Rightbloggers Compare Large National Protests (Union) Unfavorably with Large National Protests (Koch Brothers) [Updated]
Sounds like a big deal, right? Hundreds of thousands of people turned out on behalf of teachers in one state who were holding out for collective bargaining rights, despite opposition from Republicans and from bigtime "liberal" columnists who also consider schoolteachers grossly overcompensated.
Yet rightbloggers dismissed these demos as paltry, insignificant, and a failure.
To understand why they think so, we need to review the history of the Tea Party, which has sometimes summoned big crowds itself.
We have followed the progress of the TP movement from tiny shoots to mighty oaks. Their greatest street-action achievements have probably been the April 15 "Tax Day" demos they've summoned in protest of the burden of Federal taxation.
The national 2009 Tax Day rallies were well-publicized before the fact by the constant coverage of rightbloggers and by an organization called FreedomWorks, which is connected via Citizens for a Sound Economy to the Koch Brothers, of whose well-funded efforts on behalf of conservatism you've probably heard a bit in recent months.
FreedomWorks promoted the 2009 Tax Day rallies on a local and national basis with press outreach and other PR tools that helped spread the word to likeminded people. Rightbloggers also did their part, as did Fox News, et alia.
On Tax Day 2009, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran an editorial by Dick Armey, former GOP Congressman and, it so happened, FreedomWorks Chairman, asking, "'TEA PARTIES': THE NEXT GRASS-ROOTS MOVEMENT?" and answering in the affirmative: "Just as the original Boston Tea Party was a grass-roots rebellion against overbearing government, tea party participants are reacting to government that has grown too large... Big-spending politicians beware: Organized taxpayers are watching votes and are getting ready for Election Day."
Armey also said that "the tea parties were organized online, through Facebook and Twitter," but didn't mention his organization's involvement in promoting their work.
National attendance for those gatherings was good, but there was some debate as to how good. Reports were wildly divergent. The Atlantic estimated total attendance at "a bare minimum" of about 26,000, but clearly missed many gatherings outside large metropolitan areas. Demographer Nate Silver put the tally at 300,000+. Nervous reporters who'd been lambasted as fatally prejudiced by conservatives tried to be nice. "By some estimates," the Christian Science Monitor carefully said, "over half a million Americans took to the streets last Wednesday to protest taxes and Washington spending." Tea Party supporters leaned on the high end, with estimates reaching over 600,000.
With so many events to be tallied, attendance figures became a game of Who Do You Trust, with the hated Main Stream Media, despite their best efforts, generally accused of downgrading the events for their own nefarious purposes ("Besides leaving the impression that the Tea Parties were modest affairs, The [New York] Times chose the two silliest photos it could find to illustrate the article," etc).
This problem persisted with the Tax Day protests the following year, which were abetted by the usual suspects. Attendance, stimulated by the upcoming elections, was clearly larger than the 2009 number -- but how much larger, and than which number? Wikipedia's roundup suggested a few hundred thousand attendees; Tea Party supporters claimed attendance of over a million.
You would of course expect any movement hoping to portray itself as America's destiny to try and get the most flattering estimate of its numbers in front of the public. But as conservatives, Tea Partiers are hard-wired to accuse the Main Stream Media of misrepresenting them. So time and time and time again they told people -- mostly each other -- that the media's portrayal of their strength was utterly untrustworthy, and that only the Elect could know how powerful the Party really was. If they said it was million, then it was a million. Why would they lie?
Now jump forward to last weekend's rallies. Organizing was clearly done by labor unions, who are powerful and very good at that sort of thing. But as the Wisconsin crisis is only a few weeks old, their organizing had to be done on the fly.
How their organizing advantage compares to that of the Tea Party nexus of rightwing moneymen and (let us say) community organizers with many more months of preparation for their big events, we leave to readers to judge. But the weekend events were nonetheless impressive.
You wouldn't know it, though, from the report of Professor William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection, who flatly declared, "50-State Union Protest Falls Far Short Of Predicted Turnout."