NAPLES — About 1,000 people gathered Saturday along U.S. 41 north of Pine Ridge Road in Naples for the last tea party rally before the November election.
Southwest Florida protesters unhappy with high taxes, increased government spending and the growing role of the federal government held signs with messages such as “Don’t Let Socialism Ruin My Future” and “Help Us Take Our Country Back” as others waved American flags.
The rally kicked off at noon with a prayer and the singing of “God Bless America” in front of Alison Craig Home Furnishings along U.S. 41.
Marsha Wolfson, who wore real tea bags as a necklace, said she hopes voters cast ballots for conservative candidates.
Wolfson, 64, of North Naples, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, says she knows what socialism looks like and how not being free feels. That’s why, she said, she wants people to get out to vote in the Nov. 2 election.
Candidates mingled with tea party gatherers Saturday afternoon at the rally. Guest speakers included Jennifer Carroll, candidate for lieutenant governor; David Rivera, who is running for Congress in District 25; Pam Bondi, state attorney general candidate; and Collier County School Board candidates and others.
Collier County Commissioner Tom Henning said, as an elected official, he attends such events.
“It’s people that are frustrated with the government and they want their voices to be heard,” he said.
Organizers were expecting more than 5,000 people at the rally.
“We feel the bigger government gets the less individual freedoms we’ll have,” said Barry Willoughby, a tea party member from Naples.
“We are going to vote for the candidates that we feel will be accountable to the people, not themselves, not political establishments.”
Among several tables under tents along U.S. 41 was a table for attendees to sign a petition against taxpayer funding of the Maine-based Jackson Laboratory until residents have an opportunity to vote on it.
The Barron Collier Co. is donating 50 acres off Oil Well Road to Jackson Labs and has pledged additional acreage to the University of South Florida in Tampa and Edison State College, both of which have said they want to build programs, and to other organizations that would come to a biomedical park.
People before the rally’s noon start time began gathering along U.S. 41. Many car horns honked in their support.
“I just think it’s important to get the message out that people need to vote in November,” said Jimmy Driscoll, 23, of Naples. Driscoll, a Republican, says he considers himself a conservative.
Standing on a corner of U.S. 41 and Pine Ridge Road as thousands of cars whizzed past by was a man dressed as American Revolution hero Patrick Henry, waving to people.
Among speakers was Byron Donalds, 32, a Naples resident.
Donalds told the crowd that he had to explain to his mother who’s a lifelong Democrat why he had decided to come out and speak and support the tea party.
When asked about supporting the tea party movement, Donalds said: “I align myself with politics when their mission is the long-term viability of our nation as a government and economy.”
He said the tea party has those concerns in mind.
“No nation can survive without a sound economic foundation,” Donalds said.
“Everybody has a certain amount of biases. You have to be able to invest the time to understand what the other side is saying.”
Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/