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EGF gathering of conservatives finds government, media not their cup of tea

About 110 people gathered on a warm Sunday in a picnic shelter in Sherlock Park in East Grand Forks for a "Tea Party," demonstrating deep opposition to the way things in Washington, and at a certain local newspaper, are going.

About 110 people gathered on a warm Sunday in a picnic shelter in Sherlock Park in East Grand Forks for a "Tea Party," demonstrating deep opposition to the way things in Washington, and at a certain local newspaper, are going.

Part of the unprecedented and widespread national movement of general protest against growing government spending and influence, the tea parties are so-called in reference to the storied 1773 tea party when American colonists dumped British tea in Boston Harbor to protest taxes on the stuff.

The organizers of Sunday's event also use the word "tea" to stand for "taxed enough already."

Most of the sentiments voiced at Sunday's tea party involved wishes to dump politicians and mainstream media overboard.

Sally Morris, the East Grand Forks woman who was the main organizer of the event, said she wants it to be a way for ordinary people to have a voice and to effect political change from the grassroots.

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She opened up the microphone to whoever wanted to come forward, and more than a dozen people did, to speak their piece.

Eric Skalicky, Oslo, Minn., told the tea party that "the government is just taking away all our liberties, adding, "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."

John Mosher, a Grand Forks dentist and frequent author of letters to the editor critical of the Herald and the news media in general, said President Barack Obama's plan to reform health care will hurt small businesses, including his.

Mosher also, as did several speakers, took a swipe at the Herald, saying it doesn't give enough space to conservative viewpoints, and won whoops of approval from his audience.

Randy Richards, who has a civilian job at Grand Forks Air Force Base, urged his listeners to pressure elected officials to oppose Obama's administration's main moves.

"This is our tea party," he said, naming off members of Congress from Minnesota and North Dakota. "They know you are here and they don't like it."

One result he's hoping for from the tea party phenomenon, Richards said, is that people will "vote these idiots out of office."

Richards also targeted the local daily newspaper.

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"The Grand Forks Herald? Stop subscribing." Instead, he said, people should watch Fox News on TV and find Internet sources for news.

After he spoke, Richards said he loves newspapers in general, but thinks too many, including the Herald, publish news biased to the left.

He's helping organize a tea party for Grand Forks on Aug. 11, probably in front of the county courthouse downtown. He's hoping some state Republican leaders will show up, and said Grand Forks City Council member Terry Bjerke and Scott Hennen, the Fargo conservative radio station owner and talk show host, will be there.

Begun as a quick reaction to federal bailout plans for industry begun in the waning months of President George W. Bush administration, the Tea Party movement. It's an Internet-driven grass-roots organized movement of heated opposition to what's seen as a rapid growth in the reach of the federal government.

Tea parties, especially focused on "tax day," April 15, and the Fourth of July, have been held in 800 U.S. cities, according to the National Tea Party Patriots Web site, including ones in Bismarck and Thief River Falls.

The main theme of the past week or so has been attacking the Obama health care reform plan.

The plan was to hold demonstrations outside state offices of all members of Congress last Friday to protest the health care reform bill.

Glenn Reynolds, a Tennessee law professor who writes the popular "Instapundit" blog, wrote in the Wall Street Journal this spring that tea parties represent a new form of social organizing using the Internet. With no formal connection to a political party, church or labor union, the "tea party protest movement is organizing itself, on its own behalf," Reynolds wrote.

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From the first one Feb. 16 in Seattle, it's mushroomed to thousands of people rallying at hundreds of sites, and still growing.

It appears the local movement, while full of sharp words, is rather formless with lots of views.

Jerry Breyer, of "Generous Jerry" fireworks fame, and who has been active in local evangelical Christian circles, warned the crowd that America was turning against God and its own history.

Ellen Tetrault, longtime leader of Grand Forks Right to Life, spoke briefly, congratulating the organizers of the tea party.

But most of the speakers were not well-known personages, but people who seem to have been galvanized by the tea party movement to get involved in politics.

Jered Lundeby, of Grand Forks, said although he's only 30, he remembers when America was different than it is now, when it was clear "what was right and what was wrong."

He's married, "but part of me is almost scared to have children in America today," he said.

The tea party movement has inspired him to become politically active, Lundeby said. "I've been pretty silent, and I don't plan on being like that anymore."

Amanda Kriegh, 17 and a high school student in Crookston attending the University of Minnesota, read a speech she gave in high school competition, "Is Equality Truly Fair?"

"The principle of equality refers to everyone having the same amount where fairness refers to people having what they deserve or have earned," she said. The drive for equality in school sports has hurt students by forcing unfair outcomes, she said.

David Kiefel, a UND employee, told the crowd he was part of the revolutionary times of the 1960s. "This is a different revolution," he said. "We are not going to be here in 20 years unless something is done."

Douglas Steiger, the venerable founder of a famous big tractor line, came from Thief River for the tea party and spoke briefly.

"My concern is that the way society is going, people are more concerned about what their neighbor has than what the people at the top have," Steiger said.

The Obama administration's plans to expand health care coverage, as well as the "cap and trade" idea to curb carbon emissions in industry, will hurt American business and move more manufacturing overseas, Steiger said.

"Look how far we've gone in five or six months," Steiger said. He said President Obama had interfered in the bankruptcy law in directing federal bailouts to large car companies. "We've got a dictator."

Sally Morris urged the ebbing crowd to not let the tea party idea fade away.

"We need to take this home with us and promise ourselves we are going to sit down one hour a week and write somebody," she said, providing information on names and addresses of elected officials. "And then we need to go out and do something."

She said one of her heroes, Sen. Barry Goldwater, had a slogan that summed it up: "In our hearts, we know we're right."

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

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