The Instapundit (among others) is carrying a lot of coverage of the so-called Tea Parties that are being held across the country to protest the stimulus bill and the spendthrift ways of our government.
While I have not seen reports that attendence is more than say 2,000 people, you have to take into account the manner in which these protests are created and organized. They are, almost exclusively, a function not of statewide or nationwide party organizations, but grassroots efforts.
It is that grassroots effort that needs to be heeded by both Congress and the Obama Administration. As a former grassroots/political operative, here is a basic breakdown of the level of activism it takes and the rough equivalence that Congressional offices see.
Writing a letter (or email) to your Congressman. This is much easier today, so while it used to be a 1 to 10 or 12 ration (that is one letter is indicative of say 10-12 people who feel the same way), it may be more like a 1 to 9 ration or so. Writing an email is relatively easy and fairly cost free. I think more people are doing it which is why the ratio is down.
Going to a Townhall Meeting. Often these are held after hours and are generally well-organzied by the Congressional office. For this reason, I don't usually consider these opportunities for true activism. Often the audience is packed more with supporters than with skeptics or critics. But there is something of a ration here. I would say this falls in the 1 to 20 or 25 range. That is means for every 1 person that shows up to a townhall meeting, you have 20 to 25 people who feel the same way.
Poltical party or organized group rallies. These are a little harder to gauge, since there is a controlled, organized effort to increase the attendance. Usually, these are held on weekends, in big crowded areas and people are cajoled to attend. The ration I would consider here is 1 to maybe 18-20, since these events are usually programmed well in advance, look to get some star power behind them (at least as far as the movement organizing them is concerned)
The local grassroots protest. These are the most difficult to generate attendance because there is often very little planning, little coordination other than email and the now almost omnipresent social networking that is used to gin up attendance. The attendance problem is also exacerbated by the fact that these events are usually planned and attended around the notion of personal, professional, family obligations that can reduce the attendence. That is why these events have the second highest ratio, close to 1 to 20-25
Finally, there is the Washington Lobby visit, where activists usually go to Washington to meet with their Congressional delegation or more accurately their staff. The cost and logistics of such an event usually means that 1 person on a Washington Lobby Trip represents as many as 100 interested persons.
The sheeer number of Tea Parties, and their near spontaneous or certainly far less organized nature, needs to be considered. If a Tea party gets an attendence, on short notice, of 2,000, you need to do the math and think numbers in the 40-50 thousand range in that area. That is a lot of citizens who simply aren't buying the need for the bill or the methods that this Congress is undertaking.
However potent these protests are right now, they will quickly diminish in significance unless something can be done to harness the discontent into political and electoral power.