The Smallest Women’s Marches Show Size Doesn’t Have To Matter

Two academics are crowdsourcing a document so that every marcher counts

Illustration: Tara Jacoby
Jan 23, 2017 at 6:03 PM ET

Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington and its official sister marches in other major cities grabbed headlines for their sheer size, especially with the news that there were more in attendance than at President Trump’s inauguration the day prior. But while all eyes looked to the largest demonstrations, smaller groups of feminists in more far-flung areas went under the radar as they went marching one by one — sometimes literally.

Estimating and analyzing crowd sizes can be difficult, something that the Trump administration is taking advantage of as they lie about Friday’s inauguration attendance being “record-breaking.” Since the National Park Service stopped attempting official counts in 1995 following the Million Man March, it’s been a task that media outlets, crowd scientists, and law enforcement agencies have taken upon themselves. On Saturday, in an effort to glean the most accurate count possible, University of Connecticut Professor Jeremy Pressman decided to crowdsource the data.

“It seemed like there were more events going on than I had expected, and I was curious as to what the scope of it was,” he told Vocativ.

By the estimation of Erica Chenoweth, a University of Denver professor, who volunteered to help as many reports rolled in, it was “the single largest day for a demonstration” in U.S. history, and its reach spread across the world. So far, 670 different demonstrations have been recorded in the Google Sheet they created, with crowd estimates based on news reports, photos, and law enforcement estimates. Their work gives a total low estimate of almost 3.3 million people and a high estimate of over 4.6 million people participating in all protests across all seven continents combined.

But in addition to receiving tips about the largest crowds, the two received dozens of tweets asking, “Will you count us, too?” from small-scale demonstrations all over the world.

Pressman said that many expressed gratitude at having their small shows of solidarity be counted within the larger movement.

While the average demonstration size included in the Google Sheet was over 6,000 (using low estimates), a great many of them were much smaller. For instance, looking at only demonstrations across the world in which the low estimate of demonstrators was 500 or less, at least more than 55,000 people were represented. These groups took to the streets in 45 U.S. states, two U.S. territories, and another 34 countries, including Iraq, Mexico, and Antarctica. Some demonstrations included on the list were as small as just one person.

Christina Stacy was one of the demonstrators, having skipped out on the D.C. march because she was pregnant. Along with 16 other people in her family and residents of her neighborhood with similar barriers to travel, Stacy took to the streets of Alexandria, VA, which is just a train ride away from the action in Washington.

“We had a great time, and got to know new, like minded people who we hope to work with in the future to create an inclusive community and country,” she said.

Tecumseh, Michigan, a small city with a population of roughly 8,400 within a county where 60 percent of the popular vote went to Trump, also hosted a march of roughly 35 demonstrators.

“I felt our voices needed to be heard in Tecumseh, to let those in office know people who support women’s rights live in their community and to let others who may not have a voice that they have support,” participant Anthony Alaniz, who marched with his partner and their daughter, told Vocativ in an e-mail. “Even with our paltry march, it felt invigorating.”

Perhaps surprisingly, there were two different marches in Tanzania in East Africa. The smaller of the two consisted of 18 people in Mwanza, half of whom were American expatriates. One participant, Leisha Otieno, noted that not many people saw the march taking place, and that, without any signs, it might have looked like they were merely walking for exercise. Still, after noting that some of the American demonstrations in crowdsourced Google Sheet circulating were of comparable size, she decided to make Pressman and Chenoweth aware of their group.

“Many of us work in global development, women’s empowerment, reproductive health, environmental preservation or other related fields,” she told Vocativ in an e-mail. “We see first hand how people suffer without some of the freedoms we take for granted in Western nations, and we want America to continue to help lead the way in human rights, especially women’s rights.”