The day after

THE DAY AFTER…. One of the smarter aspects of the Tea Party protests was making them accessible to participants at the local level. If organizers had attempted to hold one big rally, on the Washington Mall, for example, it would have probably run into more trouble. For one thing, it would be compared against other Mall events. For another, plenty of conservative activists nationwide would have struggled to get to D.C.

Organizers, then, made stronger turnout far more likely by hosting hundreds of events from coast to coast, rather than one event in a prominent location. Committed activists didn’t need to travel hundreds of miles to register their outrage; chances are, there was a gathering of like-minded folks in their own area.

Did it pay off? It depends on one’s standards and expectations. It’s almost impossible to get a reliable count of just how many people attended these events yesterday, but The Atlantic‘s Chris Good offers a rundown and tries to at least apply a minimum number.

A bare minimum of 25,650 people turned out for tea party protests across the country today, according to news estimates, a survey of reports from local newspapers, TV affiliates, and wire services shows.

Presumably, more than that turned out. The tendency of smaller cities (particularly state capitols) to draw larger crowds makes counting difficult, and many news outlets were not specific in their estimates (reporting “hundreds” or “thousands,” for instance, as opposed to specific numbers — the 25,650 figure assumes the lowest possible numbers within those ranges).

Fair enough. Just for the sake of conversation, let’s take Good’s minimum number, which is likely too low, and quadruple it. That would give us an estimate of about 100,000 activists attending rallies yesterday.

The next question, I suppose, is whether 100,000 protestors represents a significant force. Yesterday, before the events had even begun in earnest, Marc Ambinder said, “If … 100,000 Americans show up to protest their taxes, the onus to dismiss them as a nascent political force shifts to the Democrats.”

I’m not sure if that’s right. Tea Party organizers hosted several hundred highly-promoted events across the country, and if about 100,000 people showed up, that doesn’t exactly sound like a burgeoning political movement. In a nation of 300 million Americans, 100,000 conservative activists getting together — for reasons that are still a little unclear — is likely a disappointing figure for event organizers. It’s very hard for conservative leaders to point to this kind of turnout as evidence of a strong national hunger for more right-wing economic policies.

This is not to say any sizable group of concerned Americans deserve to be “dismissed”; they don’t. But are 100,000 activists — whose concerns range from taxes to deficits, bailouts to conspiracy theories — a powperful political force to be reckoned with? The start of a legitimate “revolution”? I have my doubts.

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