The family and I went down to Kiener Plaza in St. Louis this evening for the St. Louis Tea Party event. Even arriving a half hour or so before the scheduled starting time, we were at the outer edge of a large crowd.
I've attended a number of demonstrations, protests, marches, etc. over the years in the St. Louis area, and this was one of the largest I've seen ... bigger than most of the anti-war events, for example (and I'm not saying it to put the anti-war events down -- I participated in many of them). The crowd was too big (and too unevenly spaced, packed in like sardines near the stage area then thinning out some toward the edges) to get a reliable crowd estimate, but my low-side Scientific Wild-Ass Guess is somewhere between 3,500 and 5,000. Much bigger than I expected -- big enough that the Libertarian Party types should have had a designated pre-event meeting spot so that we could find each other. The St. Louis County LP chair brain-spazzed on that piece of prep. I'm going to slap him around for it the next time I see him in the mirror.
There's been a lot of rumor mill stuff about GOP "astro-turfing" of the Tea Party movement, but I saw nothing to indicate that the St. Louis event had been co-opted by any party machine. Most of the signs I saw were handmade and there were a diversity of agendas in evidence. "Fair" Taxers. Campaign For Liberty folks. Freelance "End the Fed" activists. Anti-cigarette-tax activists. Some Know-Nothings. Some "Bikers for Freedom." Various Libertarian Party and non-party libertarians.
Can't say I agreed with every message I saw being offered, but that's the thing -- this event was eclectic. There was no ideological uniformity to it, other than that the general mood was anti-tax, anti-big-spending, anti-bailout. If it was a GOP "astro-turf" attempt, it failed miserably. And I don't think it was ... the "official" event flier included a reading list recommending a book by Murray N. Rothbard. Not exactly Newt Gingrich/Sean Hannity material. I only saw one sign favorably mentioning Fox "News." I saw several that pointedly laid the blame for the economic implosion as much at Republican feet as at Democrat feet.
The only counter-protester I saw on site (I ran into a few more -- poseur-punk-commie types, you know the kind I'm talking about, probably suburban upper middle class kids trying to expiate their angst by acting poor and oppressed -- coming as I was going) was a guy wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt and a facemask and carrying a sign that read "Tax the Rich -- Quit Whining and Pay Up." He was one of only two masked demonstrators I saw. The other one was wearing an Obama mask and smoking a cigarette ... I didn't catch his message.
The crowd was too big and too loud for me to hear much from the stage except during a facsimile of respectful silence during an opening prayer and the singing of the national anthem. The only significant snippet I caught was more anti-"astro-turfing" evidence -- something about liberty not being the possession of any party.
The event struck me as much more genuinely grass-roots than the mostly carefully orchestrated lefty events I've been to in St. Louis over the last nine years. If this at least semi-spontaneous uprising coalesces around a non-partisan (or at least non-"major"-party) populist agenda, it could mark a major shift in American politics. I'm not holding my breath, but I am holding out hope.
Update: Organizer Bill Hennessey says 10,000 people were there. Elsewhere (a Pajamas Media "short," if I recall correctly), I saw a Park Service Police estimate of 6,000. In my experience, law enforcement tends to lowball some and event organizers tend to estimate a little wishfully. Still, from the photo at the link above, I'd say that 8-10k is not out of line at all, and that my own SWAG of 3.5-5k was way low - KN@PPSTER