April 14, 2010 for Medill Reports
by Josh Lederman

CHICAGO — As Chicagoans scramble to file last-minute tax returns by the deadline Thursday, tea party activists will be protesting what they see as out of control government spending and infringements on individual liberty.

Their message on health care reform will be succinct: “Repeal it. Replace Congress.”

The protests at Daley Plaza will be among at least 17 tea party events taking place throughout Illinois on tax day. In Chicago, protesters will hear from conservative congressional candidates David Ratowitz and Joe Walsh from the Chicago area, talk radio hosts Cisco Cotto and Sandy Rios, and activist Kathy Barkulis, who made a splash at last year’s protest when she confronted a CNN reporter.

“If there’s more people than last year and everything remains civil,” the event will be a success, said tea party activist and real estate agent Jeremy Segal. Dishonesty in Washington, runaway spending and subversion of the Constitution are what Segal said drove him to the movement, though he says he’s “not someone that thinks that began with Barack Obama.”

Segal was one of about 25 activists who gathered Tuesday night at Blackie’s Restaurant and Tavern, 755 S. Clark St., to make signs for Thursday’s Tax Day Tea Party, organized by Tea Party Patriots Chicago. Some slogans were philosophical (“Give me liberty, don’t give me debt”), while others took direct aim at the Obama administration (“B.O. Stinks” and “Take O-bomb-a off of America’s table”).

Five letters were all that were needed for another batch of signs: Activists plan to hold signs saying “Plant” in front of anyone whose signs are deemed offensive or racist and would reflect poorly on the tea party movement, preventing the media from taking photos of those protesters.

The counter-measure was devised as a response to the Crash the Tea Party movement that has sprung up on the Internet in recent weeks. That group is threatening to infiltrate and impersonate tea partiers “in ways which exaggerate their least appealing qualities to further distance them from mainstream America and damage the public’s opinion of them,” according to their Web site,

“If you’re a plant, if you try to show up with a sign that’s racist or rude, we’re going to call you out on it,” Steve Stevlic, coordinator of Tea Party Patriots Chicago, told activists preparing signs Tuesday.

A separate counter-protest is being planned for the same time and location by the M20 Coalition, although according to Andy Thayer, an organizer with the coalition, no permit has been issued.

Yet the “Plant” signs may serve a dual purpose, Stefan Bartelski, a Florida talk radio host, told Chicago tea party activists Tuesday.

“If anyone not officially a plant, on our side but offensive” shows up, Bartelski said, “we can still ‘plant-sign’ them.”

In addition to the noon protest Tea Party Patriots Chicago is planning, Chicago Tea Patriots is holding its own protest at 3 p.m., also at Daley Plaza.

That group, led by Catherina Wojtowicz, has a tumultuous history with Tea Party Patriots Chicago. After a nationally publicized incident in November when Wojtowicz’s group heckled a couple at a congressional town hall meeting who said their daughter had died in part due to lack of health insurance, Tea Party Patriots Chicago cut ties with Chicago Tea Patriots.

“It’s great that we have two tea parties, frankly,” Wojtowicz said.

Both Wojtowicz and Stevlic downplayed the significance of the dueling protests and conflict.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Stevlic said. Yet he confirmed that his group sent Chicago Tea Patriots a letter last year to cease and desist from representing itself as associated with Tea Party Patriots Chicago.

Tax Day Events

•11:45am: Counter-protest Against the Tea Party, organized by the M20 Coalition
•12:00pm: Chicago Tax Day Tea Party, organized by Tea Party Patriots Chicago
•3:00pm: Tax Day Tea Party, organized by Chicago Tea Patriots
All events will be held at Daley Plaza, 50 West Washington Street, Chicago