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Question: How effective are mass protest marches? CPNN article: Marching Past the Republican Convention
CPNN Administrator
Posted: Dec. 31 1999,17:00

This discussion question applies to the following articles:

Marching Past the Republican Convention
A Weekend of Peaceful Protests
The World Starts the New Year with a Call for Peace
London Unites to Save Jobs and Services
Trabajadores de la salud realizan caminata para promover cultura de paz en Pisco
Health Workers Hold a Walk for a Culture of Peace in Pisco
Caminata por la paz en la capital de Honduras
Peace March in the Capital of Honduras
Marche de la Paix, 11 aout Biterrois (France)
Peace March, 11 August, Biterrois (France)

For related articles after 2017, click here
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Posted: Sep. 05 2004,18:01


I have two comments about this report.  The first is on the question about the effectiveness of mass protest marches.  

Recalling the effectiveness of mass protest marches in the 1978 Iranian Revolution, I looked it up on a search engine and found the following account of the revolution's climax"

  "In November, the Shah turned the government into a military government in order to force strikers back to work. But the worst, everyone knew, was about to come. The month of Muhurram was approaching, the month in which Shi'ites traditionally celebrate the martyrdom of Husayn. It is a passionate and highly religious month, and since the protests against the Shah were largely religious in nature, everyone knew that the country was on the verge of exploding.

  Muhurram began on December 2 with demonstrations, and these demonstrations would continue all throughout the month. They were massive, in the millions, and it was clear that the demonstrators, not the government, was in charge. They seized government buildings, shut down businesses with massive strikes, assassinated government officials. Iranian demonstrators knew this was the month of martyrdom and many would dress in white (the garb of martyrs) and try to provoke government troops to fire on them.

  On January 16, 1979, the Shah left Iran for good. On February 1, Khumayni returned to Iran to a welcoming crowd of several million people. On February 12, the Prime Minister of Iran fled. The Revolution was over and Khumayni declared a new Islamic Republic."

Did you notice that only a week ago, Ayatollah Sistani, who spent the Saddam Hussein years in Iran, returned to the holy city of Najaf in Iraq where American forces were laying seige to the army of Al-Sadr.  The Ayatollah was accompanied by massive crowds of unarmed demonstrators - just like was done in the Iranian Revolution.  Many of the demonstrators were mowed down by gunfire along the way,  but when they arrived, the Americans were forced to leave and the city is now in the hands of the Ayatollah.  

Massive unarmed protest marches continue to play a major role in history.  The Najaf story may not have gotten much press in the USA, but I suspect it got plenty of press in the Islamic world.

My second comment is about crowd size.  In the article it mentions that estimates of crowd size for the march past the Republican Convention ranged from 60,000 to 500,000.  I was there and I did a count.  I simply counted the number of people in a typical New York city block during the march.  It ranged from 1,000 per block when people were moving to 2,000 when they were standing still.  So then you need to multiply this by the number of blocks.  The New York Times published maps the next day showing that the total length of the march was about 50 blocks.  

Actually the march was longer, because when the head of the march reached the destination in Union Square, about a quarter of the marchers had not yet started.  This could be estimated by the time it took the march to pass Madison Square Garden which was about 4 hours (noon to 4:30 minus some delay for the dragon fire).  At 1:30 the march route was filled from one end to another, but there was still one hour's worth of march that had not yet left because the end of the march did not pass the starting point at 23rd St until 2:30.  So, add one hour's worth of marchers (25%) and call it a 67 block march instead of a 50 block march.  The part of the march before reaching Madison Square Garden was tightly packed (from 23rd to 34th Streets plus the extra 25% that had not yet marched) so multiply that part by 2,000, i.e. 28x2000.  After that the march thinned out, so multiply the other 30 by 1,000.  By this calculation the total came to about 86,000.

So, you may ask, where did the figures of 250,000 and 500,000 come from.  From the police, it is said.  But the police have reason to exaggerate crowd sizes when they need to justify the enormous expenses paid to them.  In the old days, the police used to publish aerial photos you could count, but not any more.  Why should we believe them now?

Next year, when we take to the streets again, people will estimate the crowd size by comparison to this year's march.  If we believe the police this time, and count carefully next time, we are in for an unwarranted disappointment.

Well, 86,000 is a big crowd anyway.  And the Ayatollahs did need to count their crowd sizes.
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