"Organizers were hoping for 1,000 people to join the protest," said one California newscaster. And at that Tea Party rally in Stockton, their on-the-spot reporter said "they're also hoping to stretch completely down that sidewalk over there.
"As you can see, that sidewalk over there is empty."
He estimated that just 150 people showed up for the tiny rally, and had his camera pan across the empty sidewalk. (You can watch the video of that news report here.) Meanwhile, California's state capitol saw "the largest Tea Party rally on the west coast," according to other news reports they cited. But the size of that rally was only around 2,000, according to the Associated Press. And I witnessed the event and saw even fewer people. Three of the four sides around Sacramento's capitol building were nearly empty, while the crowd clustered around the stage on the capitol's west end. (It's an 80% drop from last year's Sacramento rally, which organizers estimated at over 10,000 people.)
But the low turnout is even more ominous when you consider the chilling effect it had on other organizations. According to the city officials, Tea Party organizers reserved all four sides of the capitol building, so no counter-protesters could be issued a permit for the same day. (In a Facebook comment, one Tea Party member had warned that "You may be escorted off the premises," adding "the police have been put on notice.") Tea Party organizers even reserved the capitol grounds for the entire day, though their protest wasn't scheduled to start until noon.
This move was seen as "preventing opposing voices from being heard," according to an activist in a new group called the Coffee Party that had wanted to stage a pro-government rally. But he added, "Nobody is acting in bad faith. It's the tone of the actions." And to show their support for the government - and a more civil discussion - 20 members from their group staged a rally on a road leading to the Sacramento state capitol.
And symbolically, they returned to continue their rally on April 16th. Their message? Their group supports the government's work, and they'll show their support on more than one day a year...