February 17, 2003

PROTESTS: One of my less-nasty but overly-prolific lefty emailers (note — it’s not more persuasive when you email me four times) keeps demanding to know why I don’t write about the protest numbers.

The answer: because I don’t believe them. The issue of estimating protest numbers was done to death in the blogosphere last time around, and I don’t see any reason to revisit it. I did mention the estimate of 500 protesters in Knoxville here even though when I went by at the protest’s scheduled starting time there were only 30 or 40. But the News-Sentinel number was an “organizer’s estimate” and reader Elizabeth Hill says it’s bogus:

My daughter and I were traveling up Kingston Pike on Saturday about 1:30 and there were no where near 500 people. Like you said , they were spread out around that corner but it couldn’t have been more than 200. When we left the Kohl’s shopping center around 2:00Pm they were all gone. Something I thought was interesting, besides the historically dubious slogans and lame cliché ridden signs, was that no cars were honking in response to some of the protestors waves and signs saying “Honk for peace.”

However, when we came by and the anti-war people were gone, there were a few Pro-war people and all you could hear were drivers honking in support.

Was the Knoxville News-Sentinel report of the “organizer’s estimate” wrong? Who knows? 500 is a lot of people — Knoxville sometimes gets more than that for pro-life demonstrations, but that’s about the only thing that turns out crowds that big besides football — and there’s no way to settle it. The same holds true with all of these things. (It’s not very good, but here’s a photo from 11 of the corner that allegedly had 500 protesters a bit later. Could they have shown up later? Sure. Is it likely that they showed up, were counted, and then vanished before Ms. Hill drove by? Not very.)

What impressed me about the Knoxville protest was that — when I went by, at least — it seemed free of the nastiness that marked protests elsewhere.

UPDATE: InstaLawyer Doug Weinstein was there at 11:30 and says he saw about 150 people, but certainly not 500.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here’s a pretty good article on estimations of crowd size, from the Seattle Times. “In this murky field, one thing is fairly clear: Organizers often overestimate, McPhail said.”

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