Friday, December 09, 2005

In Search of…Accurate Rally Counts

Rallies. Protests. The bread and butter of the grassroots activist, right up there with petitioning. Unlike petitioning, however, we do not have accurate counts of those who choose to use sheer numbers of their bodies to make their wishes known. Every news story reporting such activities - when the MSM decides to cover a rally or protest, that is - merely uses phrases such as, "organizers claim that approximately 25,000 protestors were present," or, "an estimated 800 participants showed up, according to organizers." Hardly scientific. In fact, such imprecision, even when organizers claims are reported, fosters dispute by government, the media and the opposition.

While it is true that, in some cases, numbers can be extrapolated by using security cameras - as was done with protestors at the 2004 Republican Convention in New York - that is still very inaccurate. Nor is it an option that is always, or even frequently, available. And the final count will always remain in dispute.

"Big deal," you say. "As long as we show up, they'll know what we're thinking and that's all that matters."

Wrong. This is a numbers game, pure and simple. There are several reasons we get out there on the streets and march with our signs, or stand on street corners with placards: We want as many people as possible to join us. We want to educate the public. But in these difficult times we especially want those in authority to know that things need to change. To notice that the numbers that agree with us are growing every single day.

During the Three Days of Actions for Peace & Justice in DC in September, there were conflicting reports about the number of people who had shown up to march on Saturday, September 24th. About halfway through the march word reached some of us that CNN had reported over 500,000 people had converged on the streets of Washington, DC. It was later discovered that those counts were unfounded. On the opposite end friends here in California had heard on various networks that less than 100,000 marchers were in attendance. A count that had definitely been low-balled, as there were no doubts to those of us there that somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 protestors showed up to make their wishes known. Perhaps even more.

When numbers are underreported, it makes it seem as if the growing anti-war sentiment just isn't that big a deal. It hurts us when the numbers are huge, such as the anti-war march in September in DC (and with similar marches around the country). And it hurts us even more when the numbers are smaller.

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1 comment:

Jim said...

That is just plain smart. It's our job to keep the government accountable, and this is one way to get better at it.

Another creative method might be to build a web page that generates a random bar code that is printed out. People could sign a registration form with their unique name and identity, and be given a bar code response. They print out the bar code, and bring it to the rally. People at the rally have bar code readers, and download the Identities into a database. Then, not only do you have the accurate number, you know *who* they were.

Just an idea ...