with only a minute to address "a lot of stuff that was misleading or erroneous," he said.

He wasn't sure, Glassheim said, exactly where the discontent was coming from, or what it was seeking.

"I don't understand what is behind (what they say), what is bothering them," he said. "They criticize Medicare. But are there any of them who would really want their parents not to have Medicare?"

While much strong opinion and emotion was expressed, there was no angry shouting.

Before the event started, Schafer knelt down and chatted with Glassheim for a few moments, demonstrating perhaps that North Dakota is a small world. The crowd was diverse, age-wise and in other ways.


Jason Boushey, Grand Forks, pulled up to the event on his Harley Davidson.

He's an owner of a small trucking firm in East Grand Forks.

"As a business owner, I'm pretty concerned about what the government is doing with health care," he said. "I strongly oppose any socialism."

He's in charge of providing benefits to his 13 employees, Boushey said. "I realize some changes have to be made to the health care system," he said. "But no one seems to be listening to the business owners."

Diane Knauf, Grand Forks County Commissioner, stopped to check out the tea party before a 7 p.m. planning and zoning meeting in the county office building across the street.

"Quite frankly, I'm curious, myself," she said about the tea party. She sees it as the duty of any elected public official "to listen to the public," Knauf said. "We all need to play attention. We all pay taxes, too."

Organizers had someone count the crowd carefully, and he came up with 800 to 900. Other crowd-counters, including the Herald, estimated it was at least 700, perhaps as high as 900.

Randy Richards, the main organizer, said after he was "very happy," with the event. "It was a good crowd, an educated crowd," he said.

A similar tea party is scheduled for Thursday evening in downtown Fargo near the public library, Richards said.

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to slee@gfherald.com .

Maurey Nordenstrom
Maurey Nordenstrom, Davenport, N.D., expresses his view with the sign he held at Monday's 'tea party'. Herald photo by John Stennes.

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