The middle class on the march
Maximilien François de Robespierre, a leader of the French Revolution and architect of The Reign of Terror, was sitting with a friend in a sidewalk cafe in Paris.
Suddenly a huge crowd rushed by. Robespierre jumped up and ran after them.
“Robespierre! Where are they going? What are they doing?” his friend calls.
“I don't know, but I have to be in front. I'm their leader!”
Last Saturday, September 12, a crowd of protesters descended on Washington, D.C., a big one.
They came to protest the massive expansion of government and the national debt.
How big a crowd is debated. News reports first said, “thousands,” quickly revised to “tens of thousands.” Eyewitnesses known to me say, “six figures minimum.”
The London newspaper Daily Mail, estimated at least a million, others as high as two million. To the cautious that sounds a bit over the top.
All of these figures come from eyeball estimates. Counting crowds is dicey at best. You define a square, get a rough count of the people inside it, then count how many squares cover the crowd. Then there's the question of how dense the crowd is. People tend to cluster near speakers, for example.
The National Park Service said they'd have an estimate later this week, based on analysis of aerial photos. The Park Service hasn't done crowd estimates for 14 years, since their 1995 estimate of the Million Man March sponsored by Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam turned out so disappointingly low.
We'll see how long it is before they're allowed to do another crowd estimate after this. But from the pictures, no one can doubt this was huge.
From photos and interviews some facts are emerging.
This is not the Republican Party still sore about the election. This is a lot of Americans from all over the country who are really sore about both parties. A sentiment expressed on one T-shirt, “Impeach Everybody!”
There are Republicans trying to ride this movement's coat tails like Robespierre – and they're being told to sit down, shut up and listen. They should consider themselves lucky, Robespierre was guillotined.
Media call the crowd “conservative,” and it may be in the sense that 41 percent of the electorate label themselves. Which means something different from what conservatives in Washington (a.k.a. Big Government Republicans) mean by it. It might be Populist, if anyone could tell me what that means. There appears to be a strong libertarian “leave us the hell alone” streak in it.
These people are not happy about insults they've received, as expressed on one sign, “It doesn't matter what this sign says, they'll call it racist anyway.”
This is the real thing, in that overused phrase, a grass-roots movement. Not “astroturf.”
The pictures show a crowd generally well-dressed though not upscale, orderly, an average age surprisingly high, and contrary to critics not lily-white either. Minorities are represented though sparsely, as are a surprising number of immigrants.
This is the middle class on the march, and I've seen it before. In several countries where people got utterly fed up with their government.*
A people fed up with a recklessly spendthrift Republican administration turned them out of power. Democrats took that as permission to join the Republicans in running up debt to levels many say looks like national suicide. Someone's not listening.
After Sunday an anonymous commenter remarked, “When people with jobs demonstrate, you know something is happening.”
Folks, this is a game-changer. A lot of angry Americans have learned that when you're frustrated, insulted, and feel like nobody is listening, demonstrating is fun.
*In Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Romania I marched with people who had had enough of their government and turned out in numbers too big to ignore or shoot down; students, professionals, workingmen, little old babushkas and elegant ladies in fur wraps. In Yugoslavia it was a very near run thing. I may owe my life to a police chief who refused to give the kill order – and was killed for it.