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Aerial photos used to estimate crowds at demonstrations
February 21, 2003 7:25 AM   Subscribe

So just how many protesters WERE there at the anti-war demonstration? Throughout history organizers give a higher turnout estimate and police give a lower one. The San Francisco Chronicle hired an independent third party to take aerial photos and estimate the number of demonstrators last Sunday, and the results show a crowd count much lower than what either the organizers OR the police had estimated. In Washington, DC, as USA Today notes, the Park Service "counted crowds for decades until 1995, when Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan threatened to sue after Park Police estimated attendance at the Million Man March at 400,000." Is having an accurate count a good thing? Will anyone care?
posted by twsf (51 comments total)

 
I think this little essay sums it up quite nicely.
posted by oissubke at 7:28 AM on February 21, 2003


From oissubke's link:

the protests attracted about as many people this weekend as the movie "Kangaroo Jack."

ouch.
posted by ednopantz at 7:35 AM on February 21, 2003


whether it was one or one billion, this weekend's protest fell on deaf ears anyway.
posted by crunchland at 7:37 AM on February 21, 2003


I think this little essay sums it up quite nicely.

I think that little essay is a whiny little troll from someone who seems to care enough about the voice of the left to go into such detail into how insignificant he thinks it is. But that's just me.

I love how he uses the completely illogical "more people did this than go to the protests" analogy, as if that means anything. I mean, more people probably went to the bathroom around the country in the minute I was reading his website; guess that means his opinion ain't worth a shit.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:42 AM on February 21, 2003


whether it was one or one billion, this weekend's protest fell on deaf ears anyway.

Should we really have a president who makes decisions based on a congregation of folks with a certain agenda who get out and carry signs and make a bunch of noise?

Rallies are relatively easy to put together. It's a public relations push in an attempt to promote one agenda over another. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not have a presidential administration flip-flop on national policy due to political push that (to piggyback off ednopantz's comment) got about the same turnout as the movie Kangaroo Jack.

That wouldn't make any more sense than the president declaring that, due to massive public support of kangaroos, they administration would now....
posted by oissubke at 7:45 AM on February 21, 2003


That wouldn't make any more sense than the president declaring that, due to massive public support of kangaroos, they administration would now....

If the President announced a war on kangaroos, I wonder what percentage of the public would believe that at least one of the September 11th hijackers was a marsupial.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 7:51 AM on February 21, 2003


From the comments in oissubke's link:
On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. It was part of a larger march on Washington in support of the civil rights bill that was pending in Congress. 200- 250,000 people marched in support.

According to the 1960 census, the population of the US at the time was about 178 million. The marchers constituted less just over 1/10 of 1% of the population. More people went to see The Great Escape that week than participated in the march.

What a bunch of useless losers! Right, Ken?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:57 AM on February 21, 2003


Yeah, well, that was The Great Escape; not really the same thing, now is it?
posted by hob at 8:00 AM on February 21, 2003


What a bunch of useless losers! Right, Ken?

People who attend protests and rallies aren't necessarily losers. They're trying to promote their political agenda, which is a great and noble thing. That's what keeps politics moving in this country.

But it's a mistake to look at what's essentially a political public relations event and regard it as "the will of the people."

It's the will of some people. If they can promote their agenda so that other people agree with it, that's great. If not, oh well. But it doesn't make sense to think that a presidential administration should change their policies, views, and opinions because of some successfully organizers.

Or, to put it another way, would you expect Gore to suddenly encourage a ban on abortion just because a quarter-million conservatives got together and rallied for it?
posted by oissubke at 8:04 AM on February 21, 2003


Rallies are relatively easy to put together.

I'm guessing that it's a few hundred thousand down at oissubuke's place next week, then. Or is he all mouth and no trousers?
posted by riviera at 8:06 AM on February 21, 2003


I'm guessing that it's a few hundred thousand down at oissubuke's place next week, then.

I'm not interested in rabidly promoting a particular political agenda at the moment, but when I am I'll let you know. :-)
posted by oissubke at 8:17 AM on February 21, 2003


I'm guessing that it's a few hundred thousand down at oissubuke's place next week, then. Or is he all mouth and no trousers?

Hope he supplies enough port-a-potties...I'm already feeling the need...
posted by Plunge at 8:32 AM on February 21, 2003


Trollin', trollin', trollin, though the streams are swollin', keep those weblogs trollin, rawhide.....

I've got it! Why don't all you free thinkers give oissubke a break?
posted by Pressed Rat at 8:34 AM on February 21, 2003


I get your reasoning to a point, ossibuke, but I don't see how your argument is strengthened by basing it on an essay playing a numbers game that has no relevance. The industry doesn't even compare TV to box office numbers, much less protest to box office numbers.

I attended the San Francisco march, and I don't think I met anyone who thought Bush's mind could or would be changed by any of the protests over the weekend; yet I met a lot of people who didn't just stay home say "why bother?" for that reason. I didn't meet anyone particularly concerned with the numbers of people marching; everywhere we went, we were surrounded by people as far as we could see, and that was good enough for us. To be there was to be part of a voice against the war. At the same time some people feel safer duct-taping their windows and learning to don gas masks, some of us feel less powerless by creating a forum to be heard en masse, particularly when it is a voice that's not getting much play in the pro-war (yet ostensibly liberal) press these days.

The protests over the weekend were large; whatever the counting method, by comparison to other such demonstrations in the past, they were large. It demonstrates that a certain number of people are willing to go out of their way at a very particular time to protest. At the very least, they might inspire people to think a little more closely about their level of support for the war. That's Bush's concern anyway, particularly in an environment where his administration is in the position of trying to talk people into a war rather than responding to our call for war. He won't change his mind (because, after all, it's all about him, not us), but we're not going to make it pleasant for him.

If a comparison is necessary, it might be a little more honest to compare the numbers of anti-war demonstrators to those of pro-war demonstrators. After all, there's a big difference between the level of support of people sitting on their asses accepting the war because TV and radio tell them to and those who would get up and take action, no matter which side they're on. (What I find interesting on another level is how supporters of the war are in favor of extending democracy into the Middle East, yet are not only critical of expressions of democracy at home, but also tell us that it's of no use anyway.)

As for the original post, if they are coming up with ways to count crowds that is more efficient, and they are forthcoming about the method's flaws, then good for them. We could avoid the argument over numbers, which both sides of a debate tend to inflate, and we possibly could get past the apparent inability to interpret such numbers in a logical context.
posted by troybob at 8:36 AM on February 21, 2003


From the article: This is the first time the firm has used its equipment for crowd estimation

That's an interesting statement, buried halfway down the article.
posted by smcniven at 8:38 AM on February 21, 2003


The 1963 march is not memorable for the size of the crowd that was there, but for the eloquence of Dr. King's speech. If there had been half as many people there, it would not have been less important.

Individuals may argue over moral positions, but political leaders pursue policies based on advancing their interests, as they see them.

The civil right campaign was ultimately successful not because of it's 'rightness' or morality, but because a majority of lawmakers saw that it was in their interest to pass decent civil rights laws.

What do you think would have happened in 1963 if, instead of Dr. King making an "I have a Dream" speech, there had only been signs saying that President Kennedy was worse than the KKK, and that it was all about oooooil?
posted by Jos Bleau at 8:40 AM on February 21, 2003


What specifically, are the credentials of the "Santa Clara air photography firm Air Flight Service" (a company with 20 years of experience in taking photographs for topographical maps for government agencies and private companies.) for counting crowds? They are photographers, not mathematicinas or statisticians. And SFGate, well.......

"I'm surprised that SFGate didn't hire Dr. Farouk EL-Baz, director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University. El Baz has developed mathematical models for counting trees and sand dunes.

"Last week, Dr. Michael Guillen, science editor of ABC's "Good Morning America" program, asked Dr. El-Baz if the Center could conduct an analysis of some 35mm photographs obtained by the television network from the Park Service. Dr. El-Baz gathered a team of 10 research associates and graduate students of the Center in order to develop a methodology for applying remote sensing techniques to the problem of crowd size estimation. After working overnight, the team on Thursday morning, October 19, produced a n estimate of 870,000 people in attendance at aboiut 3:30 p.m., with a margin of error of about 25 percent, which meant the actual size of the crowd at that time could have been as low as 650,000 or as high as 1.1 million."

The Park Service tried to hire El Baz to count crowds at DC protests (according to NPR), but Congress refused to fund this.
posted by troutfishing at 8:44 AM on February 21, 2003


And for you conspiracy theorists of all ilks out there, THIS will be grist for your mill...
posted by Pressed Rat at 8:45 AM on February 21, 2003


I estimate the Million Man March at 17 guys and a marsupial. So sue me, Louie.
posted by jfuller at 8:47 AM on February 21, 2003


Should we really have a president who makes decisions based on a congregation of folks with a certain agenda who get out and carry signs and make a bunch of noise?

Maybe you're right. Better to make decisions on congregations of folks with a certain agenda who carry around their checkbooks and throw around a bunch of money.
posted by crunchland at 8:49 AM on February 21, 2003


I estimate the Million Man March at 17 guys and a marsupial.

So you were the one watching Kangaroo Jack this weekend.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:51 AM on February 21, 2003


Don't fall for it.

Say, for example, I'm against the protests. The simplest way for me to deflect attention away from the goal of the protest is to question the number of people (popularity) that attended the protest.

Once I do that, protest supporters fall for the bait and spend their time arguing with me about crowd estimation and media bias and other spurious topics. Their real message is now being confused and hidden behind a battle over numbers.

This happens with every large protest and people continue to fall for it. This is not to say don't defend the true number of people who attended, just don't let that fight overtake the real goal of your protest.
posted by jsonic at 8:51 AM on February 21, 2003


If a comparison is necessary, it might be a little more honest to compare the numbers of anti-war demonstrators to those of pro-war demonstrators.

Trouble being that many people who favor a war with Saddam, including myself, consider it unseemly to demonstrate in favor of bloodshed.

The attitude isn't enthusiasm for war, but rather conscious resignation to the position that war is the best of a bad lot of options.

Hardly "accepting what TV gives" us. I would also note, that if one reads elite newspapers, NY Times, Wapo, there is no shortage of antiwar commentary, analysis, and news.

For the anti-war camp, the trouble isn't that people are blindly accepting war. The trouble is they have thought about war and are in favor of war, albeit by smallish but significant margins.
posted by ednopantz at 8:51 AM on February 21, 2003


The Kangaroo Jack observation applies to the American marches, which were anemic compared to the rest of the world. A couple hundred thousand in Australia, a million in London, another million in Rome, another couple million in scattered cities across Europe -- I guarantee you that worldwide, more people rallied than watched a CGI kangaroo.

Though, if Kangaroo Jack had beaten the marches worldwide, I'd suggest we have a far, far larger problem at hand then a simple war in the Middle East.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:52 AM on February 21, 2003


but I don't see how your argument is strengthened by basing it on an essay playing a numbers game that has no relevance.

I don't base my argument on that. I posted the link because I thought it was amusing. My later comments were intended to stand on their own.

Political rallies are public relations events. You know this. I know this. That's why they have organizers and press releases and so forth. It's not like they're spontaneous gatherings of offended citizens (though some may participate on a whim.) This applies to both liberal and conservative rallies and protests.

If they can steer public opinion in a direction that they think is beneficial, then good for them. But it's irrational to see pictures of a relatively small number of people (corporations and celebrities can, and do, easily stir up more people than these protests did), and leap to the conclusions that "the public" is against the war, and that Bush is ignoring the fact that "the people have spoken".
posted by oissubke at 9:04 AM on February 21, 2003


March numbers were previously discussed here.
posted by Frank Grimes at 9:05 AM on February 21, 2003


Trouble being that many people who favor a war with Saddam, including myself, consider it unseemly to demonstrate in favor of bloodshed.

If you're so convinced it is the right thing to do (and that ultimately it will avoid more bloodshed), why not? It sounds like you've found a wonderfully passive way to absolve yourself of responsibility for bloodshed. If you support the war with words, why not with actions?

Also, parallel to your argument, most protesters aren't against doing something about Saddam, just that war is the worst of a bad lot of options; many feel war should be the last of any lot of options.

Many people support the war because they believe it is right. Many people support the war because they are told to (or, these days, are scared into it). On both sides of the debate, a lot of people take their position based on something other than a personal assessment of available information. I would still say that a person who puts action behind dialogue is a step ahead of someone who would not.
posted by troybob at 9:09 AM on February 21, 2003


From the linked article: "That number does not take into account marchers who dropped out before or arrived after the moment the photo sequence was shot. Calculating a precise number of protesters for the entire rally is not possible from this survey..."

And from the post: "So just how many protesters WERE there at the anti-war demonstration?"


The linked article clearly states that it cannot answer the question of the post.

I was at the rally, and it was definitely a lot smaller than the last one. But a snapshot of the crowd at 1:45 has very, very little to do with "how many protesters were there."

Also, for all of those who like to compare numbers between the protesters and brain-dead moviegoers, I counted roughly 25-30 pro-war marchers in San Francisco. I guess that means the popular opinion in the Bay Area is about 65,000 to 30, using even the most conservative estimates. So precisely .0461% of people here are for war, and 99.9539% are against war.

Glad I'm in the majority...
posted by zekinskia at 9:15 AM on February 21, 2003


On both sides of the debate, a lot of people take their position based on something other than a personal assessment of available information

Good point. Relevant to most controversial issues.

I would still say that a person who puts action behind dialogue is a step ahead of someone who would not.

"I walked in a protest, therefore I'm better than you"

There are many good ways to support your views. This is not one of them.
posted by jsonic at 9:16 AM on February 21, 2003


One, two, three, four...plus the guy taking the picture. Five.
posted by Guy Smiley at 9:23 AM on February 21, 2003


Perhaps what I am speaking to is more a contrast between liberal and conservative methodologies. One thing I like about being more liberal is that liberals I have been involved with tend to take personal action on behalf of their beliefs; they get involved. Many don't. Many do a lot more in support of their causes than I do. The conservatives I know (I have many friends who...oh, never mind) are perfectly happy to let other people take those actions for them; their activism is in agreement.

What I note is the degree to which personal conviction translates into personal effort, and that's across the board. I respect the strength of belief of an anti-abortion protester in a march more than I do that of someone who is pro-choice and remains silent. It's easy to sit back and agree; it's not so easy to do something about it.

So it's more like, "I walked in a protest, therefore I've given more than casual thought to my position; what about you?"
posted by troybob at 9:49 AM on February 21, 2003


If you're so convinced it is the right thing to do (and that ultimately it will avoid more bloodshed), why not? It sounds like you've found a wonderfully passive way to absolve yourself of responsibility for bloodshed. If you support the war with words, why not with actions?


Well, first of all, I don't want to hang aroud with the kind of yahoos who attend pro-war rallies. Ever seen one? Weird folks missing key teeth clutching pictures of politicians. Shudder.

Secondly, war isn't the kind of thing you should be enthusiastic about. Demonstrations often function more as pep rallies for the faithful and cheering on violence and destruction is a dangerous attitude to have.

Third, on the cheering on point, it plays into the hands of the anti-war camp who argue that those backers of war are callous or disinterested in the realities of war.

Fourth, "Make war on Saddam because he is a fascist genocidal dictator with a meglomanical belief that acquisition of nuclear weapons will enable him to lead the Arab world out of its 500 year slump, and he does not behave as conventional deterrence theory dictates he should" doesn't fit so well on a sign. Seriously, the case for war is one that requires a couple of sentences to explain it and a familiarity with Saddam, his history, and the historical trajectory of the region over the last 50 years.

Fifth, it won't make the slightest difference anyway.
posted by ednopantz at 10:25 AM on February 21, 2003


Alright, i admit it. It was all me. I photoshopped myself wearing different wigs to create a crowd-like illusion with a mirror and holographic projector, and using the liberal media (which i control) i bamboozalled you all. And i would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for you pesky kids.
/sarcasm
Protesting in this way is neccessary because we can, in our society. It helps to remind us all that the people of a country are it's identity. If polititians choose to ignore the ire of a proportion of the population who are willing to show their feelings on a subject by protesting, more fool them. People who have the strength of character to get out and show solidarity with those they feel repressent their opinions better than the hyper-spun government demagogues are probably the same proportion of the population who get out and vote.
posted by asok at 10:26 AM on February 21, 2003


"I'm not interested in rabidly promoting a particular political agenda at the moment, but when I am I'll let you know."

Nope, no agenda here, just taking the 'ol fingers for a jog on the keyboard; gotta keep in shape.

I was there and around 1:45 was headed for Naan & Curry, about 4-5 blocks away, for a bite to bring back to the rally. For what it's worth, the side streets were packed with people coming and going, and there was a street a block away filled with an overflow march.

I don't know how that factors into an accurate count, but I know that the count of people on Market street and the plaza at 1:45 isn't the whole story.
posted by 2sheets at 10:48 AM on February 21, 2003


Rallies are not designed to change Bush's and/or any given chickenhawk's mind. If minor things like reason and compassion and ethics and morality have no effect on them, it's doubtful that these rallies will.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:37 AM on February 21, 2003


Rallies are designed to be catalysts for change. Recent war-prevention rallies consisted of much more than people carrying signs. Much factual printed information is disseminated, new contacts are made, and many folks man information booths with a number of diverse viewpoints. People's voices are heard, just as they were during civil rights marches, and the marches against the national nightmare/travesty of our involvement in Vietnam.

In my own personal experience, thoughtful people who may be in favor of the war, but who are willing to consider such minor things like reason and compassion and ethics and morality, are in fact persuaded by coming in contact with people at rallies, or events surrounding them. Some are not. But voices are heard, and more and more light is brought to bear on any given issue. Those who disparage or downplay such voices are merely afraid of what that light may bring forth.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 11:51 AM on February 21, 2003


So just how many protesters WERE there at the anti-war demonstration?

Apparently enough that Saddam now feels comfortable ceasing to cooperate with the inspectors, which just makes war more likely. Joe Conason suggests that in order to counter this spin, the next anti-war protests should be at Iraqi embassies.
posted by homunculus at 1:06 PM on February 21, 2003


If you support the war with words, why not with actions?

What, you mean like waving signs and handing out leaflets and shouting slogans? No, those are just words, too.
posted by kindall at 1:09 PM on February 21, 2003


Getting back to the point of the post - numbers of demonstarters at the SFI antiwar rally, I guess no one on Metafilter can answer my question:

What specifically, are the credentials of the "Santa Clara air photography firm Air Flight Service" in counting crowds? This is "a company with 20 years of experience in taking photographs for topographical maps for government agencies and private companies." - They are ariel photographers, not mathematicians or statisticians. And why is SFGate's estimate, by the same token, more accurate than the police estimates? What methodology did SFGate use to arrive at these numbers?

Maybe these estimates are accurate. But if so, it would be do more to dumb luck, as far as I can tell, than anything. This seems like a political hatchet job to me.

However, there do exist more refined crowd counting methods:

Dr. Farouk EL-Baz, director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University, has developed mathematical models for counting trees and sand dunes which he has adopted for counting crowds. The National Park Service wanted to hire his center to count DC protest crowds but Congress refused to fund the project.

Using ariel photography, the BU Center team estimated the "Million Man March" to be between 650,000 and 1.1 million people - far cry from the 400,000 number widely reported.
posted by troutfishing at 1:55 PM on February 21, 2003


troutfishing:

SFGate has published the photos so that anyone can count if they so desire. They have also described the exact methods used, which seem reasonable to me.

Time for some open source journalism.
posted by phatboy at 2:07 PM on February 21, 2003


phatboy - I stand corrected: I compared them and EL-Baz's methodology and SFGate's were basically the same.
posted by troutfishing at 2:30 PM on February 21, 2003


Oh - I forgot to say - D'oh!!
posted by troutfishing at 2:35 PM on February 21, 2003


So precisely .0461% of people here are for war, and 99.9539% are against war.

How do they feel about CGI Kangeroos?
posted by anyanka at 3:31 PM on February 21, 2003




Peter Bagge: Observations from a Reluctant Anti-Warrior
posted by MarkO at 6:58 PM on February 21, 2003


U.S. Undersecretary of State: "Syria, Iran, and North Korea are next after Iraq" - U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said in meetings with Israeli officials on Monday that he has no doubt America will attack Iraq, and that it will be necessary to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea afterwards."
posted by troutfishing at 9:02 PM on February 21, 2003


U.S. Undersecretary of State: "Syria, Iran, and North Korea are next after Iraq" - U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said in meetings with Israeli officials on Monday that he has no doubt America will attack Iraq, and that it will be necessary to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea afterwards."

I hate it when they don't provide an actual quote but paraphrase what was said. Very unprofessional IMHO. Are these statements offered in any other publication so we can see the actual wording?
posted by Plunge at 9:40 PM on February 21, 2003


Should we really have a president who makes decisions based on a congregation of folks with a certain agenda who get out and carry signs and make a bunch of noise?

nope, our president should make decisions based on a congregation of folks with a certain agenda who write the biggest checks.

anyways, f&m got it right, the point of the peace rallies isn't to send a message to the president (he doesn't care, he's been plannin' this thing since 2000), but to everyone else.
posted by mcsweetie at 3:38 AM on February 22, 2003


Scott Simon, on NPR's "Weekend Edition" this saturday, said that the Americans putting their lives on the line in Iraq to deter a US invasion as "human shields" dressed like "Gratefull Dead concert retreads" (not a direct quote, I'm looking for transcripts) and then read an extended quote from a recent Tony Blair speach which suggested that Anti-War protestors were misguided dupes of Saddam Hussein who would, paradoxically, make war invevitable.

"National Fox Public radio"?
posted by troutfishing at 8:42 AM on February 22, 2003


Plunge - many people in the Bush Adm. have said similar things. I'll compile a few when a have a minute.
posted by troutfishing at 8:43 AM on February 22, 2003


troutfishing: Thanks! :-)
posted by Plunge at 9:14 AM on February 22, 2003


Fox News keeps telling me that support for this war is at 153%, ergo I can only assume that these marches

a) Never really happened and are a myth created by news outlets that are neither fair or balanced (when Fox News is undoubtedly both)

b) Were attended by invisible people.

By the way, did you know that communists terrorists have infiltrated the highest levels of our government? My Uncle Joe John told me so.
posted by owillis at 9:49 AM on February 22, 2003


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