HANNIBAL — Ronn Pashia has lived through the lean times and the good. One thing he learned early on was when times are hard, you spend less money.
On Wednesday, the 65-year-old Hannibal man joined about 200 others at a "tea party" rally urging the government to reverse course and take that same cautious approach.
"You don't spend your way out of debt, and you don't just keep spending," Pashia yelled to loud applause at a noontime rally that began around the small bandstand in Central Park and ended with a four-block march to the Mississippi River, where a burlap bagful of tea bags was dumped. "If you ain't got it, you don't spend it."
Tax day rallies were taking place Wednesday around the nation, and in several Missouri communities large and small, from Mark Twain's hometown of Hannibal to Jefferson City to the urban areas of Springfield and St. Louis.
In Kansas City, thousands of people filled the north lawn of the Liberty Memorial on Wednesday afternoon, waving homemade signs and beating rally sticks in response to several speakers who railed against big government and what they called threats to U.S. freedoms.
The rallies were aimed at showing anger and frustration at government spending since President Barack Obama took office, including the $787 billion economic stimulus package Congress passed earlier this year.
The gathering in Hannibal, a town of 17,000 was loud at times. Some said they skipped lunch to attend, or munched on sandwiches as they sat on park benches.
It wasn't all about the stimulus plan. Some wore anti-abortion T-shirts. Others carried signs supporting the rights of gun owners, or opposing socialized medicine.
But everyone, it seemed, was worried about government spending. Many people carried signs with comments such as "I can't spend what I don't have. How can the government?" or "Washington: Wake up and stop spending our children's money."
"You know and I know the bill eventually comes due," Lindell Shumake, 59, told the crowd. "It's not going to come due for us, but for our children and grandchildren. And I don't think that's fair."
Raymond Dowell, a 76-year-old retired farmer from nearby Palmyra, held a small cardboard sign that read "TEA: Taxed Enough Already." He worried the stimulus package will force the government to cut back on other programs he considers more necessary.
"I fear a lot of the farm programs will be on the chopping block — they'll just cut them to spend more on some of these pork projects," Dowell said.
Lexie Gonohi, 54, said her small downtown business, Christian Ambiance Book Store, can't run up huge debts without ramifications. Why, she wondered, can the government?
"I don't mind paying my fair share of taxes," Gonohi said. "We're blessed to live in this country, and we have to pay for the freedom, but we don't want to be gouged, either."
Steve Lane, 59, a retired school counselor, said he's neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He looked around the rally and said he saw "several people I've argued politics with."
But Lane said spending that escalated under President Bush has grown worse under Obama.
"My daughter's a student in a nursing program," Lane said. "She's looking at the inflation side. She's concerned about how she'll be able to afford college."
Karla Waite, 28, brought her four young children from Independence to the rally in Kansas City because she said "it was time to stand up."
"The way we've been going, with the bailouts and the entitlements, we're heading toward socialism," Waite said. "That's not the kind of world I want my children to live in."
Speakers included Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, a spokesman for Republican Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, Libertarian Party spokesman Mike Ferguson, representatives of several political activist groups and Chris Stigall, host of a talk show on Kansas City radio station KCMO.
Many speakers mocked Democrats and some mainstream media outlets for saying the tax day rallies were not a grass-roots movement and those who supported it were not patriots.
All the speakers urged the crowd to continue the fight for smaller government, no more federal bailouts and preservation of liberty in the months leading up to the 2010 elections.
Platte County prosecutor Eric Zahnd said the federal and state governments had fallen into "Alice in Wonderland's World of Nonsense" where spending decisions and expansion of government are inexplicable.
"We will restore sanity to our government only when good people stand up and say, 'No more,'" Zahnd told the cheering crowd.
James Freeman, a 40-year-old from Kansas City, said he was inspired by the rally. He said he's a general manager of a small manufacturing company that is struggling in the current economy.
"That's tough but we are going to manage on our own," Freeman said. "We shouldn't have the government involved in private businesses. And the spending is just too much. You can't spend your way out of debt."