today i bring you the second in my three-part series on the tea party at the capitol on 12 september 2009. this is piece is written by one of my oldest and dearest friends - mr. h. he has a great amount of experience in radio broadcast as a d.j. and in production. he has worked in both public and private enterprises in that arena. i have always valued mr. h's insight and opinions and i find it especially so when pertaining to politics, history and driving directions. i think you'll understand the why for all but the latter after reading his contribution below.
We’d planned to ride the metro to the Archives station, which would put us on Pennsylvania Avenue a few blocks east of the start of the event. This meant we wouldn’t need to change trains, which looked like a good idea given the sheer number of folks in the system. When we arrived at the Archives station, it was clear we wouldn’t be walking west to start the march, because it had already begun.
I stood on the curb and looked both ways down Pennsylvania Avenue. The street was a sea of people all the way to each end and beyond. At that moment my wife said what I had been thinking, that she suddenly felt like she was a part of history, and that she never imagined she’d be marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. I can recall watching news clips of people marching on that street all the way back to the mid-60s, and what we saw looked eerily similar to some of the larger demonstrations in the past. We joined the throng as it flowed toward Capitol Hill. At Third Street we were shunted south and ended up just about centered in front of the Capitol, on the west side of the reflecting pool.
Much has been made of the signs at the event. The vast majority were reasonable, often humorous. Some were downright embarrassing. How could that not be so at an event with this many folks? You will always have extremists and outliers in any group. Is there a place for them? Sure. Do they define the movement? Absolutely not.
In this setting people were encouraged to express themselves and felt no inhibition about doing so. In practice this meant that it was much more likely that any given sign would be of the ‘questionable content’ variety. And yet the percentage of signs that fell into that category was really quite small. The only way to ensure that the signboard messaging at these events is a balanced reflection of the mood of the entire group would be to require everyone attending to bring a sign, which strikes me as a not altogether practical solution.
I saw only one ‘opposition’ group doing counter-demonstrating, and their message was so muddled I’m still not really sure what they were trying to say. At least they were polite.
In fact, everyone was. There was no violence anywhere, no aggression. Even the small amount of litter
the crowd generated was picked up by members of the participating groups. Capitol Hill was cleaner when we left than it was when the event began, a marked contrast to the average Fourth of July trashfest or the huge piles of garbage
after the Obama inauguration.
Media coverage was sparse. I could see a camera on top of the Fox building for most of the event. But except for a few un-logoed lone videographers, there were no cameras in evidence. Funny thing was, the dish on top of the CNN truck (which was just behind us on Third Street) folded up about 12:15 -- in other words, just about as things got started. Cynical bastard that I am, I expected CNN would run a clip they'd shot at about 9 AM (long before the march was planned to begin and therefore of a mostly empty Capitol lawn) to try to downplay the attendance. But too many other outlets had video showing how large the event really was for them to get away with that kind of subterfuge.
What was my on-the-scene estimate of the size of the crowd? They announced over the PA at one point that CNN had described the crowd as “1000 people”. I think we can be fairly sure that was on the low side. I know they had to push it up to "tens of thousands" by that evening. A British newspaper reported the crowd as about 2 million. But there’s our defined range. If I were put on the spot and forced to guess, I’d say the crowd was probably easily in the neighborhood of a half-million, which was where the organizers put the crowd size in an announcement over the PA.
If you’re familiar with the area or have a large-scale map handy, the crowd covered the Capitol grounds up around both sides and west as far as Third Street, but there was very little spillover across Third Street itself. My wife, who used to work on Capitol Hill and has seen many different events in the National Mall, says this one was about comparable to an average inauguration crowd – which would make it slightly smaller than my estimate. It was definitely not in the same class as a July 4th crowd or the bigger historical demonstrations. Martin Luther King’s speech at the Lincoln Memorial saw the crowd cover West Potomac Park and the entire mall all the way from 23rd Street to the foot of Capitol Hill. That crowd was about 5 million.
So, disregard the ridiculous estimates, but be proud of the actual, respectable numbers. Half a million
concerned Americans gave up their Saturday to make a statement. At an event with no ‘official’ centralized organization or sponsor, that’s pretty impressive.
it is impressive and moving for all of us. i believe that to be true even for those whom did not attend.