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Protest Pissing Match: Occupy Little Rock vs. Tea Party

Updated: Apr 13


Over at the increasingly mindless and unreliable Arkansas Times blog, editor Max Brantley celebrates Saturday’s Occupy Little Rock demonstration, in which some 400-500 protesters gathered downtown and marched to the Capitol to protest corporate power. Brantley, who’s desperately trying to hype the Occupy movement into the vehicle that will at last give birth to the Progressive Heaven he’s been awaiting since 1968, tauntingly asks: “Did the Tea Party ever gather 500 in Little Rock?”

Why, it turns out those are numbers we can check! And the answer is, “Yes, and then some.”

Let’s look back to the April 15, 2009, Tax Day protests that marked the florescence of the Tea Party movement in America: According to a contemporaneous account by the Arkansas News Bureau’s John Lyon, who also reported on Occupy Little Rock yesterday, “more than 500 attended” the April 2009 Tea Party event in Little Rock.

Like Lyon, I was at both the April 2009 Tea Party event and Saturday’s Occupy Little Rock event, and the Tea Party event was significantly larger. (The Occupy Little Rock event was probably better organized.)

And let’s look beyond Little Rock. Here’s an old Arkansas Project post I wrote rounding up Tea Party action around Arkansas on that day. According to published reports in local papers, more than 1,000 attended in both Jonesboro and Mountain Home (unfortunately, a lot of those local paper links have expired). The City Wire reported that more than 500 attended a Tea Party event in Fort Smith, and my post takes note of other Tea Party events in Bentonville, Fayetteville and Pine Bluff.

And check out the photo on this post from a follow-up Tea Party event on July 4, 2009, in Mountain Home. That’s a lot of damn people to show up to a political demonstration on a holiday.

So yes, within Arkansas, the Tea Party movement was “larger” than anything the Occupiers have thus far fielded. Now, let’s be clear: I don’t think the question of which movement fields the larger demonstrations is especially important, as the number of people who show up to wave signs and chant in protest is not a particularly useful barometer of lasting political impact.

After all, it wasn’t the Tea Party demonstrations in early 2009 that were important, but the organizing in late 2009 and 2010 that helped to energize alienated right-leaning voters aghast at the direction of the government in the Bush-Obama era. (And yes, in come places the Tea Party influence was damaging to Republican Party aims, likely costing U.S. Senate seats in states like Delaware and Nevada.)

But if comparative size is the standard that Max wants to set, as he posits in his post today, then there’s no question: The Tea Party in Arkansas was far larger and more consequential than the Occupiers have been, or likely will be.

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