April 7, 2003
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. […][10:56 PM]
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, wed see them out on the streets in large numbers far more often than we actually doparticularly 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. Thats worth bearing in mind the next time youre tempted to dismiss it as a failure or write off its participants as out-of-touch peaceniks.