Monday, February 28, 2011

Rightbloggers compare large national protests (union) unfavorably with large national protests (Koch brothers) [Updated]

Posted By on Mon, Feb 28, 2011 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge rightbloggers_thumb_200x230.jpg

Last weekend rallies were held in all 50 states in support of

the teachers' union in Wisconsin. And at the Wisconsin state capitol, at

least 70,000

people came out on Saturday to protest Governor Walker's attempt to

break the union.

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


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.


traitors. Disregard.

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."

Jacobson cited an assertion by a correspondent from The Nation that the

pro-union events would draw a million people -- an optimistic target, to

say the least. Jacobson compared this fanciful target to his own tally

of pro-union turnout in 19 cities, which he admitted was not a "complete

count," but by which he nonetheless determined the protests "(excluding

Madison) likely totaled under 100,000 combined," and declared the

correspondent's goal, which he conflated with that of the movement,

pathetically unrealized.

But excluding the Wisconsin capital is one hell of an exclusion, as it

drew at least 70,000 protesters. (Rightblogger Donald Douglas went off-script and reported it at

100,000.) Also consider the other rallies Jacobson excluded: San

Francisco, for example, reported 50,000 attendees.

Neither did the Professor include tallies from, for example, Trenton, NJ ("thousands"), Albany ("hundreds"), Boise ("close to 400"), Portsmouth, MA (800), Raleigh, NC ("hundreds"), Tallahassee (250), Philadelphia (1000), St. Paul (1000), Tucson

("hundreds"), Columbia, SC (125), Olympia, WA (2000), Pittsburgh ("several hundred"), Salem, OR (1000), Milwaukee ("hundreds"), Charleston,

WV ("250"), Topeka, KS ("hundreds"), Springfield, IL ("several hundred"), Lincoln, NE (250), Albuquerque, NM ("hundreds"), Medford, OR ("several hundred"), et alia.


now this is what you call a protest.

​That's just a fast skim of what's been reported so far, and with

Madison's contingent it more than doubles the Professor's tally. At the

rate other counts

are trickling in, we can safely say a quarter million over 200,000 showed (*Maybe not. See update).

Not what the Nation guy claimed to expect, but not bad at all

for rush work -- and in a cause that conservatives constantly claim is

highly unpopular.

Can't we all agree, in this age of Tea, that people taking to the

streets to express displeasure with their government is a good thing?

Can't a brother (excuse, a fellow citizen) get even a golf clap up in


Not a chance. Rightbloggers spread the story that the liberals had

crapped out. "National Day of Rage Fails to Turn Out Big Crowds," said The Lonely Conservative. "Dems Left Red-Faced;

Protesters Fail to Materialize," said the ever-exciting Jim Hoft. "MoveOn, Union Sponsored Rallies Flop,

Big Time," claimed HazZzMat. Etc.

Others who observed the rallies played them off as commie- and

thug-infested, so it didn't matter that they existed. "It just so

happened that Code Pink's Medea Benjamin and Barack Obama's former green

jobs czar and self-admitted communist Van Jones stopped by to show

their support," said the D.C. correspondents from Andrew Breitbart's Big Government. They also saw a sign that said

"Keep your laws off my body, and I'll keep my hands off your throat" and

pretended to be mortally offended.

Meanwhile back in Madison, a Fox news correspondent claimed to see "hate" in the eyes of protesters, which

diagnosis was widely reported by the brethren.

And Ann Althouse, who had previously and public-spiritedly tracked and taped two municipal street-salters who

honked their horns in support of the protesters ("Obviously, we

taxpayers pay for the salt trucks and the employees who drive them and

we expect those trucks to be used to make the streets all over town

safe, not to circle the Capitol Square for other purposes"), complained

that the capitol crowd "disrespectfully have taped signs on and piled junk against the Veterans

Memorial," which also became a national

outrage. For her efforts Glenn

Reynolds of Instapundit nominated Althouse for "the blog equivalent

of a Pulitzer Prize," which we suppose would be a pog strung on a chain

of paper clips.

In more exalted precincts, National Review's Victor Davis Hanson compared what he considered to

be the easy lot of Wisconsin schoolteachers to this one time he was

working part-time as a farmhand and had no paid leave. Hanson became a

college professor, and found "teaching was the antithesis of everything

brutal in the private sector." His conclusion, naturally, was not that

farmers should have it better, but that teachers should have it worse,

or at least worse than National Review columnists.

Now the weekend is over and the Wisconsin drama is entering its late stage. With union trouble also brewing in Ohio and Indiana, we may expect more agitation in the days

to come. The part rightbloggers will play in it is predicable -- in

fact, we may say, preordained. What we can't know is how they'll take it

if working people persist in pushing back against the conservative

drive to make things worse for them. Badly, we expect.

Update: Numbers for the San Francisco rally corrected.

*Update, March 1: Professor Jacobson has complained about this estimate. Having since then combed through news reports, and in the absence of an authoritative count, we figure total attendance may well be closer to his figure than to ours -- still "not bad at all for rush work," as we wrote (which was the point of that section), but probably not as high as we thought.

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