Five hundred thousand. Eight hundred thousand. One and a half million.
The numbers of conservative protesters at the March on D.C. on Saturday, September 12 wasn't entirely clear. But if numbers for the inauguration were around 2 million, eyeball estimates for the crowd would have been about half that.
Foot traffic down Pennsylvania Avenue slowed to a crawl. Car traffic was stopped all together. The crowd filled the West side of the Capitol and flooded several city blocks. It was clearly the largest gathering to materialize out of the conservative summer protests that caught fire in early August and have continued into the fall session of Congress.
The themes of the day were smaller government, lower taxes, and stopping Obamacare.
Vince Durante drove 14 hours to the event from his hometown of Chicago with two friends, leaving his wife at home with their three children for the weekend.
"She just told me to go," he said.
His friend Bill, an easygoing kind of guy with a beard and a gruff tone, was in the same position.
"I'd like to be home with my kids right now," he said.
Every third person had a sign, many of which were very ornate, with messages like "We the People...are coming," "Lies, commies and czars, oh my," and "I'll keep my freedom, my religion, and my money... you can keep the change!"
Whether or not the signs were the result of the previous day's sign-making session by Freedom Works, which held organizing events leading up to the Saturday gathering, was hard to tell. But it seemed unlikely that the sprawling mass could have been orchestrated by anybody.
There was a center stage with music and activities, and of course there was the schedule put out by Freedom Works and the 30 or so organizations that sponsored festivities surrounding the event. These organizations had lined up an impressive array of speakers, including several key Members of Congress.
But crowd control wasn't really possible as the event got into gear. Organizers futilely yelled for participants to "stay off the sidewalk" because permits had only been obtained for the speech. Marchers used their bodies to lay claim to different areas of the Capital lawn, with more than a few low-key altercations taking place.
Louis Buitrago of Maryland took a day off from his job in waste management "to stop what Obama is doing — spending people's money that hasn't even been made yet."
As he spoke, a baby carriage was pushed by which bore a sign: "Just born — $38,000 in debt."
Another hot topic was Rep. Joe Wilson, who yelled "You lie!" at President Obama during his national health care address on Thursday. Many protesters held signs saying "Obama— you DO lie!" and some participants called for Wilson to run for President.
Jenny Beth Martin, one of the organizers of the 9/12 march and the head of TeaPartyPatriots.org, played off Obama's recent speech as well. Obama claimed that "the time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed."
"Are you playing games?" asked Martin, over the loudspeaker.
Hundreds of thousands of people yelled back a definitive "no."
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