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Our view: Duluth can sip its tea with civility

They thought about changing the name of the event. And who wouldn't when the name -- "Tea Party" -- suddenly is synonymous with hate, with violence, and even with racism and bigotry, whether deserved or not? Ugly incidents have marred tea party r...

2009 Tea Party
People protest government pork and high taxes during a rally April 15, 2009, in Duluth. File / News Tribune

They thought about changing the name of the event.

And who wouldn't when the name -- "Tea Party" -- suddenly is synonymous with hate, with violence, and even with racism and bigotry, whether deserved or not?

Ugly incidents have marred tea party rallies around the country. Signs have been spotted depicting President Obama as a monkey. Others' signs have read, "Warning: If Brown can't stop it, a Browning can," and included drawings of handguns. During the health-reform debate, protesters reportedly hurled racial and sexual slurs at black and gay members of Congress. Web sites included crosshairs over the cities where pro-reform congressional members lived. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a lightning rod at tea party events, even tweeted, "Don't Retreat, Instead -- RELOAD."

But it's different in Duluth, more polite, more civil -- even with "Tea Party" continuing as the name of the second annual Tax Day rally for smaller government and for reduced federal spending, scheduled Thursday at Bayfront Festival Park. The tea party movement is above the unfortunate acts of a few crazies, insist local organizers who decided to stick with the well-known name despite its baggage. And the tea party movement, they say, is about so much more than the left-right squabbling that seems to so easily catch the national media's attention.

"What we're really concerned about are the liberties and constitutional rights we see changing in this country. This is about economic liberty. This is about debt that's compiling," said Bob Hansen of the Duluth-based Northern Liberty Alliance, the sponsor of Thursday afternoon's Tea Party. "Who's running the show? We're saying we have rights. We're at a very big crossroads in our history. We have to be involved."

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Thursday's Tea Party will be family-oriented, with music and speeches, Hansen and others from the Northern Liberty Alliance's 13-member steering committee promised. Participants may be Democrats, Republicans or of other political affiliations -- or of no affiliation at all.

The event will be among hundreds around the country.

"We don't get caught up in party labels," said Becky Hall of Duluth, also a Northern Liberty Alliance member. "We see the Tea Party as a chance for we the people to get to speak. We hope our elected leaders attend. We want them to listen. ... It's really just an opportunity for people to come out and celebrate our freedoms and our great country. And I think we all need a refresher course on what's in the U.S. Constitution and how it affects our lives."

Sound good? Then go, participate. But don't attend if your goal is to disrupt -- or worse. Placards that encourage or condone violence and shouts that spread hate have no place in the much-needed public debates over how government can best operate and most benefit all citizens.

Thursday's Tea Party sponsors won't stand for unsavory behavior, either. Security will be plentiful, including off-duty Duluth police officers.

"We won't stand for racism or hatred," Hansen said. "If someone brings a racial epithet or anything, they will be escorted out. We're above that. If somebody somewhere else called somebody the 'n-word,' that's pathetic and wrong. At our event you'll be asked to leave."

"We're not going to let a few people spoil it," said Hall. "We're going to be celebrating our freedom. We're going to be fighting for our freedoms. But we're going to be responsible and civil about it. We want others to come and do the same."

Rowdy and wrong are not typical of Duluth and won't be tolerated. Similarly, local Tea Party organizers insist, shenanigans elsewhere are not typical of the local tea party movement and also won't be tolerated.

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Not by them and not by any of the rest of the Duluth community, either.

Cartoon: Tea party
Steve Lindstrom / For the News Tribune

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