Hundreds gather for Tea Party anti-tax rally on Boston Common

Hundreds of Tea Party activists waving signs and Colonial-era flags gathered on the Boston Common today to hear anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and other speakers at a rally protesting government spending and taxation.

“The Tea Party is America awakened,” Norquist said to loud cheers. “What’s the Tea Party done? Changed the direction of the country for the good, and I think on a permanent basis.”

Norquist, best known for the anti-tax pledge he asks members of Congress to sign, was the keynote speaker at the event, which also included talks by gun-rights leaders, Panera Bread co-CEO Ron Shaich, author Dr. Keith Ablow, radio personalities Tom Duggan, who owns a newspaper, and conservative commentator Jeff Katz.

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Turnout for the annual event, which in past years has drawn household-name speakers like Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty, was moderate, though the mostly white and middle-aged crowd swelled slightly as the weather warmed up throughout the early afternoon.

Volunteers from the campaigns of Republican Senate candidates Daniel Winslow and Michael Sullivan also attended, working the crowd and handing out literature.

Factions of the Tea Party set up tents around the Common’s Parkman Bandstand promoting issues such as gun rights and the repeal of the federal health care overhaul.

The ideology of rally participants was diverse, as single-issue diehards mingled and debated with moderates such as 66-year-old Virginia Barberie of Dracut, who said she came to hear new ideas.

“I’m just here to listen and see what they’re going to say,” Barberie said. “I’m not opposed to taxes.... My concern is waste, fraud, and abuse.”

Barberie said she didn’t expect to agree with the Tea Party on every issue, but hoped the group will be taken seriously.

“I hope people listen to each other more,” she said. “We can disagree, but let’s be respectful.”

Speakers at the event acknowledged the crowd’s range of views, urging attendees to focus on the issues they agree on.

“There’s a lot of people here for a lot of different reasons,” Norquist said. “But what we want, each one of us... [is for] the government to leave us alone.”

Massachusetts’s reputation as a liberal bastion was also a hot topic, with Duggan joking that the gathering was a “beacon in the wilderness,” and Katz saying Boston is “solidly behind enemy lines.”

But Norquist said Massachusetts voters “have a certain common sense,” as demonstrated by the 1980 passage of Proposition 2 1/2, which limits local property tax increases.

Katz drew cheers for a line referencing the “optimism” of conservative former U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who recently died. He also blasted the state Legislature, which met today at the State House to debate a proposal that would raise taxes to fund transportation programs and infrastructure improvements.

“It’s one of the most bizarre situations I’ve ever seen,” Katz told the gathering. “The governor is a looking at a half-billion dollar tax increase and saying, ‘it’s not enough.’ ”