Since April 15, when Sean Hannity and the tea party gathered at the state Capitol, a myth has been forming.
Hannity and FoxNews assured us there were 15,000 to 20,000 anti-tax protestors within view of their lenses that night.
The Journal-Constitution said “thousands” and let it go at that. But other news organizations picked up the estimate of 15,000, perhaps thinking they were erring on the conservative side. Google shows 12,500 hits for the word combination of “15,000” plus “Atlanta” plus “tea party.”
The number has acquired accuracy simply through repetition, which makes it something to be addressed.
Since the ‘60s, when demonstrations erupted in full flower, news organizations have been loathe to get bogged down in crowd counts.
Whether members of the left, right or angry center, those in the crowd always insist their numbers feel greater. And they probably do.
But mathematics don’t bend to feelings.
Today is Confederate Memorial Day. State offices are closed, and the weather lovely. It was a good day to pace off the area without sidewalk traffic.
The Capitol is not a hospitable arena for large crowds. It is hemmed in on all sides. Organizers of the Atlanta tea party had given some thought to assembling in Centennial Park, across from CNN, but the deposit was too expensive.
Instead, thousands of people were crammed onto Washington Street, which fronts the Capitol. But these demonstrators had to compete with FoxNews’ remote broadcasting operation, which took up all of one sidewalk and much of the street.
Large TV screens were erected at the Washington intersections with Mitchell and MLK streets, with the hope that crowds would flow down those streets as well. That worked only at Mitchell Street, perhaps because crowds coming from the GSU station of MARTA were directed around the back of the state Capitol, around the old state Department of Transportation building, to Atlanta City Hall. Line of sight was also slightly better.
So there were two population blocs that Wednesday evening — first, Washington Street from Mitchell to MLK. Call it Zone 1. Then Washington down Mitchell to Atlanta City Hall. Call that Zone 2.
Zone 1 contains 32,188 square feet — 515 feet by 62.5 feet. Zone 2 is 11,340 square feet, or 189 by 60 feet. A human being occupies four square feet. Women, because they have larger hips on average, occupy more space. But let’s avoid offending anyone and assume a completely male crowd.
Combined, Zones 1 and 2 total 43,528 square feet. If tax protesters were packed shoulder-to-shoulder, sidewalk-to-sidewalk, filling both Zone 1 and Zone 2 to the brim, there would have been room for 10,882.
But they didn’t. TV trucks and staging took up at least one-third of the space on Washington Street and its sidewalks. Compensating for this, the maximum total space for human beings in Zones 1 and 2 becomes 32,799 square feet. Shoulder-to-shoulder, back-to-chest, that is room for 8,199 people.
While people were indeed shoulder-to-shoulder on Washington Street, or Zone 1, they weren’t in Zone 2, down Mitchell. So a conservative crowd estimate for the Atlanta tea party on April 15 is probably somewhere between 6,500 and 7,500.
It is no small feat to bring that many people to an out-of-the-way spot in downtown Atlanta on a cold, windy workday. It is a deed worthy of much respect. People should pay attention to it.
But 15,000 protestors were not outside the Capitol at Atlanta’s tea party that night — a fact that needs to be set right.
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