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An Independent Count at the Jan 18, 2003
San Francisco Anti-War Demonstration

By David Chandler

Pictures from Indy Media:

 

In most recent peace and justice related ralleys, marches, and protests the count by organizers and the count by the police and/or mainstream media have been at least an order of magnitude (a factor of 10) out of line. I took as my project for the SF demonstration to do my own crowd estimate to see whether the organizers or the media were in the right ballpark.

We arrived early and started our march from Embarcadaro. By 11:00, the nominal starting time, the street was packed to the point where you couldn't easily move around in the crowd without people squeezing out of the way to let you by. Some people who had walked ahead and scouted out the parade route said they had gone 15 blocks and still couldn't see the front of the crowd, and that there were crowds on side streets ready to move into the parade. It was well over an hour before we started to move. By the time we started moving essentially the entire parade route ahead of us was filled to capacity.

I did a couple of estimates of the crowd size on the spot, with limited knowledge of the exact dimensions of the parade route. They ranged from 250 to 500 people for each 10 feet along the parade route. That works out to between 5000 and 10,000 per city block.

When I got home I downloaded aerial photographs of Market Street from http://mapserver.maptech.com. Based on the images Market Street is about 34 m across and the parade route was 2.7 km long. This put the total area of the parade route, not counting the square at Civic Center, at 92,000 square meters. For comparison, the first block was about 100 m long, so its area was 3400 sq.m. If we use the 5000 people per block estimate of the crowd density, that makes it about 1.5 people per square meter. If you place a bunch of people 1 m apart you will see this is fairly loose packing, so 1.5 per sq.m is not very far off. Once we got walking the spacing increased somewhat, but not by much. The moving crowd was almost stationary much of the time. It took us about 3 hours to amble a mile and a half.

Using that density for the parade route, and not even counting the square at the civic center, the count would be 138,000, which I would round down to 100,000, again just to be conservative. The kicker is that when we arrived at the civic center there was an announcement that the end of the parade was just leaving Embarcadero! In other words we filled the parade route twice. 200,000 to 250,000 people is not at all out of line.

With numbers like these, news reports of "10's of thousands" (CBS, SF Chronicle, etc.) come across as pretty blatant counter-movement propaganda, especially considering that the news agencies had helicopters. Reports that ranged from 100,000-200,000 (which included some major media outlets) seem to be honest efforts, but I would go with numbers in the 200,000 range myself.

The numbers were only one piece of the picture. The major contribution of the rally was bringing the West Coast branch of the peace movement together in a very positive, upbeat atmosphere. On the other hand, we apparently live in a time when many of those who would like to rule in our name don't count people voting with their feet any better than they count ballots.