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April 7, 2003

Let’s you and him fight. Semi-reliable statistics at the ready, Electrolite favorite Kieran Healy baits Electrolite favorite Timothy Burke:
Based on news reports, quite a number of recent anti-war protests have had many more than 50,000 participants and several, notably in New York and San Francisco, have had more than 100,000. Only about 20 events in the dataset have a reported size greater than this. […]

What does this suggest? The sheer size of a protest event is only one indicator of the vitality of a social movement and its capacity to effect social change. Timothy Burke and Dan Drezner are right to say that a successful social movement does things other than just protest in the streets. Nevertheless, getting people to turn out in large numbers remains a very useful index of popular discontent because it is so hard to do. Based on the size of the typical protest, it is just not plausible to say that there are very large numbers of people who choose to indulge their narcissism by showing up for protests. If there were, we’d see them out on the streets in large numbers far more often than we actually do—particularly given that the data considered here cover what we might think of as a “golden age” of public protest in the United States. When set in the context of the history of mobilization for protest, the anti-war movement has generated a turnout for protests on a scale rivalled by only a very few social movement organizations on a very tiny number of occasions. That’s worth bearing in mind the next time you’re tempted to dismiss it as a failure or write off its participants as out-of-touch peaceniks.

[10:56 PM]
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Comments on Let's you and him fight.:

mark ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 08:55 AM:

I wouldn't say that such large protests are a demonstration of their power for social change. Given their context, it's rather a case of the protests showing just how easy it is for Certain Persons to lie to themselves about the will of the people around the world, and, when that fails, to totally ignore it.

Sure, the anti-war protests were impressive. But the superhawks just ignored them and pressed on anyway.

(And I say this as a (non-super) "hawk")

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2003, 10:00 PM:

I've been saying for some time now that the 70-percent approval ratings that the war is generating means precisely the opposite of what the hawks think they means.

They mean that, with the war not even a month old and American loss of life very small, 30 percent of the American people already don't support it. And my hippie friends tell me it took YEARS for the anti-war movement to reach the level it's already at.

Mark - Sure, the protests themselves don't cause social change, but the protesters aren't going to simply retreat to their recliners and big-screen TVs when the protests are over. I expect to see quite a few of them working against hawkish policies and candidates in other ways.

I'm excited by all of this -- I think the nation is pretty near to hitting bottom in hawkishness and restraint of civil liberties.

T Charles ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2003, 11:17 PM:

The gratuitous overkill used by police forces against protesters (WTOs past, peace demonstrations this year, Oakland this week, etc.) seems calculated to discourage people from participating by threatening bodily harm (and arbitrary torture in detainment).