As somebody who has attended many rallies on the national Mall, including the Obama inauguration and the 9-12 Taxpayer's March on Washington, I need to make a few points regarding the attendance numbers, points that are getting lost in the Salon comments flame wars.
Attendees, and Glenn Beck, are making claims of a million attendees and even more. This is a clever way of not only inflating the rally's importance, but keeping liberals arguing between the crazy 1.7 million number and the 60-80,000 estimates given by the major media. Actually, I think the debate should be whether the 60,000 estimate is overblown.
First off, I was there, and walked between the Metro at 9th Street to where the main protest crowd was at 3rd Street. The area in between was mostly taken up by the Black Family Reunion as well as a lot of empty lawn. I took video of this walk:
as well as pictures
And one thing that hasn't been discussed much is the Metrorail ridership for 9-12. Metro is the main way to get to a rally. Parking is nearly impossible, and buses can only carry so many people, so the Metro ridership is a good objective measure of the rough order of magnitude of the numbers.
An average Saturday in September (taken from September 2008 numbers) has a one-way ridership of about 360,000. The ridership for 9-12-09 was about 438,000, or about 78,000 more one-way trips. We can also compare this to ridership on Inauguration day: 1,120,000.
Since almost everybody would have taken the Metro both to and from the Mall, the measure of actual people is round trips: about 40,000 more on 9-12 than you'd have on a regular Saturday.
So I'll make some generous assumptions that:
- The 40,000 increase in ridership was entirely due to the rally, i.e. nobody at the Black Family Reunion took the Metro
- 10,000 people got to the rally by means other than Metro: buses, walked from local hotels, cabs, etc.
I know maybe I'm obsessing and nitpicking, and I know we need to take the mood of the country seriously, but I think the degree to which we take the Tea Party movement seriously should be informed by real information, not made-up numbers.
Note: Metro ridership was obtained from here http://www.wmata.com/rail/disruption_reports/archived_service_reports.cfm
Note2: Longer version of the video I made is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0U98J5rut2A