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Tea Party crowd hits the road, while health care supporters gather here

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 13, 2009 -  On Saturday morning, activists with the St. Louis Tea Party coalition plan to drive around south and west St. Louis in a "Rolling Tea Party'' organized to protest various federal programs and proposals that conservatives assert will bankrupt the country.

Participants are encouraged to decorate their vehicles -- "Think Wedding Party," the website says -- so they can be spotted by the public along the 47-mile route.

The tour begins at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot of Home Depot and Hooters, in the 7500 block of S. Lindbergh Blvd., organizers say.

Elsewhere Saturday, supporters of the Democratic health-care proposals are gathering for two very different events.

The Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition (Pro-Vote) is holding its annual awards dinner Saturday night at the America's Center, which will honor various groups and political activists. Pro-Vote is a statewide coalition of 40 labor unions and community groups that engages in issue advocacy, nonpartisan candidate training and voter registration.

The honorees include:

--State Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford, D-St. Louis, as "outstanding legislator;"

-- The Missouri Women's Leadership Coalition, as "outstanding community organization;"

-- The Missouri AFL-CIO as "outstanding labor organization;"

-- Leila Medley, a longstanding official with the Missouri NEA, is receiving the lifetime achievement award.

National pollster Celina Lake is the keynote speaker.

Some of the event's organizers are concerned that there may be a Tea Party-organized protest outside the dinner, because some conservative blogs have incorrectly referred to the gathering as a health-care convention.

Actually, the convention involves an unrelated health care coalition -- Healthcare NOW -- which is seeking a single-payer health insurance system.  That group's two-day "strategy conference" begins at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Sheraton Westport Plaza.

The speakers will include National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill, who will focus on the Stupak-Pitts Amendment inserted by abortion opponents in the health care bill that narrowly passed the U.S. House last weekend.

The Stupak provision bars any private insurance coverage of abortion services -- except in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother -- in policies that are purchased with federal subsidies that would be available to low- and middle-income women and their families. It also bars any public insurance coverage of abortion.

O'Neill said in a telephone interview Friday that NOW will oppose the final version of the health-care bill if it still has the Stupak amendment in it, which she called "a vicious anti-abortion measure" that would affect millions of women who now have private insurance that covers abortion.

She plans to call on conference attendees to help NOW contact members of the U.S. Senate to press their opposition to Stupak. "This would send women back to back allies to die," O'Neill said.

The targets are likely to include Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who has come under fire from abortion-rights supporters for her cable-TV comments Monday in which she said that the Stupak amendment was "not a deal breaker." McCaskill has since declared that she opposes Stupak and that she expects it won't be in the final health-care bill.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.