Page last updated at 22:22 GMT, Saturday, 12 September 2009 23:22 UK
Protests over Obama health reform
Demonstrators at a rally at Freedom Plaza in Washington DC
Protesters are angry at what they say is reckless public spending
Tens of thousands of people have marched from the White House to Capitol Hill in Washington to protest against Barack Obama's healthcare reforms.
The demonstrations came as the US president sought to boost support for his plans during a Minneapolis rally.
Addressing a crowd of 15,000, Mr Obama said he refused to accept no change on his top domestic priority.
He said he would not allow special interests to "use the same old tactics to keep things the way they are".
"I will not accept the status quo. Not this time. Not now," Mr Obama said in the democratic-leaning state, which has one of the country's smallest numbers of uninsured residents.
'Taxed to death'
But in Washington protesters attacked Mr Obama's administration for what it called out-of-control spending - on healthcare, the stimulus packages and the bailout of the banking and car industries.
Barack Obama addresses rally in Minneapolis
Mr Obama said he will not allow special interests to dominate the debate
Healthcare in the US costs $2.2tn a year, or 16% of the country's GDP - nearly double the OECD average.
The protestors insist that spending tax dollars on a government-run health insurance option will increase inflation and lead the country to economic ruin.
"Born free, taxed to death," one protester's sign read while another, held up by an immigrant from Ukraine, said: "I had enough of socialism in the USSR."
The march - co-ordinated by the conservative grouping Freedomworks, a grassroots movement calling for lower taxes and smaller government - brought together protesters from across different states.
Days after urging Democrats and Republicans in Congress to work together, Mr Obama said his plan was open to ideas from across the political spectrum.
HEALTHCARE IN THE US
46 million uninsured, 25 million under-insured
Healthcare costs represent 16% of GDP, almost twice OECD average
Reform plans would require all Americans to get insurance
Some propose public insurance option to compete with private insurers
Q&A: US healthcare reform
"If you come to me with a serious set of proposals, I will be there to listen. My door is always open," he said.
He warned, though, that he would not waste time with those who believe: "it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it".
It is estimated that some 46 million Americans do not have health insurance, and a further 25 million are thought to have inadequate insurance.
The healthcare plans currently being considered in Congress are all attempting to expand coverage, while also reforming the system to prevent spiralling costs.
The bill would expand coverage to 97% of Americans, at a cost of some $600bn (£365bn).
Thousands Rally in Capital to Protest Big Government
By JEFF ZELENY
Published: September 12, 2009
WASHINGTON ― A sea of protesters filled the west lawn of the Capitol and spilled onto the National Mall on Saturday in the largest rally against President Obama since he took office, a culmination of a summer-long season of protests that began with opposition to a health care overhaul and grew into a broader dissatisfaction with government.
On a cloudy and cool day, the demonstrators came from all corners of the country, waving American flags and handwritten signs explaining the root of their frustrations. Their anger stretched well beyond the health care legislation moving through Congress, with shouts of support for gun rights, lower taxes and a smaller government.
But as they sang verse after verse of patriotic hymns like “God Bless America,” sharp words of profane and political criticism were aimed at Mr. Obama and Congress.
Dick Armey, a former House Republican leader whose group Freedomworks helped organize the protest, stood before the crowd and led the rallying cries in nearly the same spot where Mr. Obama took his oath of office eight months ago.
“He pledged a commitment of fidelity to the United States Constitution,” Mr. Armey said, suggesting that Mr. Obama was in violation of what the founding fathers intended the size and scope of the government to be.
“Liar! Liar! Liar! Liar!” the crowd shouted back, echoing the accusation that Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, hurled at the president three days earlier during his address to Congress.
The demonstrators numbered well into the tens of thousands, though the police declined to estimate the size of the crowd. Many came on their own and were not part of an organization or group. But the magnitude of the rally took the authorities by surprise, with throngs of people streaming from the White House to Capitol Hill for more than three hours.
The atmosphere was rowdy at times, with signs and images casting Mr. Obama in a demeaning light. One sign called him the “parasite in chief.” Others likened him to Hitler. Several people held up preprinted signs saying, “Bury Obama Care with Kennedy,” a reference to the Massachusetts senator whose body passed by the Capitol two weeks earlier to be memorialized.
Other signs did not focus on Mr. Obama, but rather on the government at large, promoting gun rights, tallying the national deficit and deploring illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Still, many demonstrators expressed their views without a hint of rage. They said the size of the crowd illustrated that their views were shared by a broader audience.
“I want Congress to be afraid,” said Keldon Clapp, 45, an unemployed marketing representative who recently moved to Tennessee from Connecticut after losing his job. “Like everyone else here, I want them to know that we’re watching what they’re doing. And they do work for us.”
As Mr. Obama traveled to Minnesota on Saturday to rally support for his health care plan, he flew over the assembling crowd in Marine One. The helicopter could be seen flying overhead as the demonstrators marched down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“This is not some kind of radical right-wing group,” Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said in an interview as dozens of people streamed by him. “I just hope the Congress, the Senate and the president recognize that people are afraid of what’s going on.”
Mr. DeMint and a handful of Republican legislators were the only party leaders on hand for the demonstration. Republican officials said privately that they were pleased by the turnout but wary of the anger directed at all politicians. And most of those who turned out were not likely to have been Obama voters anyway.
Protesters came by bus, car and airplane, arriving here from Texas and Tennessee, New Mexico and New Hampshire, Ohio and Oregon. The messages on their signs told of an intense distrust of the government, which several people said began long before Mr. Obama took office.
For the most part, Democrats stayed silent on Saturday, with the exception of a small group of counterdemonstrators who gathered behind a roadblock to protest what they called a “right-wing rally.” Many were members of the clergy, who said they were concerned about misinformation propagated by opponents of health care legislation.
“We’d like to have an honest debate,” said Chris Korzen, director of the nonprofit Catholics United. “I don’t see a lot of substance here.”
While there was no shortage of vitriol among protesters, there was also an air of festivity. A band of protesters in colonial gear wound through the crowd, led by a bell ringer in a tricorn hat calling for revolution. A folk singer belting out a protest ballad on a guitar brought cheers.
In conversations with demonstrators, people identified themselves as Republicans, libertarians, independents and former Democrats. Several speakers denounced the Obama administration’s health care plan as “socialism.” A few Confederate flags waved in the air, but there were hundreds of American flags and chants of, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” A young girl held a sign saying, “Don’t redistribute the wealth of my Barbies.”
Ruth Lobbs, 57, a schoolteacher from Jacksonville, Fla., said she flew to Washington on Saturday to protest how she believes the government has violated the Constitution. She said she did not vote for the president, adding that her anger has been building for years.
“It’s more than Obama ― this isn’t a Republican or a Democratic issue,” Ms. Lobbs said as she held a yellow flag that declared, “Don’t Tread on Me.”
“I don’t know if anything will come of this or not,” she said, “but this is a peaceful way of showing our frustration.”
Theo Emery and Ashley Southall contributed reporting.
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