Here’s a multiple choice question: How many people attended the Tea Party rally on Saturday, September 12, on the Mall?
a.) 2 million
b.) 2 thousand
c.) somewhere in between
The rational among you would say (c.), and ask for more refined figures. But this is Washington, where 2 plus 2 is a matter of opinion, not mathematical certainty. The analytical and those desirous of the truth and the facts would sit down and try to figure out the numbers based on observations, photographs, area measurements, personal footprints, and reasonable assumptions. That won’t do for punditry and politicos, who are looking for agenda advancement, exploitation, and political gain; who are too lazy to do the work required; and who are journalism and political science majors who were too dumb to take math or science courses.
So wherein lies the truth in this matter, which should have been amply explained as “one really big, unexpected mess of people”, but now has become a story unto itself. Depending where you are in the political spectrum, and how far up in the ACORN, SEIU, and Washington Post hierarchy, the number was either two million if you were Michelle Malkin (beautiful and brainy as she is) and wishful thinking conservatives, or a “couple of thousand” if you were from Daily KOS or the White House press office. Authoritative “sources” quoted were ABC, CNN, some guy standing on Pennsylvania Avenue, CBS, the UK Daily Mail, the Park Police, DC Police, the Washington Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (a real agency with extra large business cards), the DC Fire Department, and the Pope. (Actually, I’m not sure about the Pope, but he may have been in there). Problem is that none of these are credible or usable sources, and deeper inspection reveals a lot of circular sourcing. And government agencies quoted, as a matter of policy, do NOT give estimates because they were being used for political purposes in the past.
So what is the number? The exact number will never be known with precision, but it can be closely approximated with some credibility with a little effort, common sense, and historical perspective, which is why the media hasn’t even come close.
Based on photos and on-scene observation, the crowd on Saturday at its peak occupied the following areas densely: the three wedges that make up the west lawn of the Capitol grounds (320000 sq ft); the plaza around the statue of General Grant, minus the statue (40000 sq ft); the area west of the Reflecting Pool to 3rd St (200000 sq ft); the overflow crowd between 3rd and 4th Streets on the Mall, including walkways (140000 sq ft) the parking area at the Capitol terminus of Pennsylvania Avenue (80000 sq ft); and a small overflow area west of 4th St. (50000 sq ft). Because of permit conflicts west of 3rd Street, some of the crowd was forced eastward that resulted in overflows south and mostly north of the main lawn area (about another 100000 sq ft).That makes a total area of densely populated grounds of about 930,000 square feet.
This value is reasonably close given that certain measurements are difficult to factor in or out, such as the long, broad sidewalks on the lawn area that were fenced off for emergency access and crowd flow, various monuments and traffic control devices, parked vehicles, cleared streets, wooded sections, etc. For more exact measurements call the Capitol Architect and send a check for the survey.
The crowd was not uniformly distributed in these areas. Near the speaker stage they were closer packed, but further out there was adequate room to maneuver, put out some chairs, and hold up some big signs, etc. Here’s where you have to make some reasonable assumptions. During the Obama Inauguration, in an attempt to portray huge numbers, a personal footprint of a 2X2 space for each person was used for crowd estimates, that is, 4 square feet for the journalism majors. Don’t stick your elbows out in that space unless your spouse is next to you. More reasonable for a packed crowd is 2.5X2.5 feet, or 6.25 square feet. And based on observation over the mid-distance lawn areas not adjacent to the stage, a 3X3 space (9 square feet) was more common.
So what does this give you for a crowd size, and if you have a better analysis let’s hear it? At love-your-neighbor densities of 4 square feet, that’s 232,500. At the 6.25 square feet spacing more palatable even for conservatives who have higher cleanliness standards than liberals, that’s 148,800 faithful in the congregation. And at the 9 square foot distance you would want at a Code Pink gathering, that’s 133,000. So your boundary values are 133,000 to 232,500. Now that doesn’t include several tens of thousands who were in the march but gave up at the rally because they were too far away to see or hear the inadequate sound system and just moved on to sightseeing, lunching, and gathering back at their hotels to ponder the day. You can see them on the Mall walkways with their signs, heading west. But they are not in the crowd photos.
So throwing them all together, 250,000 is a number I challenge anyone to best. And the precise number, should you need it, using Queueing Theory, Coefficients of Dispersion, and Poisson Distribution Variances, was exactly 239,863. Let’s see the Political Science and Women’s Studies majors at the White House and DNC rebut that.
A final word on Tea Party numbers. The Obama Inauguration left in its wake 100 tons of trash on the Mall that required herculean efforts by the District and the Park Service to clean up. And it devastated the grass surfaces of the Mall that necessitated budgeting millions of dollars to repair. Saturday’s Teapartyers left behind a west lawn and Mall that could be used for the U.S.Open. The sparse trash that was left was neatly stashed in and closely around the too few receptacles provided. And police reported zero arrests.
Conservatives and conservatism are in diminishing presence now in Washington, and in truth, in the last few years of the Bush Administration. Hopefully and changefully, Saturday’s brief reprise will be a preview of a world to come, where conservatives — true conservatives — come back to clean up the mess and leave a spotless trail of good constitutional government. And who don’t make someone else pay for it.