September 22, 2014

Now It's 400,000 Climate Marchers? Puh-leeze...

Okay, I'm going to keep this short.

I thought I was done with the topic last night when I posted a piece here pegging the crowd in yesterday's nifty People's Climate March at over 100,000, a very impressive turnout, and explaining how that figure was arrived at. Toward the end, I criticized an estimate attributed to March organizers of 310,000.

I woke up to discover my blogpost had generated a certain amount of interest and a bunch of Facebook comments They were even mainly favorable.

I also found that the organizers had jacked their "official" count up to 400,000. I thought, that’s just silly. Maybe they're counting all the folks who took part in demos around the world, like this one in Tromsø, Norway that my friend Jon-arne sent me shots of.

Nope, according to the NY Times. "Organizers, using data provided by 35 crowd spotters and analyzed by a mathematician from Carnegie Mellon University, estimated that 311,000 people marched the route." So far, no indication of whether the unnamed numbers cruncher also bumped her figures up by 89,000 overnight.

400,000 "marched the route"? A convenient number, on account of the March took just a hair over 4 hours to pass our vantage point on 53rd and 6th. So call it 100,000 people an hour. That works out to--lessee, strike the last zeroes—1,666 people passing a given point every single minute that the March lasted. This simply did not happen. If you weren't there, look at the photos on the front cover of today's Times or browse around on Flickr. That kind of density isn't there, even if all the people had been sprinting. Which they weren't.

So what? It feels good to see Fox News saying 400,000 marched, right? (Of course I don't believe what they say about anything else, but still...) Where's the downside of inflating crowd figures, some friends ask. For a more rounded argument about this, check my blogpost from last year, "Let's Stop Inflating Crowd Counts, Eh?"

In practical terms, I'm inclined to think the blowback comes almost immediately. We want to take the momentum, the high spirits and determination of the People's Climate March and convert it into continued action. Of course only a certain percentage of those who marched will go home and plan local protests or build groups or  promote petitions or lobby Congresscritters or register green voters or sabotage pipelines anyhow. But it's not hard to predict with a high degree of precision how many of the 275,000 phantom marchers will be galvanized into action. That is bound to dishearten not only the people who make up the base of the movement, but even those organizers and leaders who go for the okey-doke. 

 It's Amilcar Cabral time again: 
Tell no lies. Claim no easy victories.


Unknown said...

Actually, what I think is silly is to spend effort "debunking" march numbers. Who cares how many there were if there were a lot? The numbers game is for negotiating power and for history. What useful purpose is served by trying to decrease that number? That only benefits corporate interests. Especially in NYC, it is impossible for anyone, including you, to claim accurate counts, I don't care what methodology is used.

Jimmy Higgins said...

Chuck, we did did not set out to debunk march numbers. We set out to establish what they actually were.
As far as negotiating power, unless you can get the people represented by your numbers to do something else too, you are holding a busted flush. That's true even if the count is accurate.
For history? I got lied to so much about history from elementary school on, that I developed a real aversion to falsification. They lie to us all the time. Why should we lie to us?
If you think it's impossible to count a NYC March accurately, why not just call this one, and any other really big one, a million and be done with it. And don't forget to accuse anyone who checks in with a lower number of doing the corporations' dirty work.

Mitchel Cohen said...

I appreciate Jimmy Higgins' figures. Hey, I was there, I want the numbers to be humongous, but even if you cram 5,000 people into every bloc, along CPW, that's at best 100,000 for the 20 blocks -- and there were far fewer than 5,000 per block. Sure, many could have joined along the way, so let's say 3,000 per block and double it to 120,000 or so, which feels about accurate to me -- I'm a longtime crowd counter, but didn't do so Sunday.

It's important for us -- we, organizers! -- to know how many people we can pull out and gain that kind of support, with those specific kinds of efforts (as opposed to other ones). It's also important for other reasons -- which politics get funded and which get left by the wayside?

Thanks Jimmy.

Mitchel Cohen
Brooklyn Greens/Green Party

lycophidion said...

I'd go back to one of Jimmy's original arguments. We rely on accurate data to establish the veracity of global warming. Lies about that data would only serve to delegitimize our side's argument and hinder our ability to use that data to predict and plan (it would also render the principle of repeatability in science research meaningless). This is equally true for ALL of our data. Our enemy lies. Why should we?