New Data Shows a Sharp Increase in U.S. Protest Activity in April
Erica Chenoweth is a professor and associate dean for research in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. She has taught at the University of Denver since 2012. Chenoweth's areas of research includes political violence, terrorism, counterterrorism and homeland security, repression, civil resistance, nonviolent action, protest, and international security.
This is the fourth installment in a monthly series reporting on political crowds in the United States. Each month the Crowd Counting Consortium will post updates about trends and patterns from the previous month as recorded by our volunteers. (For our counting methods, please see our first post in the series.)
For April 2017, we tallied 950 protests, demonstrations, marches, sit-ins and rallies in the United States, with at least one in every state and the District. Our conservative guess is that between 637,198 and 1,181,887 people showed up at these political gatherings, although it is likely that there were far more participants. Because the media often do not report nonviolent actions — especially small ones — it is probable that we did not record every event that took place.
Nevertheless, we think our tally gives us a useful pool of information to better understand political mobilization in the United States — particularly how reports of crowds change from month to month. In this case, we note that April had a 62 percent increase over the number of reported crowds in March.
April also had a major increase in participation — between eight and 13 times greater than the estimated number who participated in March. The growth was driven by tax day protests, the People’s Climate March, and especially the March for Science, as we discuss below. Protests against the Trump administration grew, while demonstrations in support of the president fell.
Some of the fluctuations could be related to our counting methods, because we began to incorporate data provided to us by a webcrawler developed by countlove.org. We continue to refine our compilation methods and will update data as necessary.
Who demonstrated against and in favor of what in April?
1) The March for Science
The biggest event of the month, and the biggest U.S. day of protest since the Women’s March on Jan. 21, was the March for Science on April 22. We counted 390 locations and 399,521 to 677,304 human participants (plus a few penguins at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California). Much of the variation comes from widely different counts of big city attendance in places such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington. The marches, often connected to science activities, drew out young and old. In Seattle, Professor Emeritus Eddy Fischer, 97 years old and co-winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine, didn’t mince words about his participation: “Damn right I’m in this march.”
The March for Science accounted for 41 percent of the events we listed this month. We have accorded the March for Science its own category because we can see the organizers’ point that it was intended to be a nonpartisan event promoting the universal utility of science. At the same time, some speakers and attendees viewed the march as a repudiation of Trump administration polices, like proposed budget cuts for science agencies and the rejection of climate change research.
2) The opposition to Trump
Resistance against the Trump administration continued to drive many protests. We estimate that 37 percent of the political gatherings we recorded were opposing President Trump’s policies (or 78 percent if the March for Science is included here). Many anti-Trump protests were part of two other large protest days: the demand that he release his tax returns (April 15) and the People’s Climate March (April 29). Others included opposition to the U.S. military strike on Syria, as in Milwaukee, and the Day Without Bread, a pro-immigrant protest on New York’s Long Island.
The Tax Day demands that Trump release his tax returns were heard in places such as Biddeford, Maine; Daytona Beach, Fla.; and Santa Maria, Calif. Demands for climate action prompted marches all over the country, including Florence, Ala.; Honolulu; and the main march in Washington.
A small protest the Federal Communications Commission’s policy shift on net neutrality drew much media attention with the rickrolling of FCC Chair Ajit Pai. Protesters outside Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., demanding that the president release his returns were met not only with cars honking in support but also “gestures in derision.”
3) The support for Trump
Just over 2 percent of the events we recorded, or 22 gatherings, were rallies supporting the president and his policies. This is a decrease from prior months, where we saw about 12 percent to 15 percent of the crowds representing pro-Trump claims.
In keeping with his preference for campaign-style rallies, Trump spoke in Harrisburg, Pa., on April 29 with nearly 7,000 supporters coming out to the Farm Show Arena.
4) Neither for nor against Trump
Demonstrations not related to the Trump administration continued to be a sizable component of the protests, about 19 percent. Outside a high school in Sedalia, Mo., hundreds protested bullying, with some attendees coming straight from the funeral for a student who had committed suicide. On April 18, more than 200 Bloomingdale’s workers protested in New York City for better pay and benefits. About 40 protesters gathered in Helmerich Park in Tulsa to protest changing land use and development plans.
Where did people protest?
The most common locations for protests were parks and plazas, as well as universities, state capitols and courthouses. Schools and school offices are often the sites of education budget protests. The March for Science touched on iconic U.S. locations, like the march at Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park or on the floor of Yosemite Valley with its gorgeous waterfalls as the backdrop.
How many people were arrested in political crowds?
At more than 930 events (98 percent), no arrests were made. Moreover, fewer arrests were made in April than in March even as we recorded more events. The numbers dropped from 201 arrests in March to 160 in April, with about 119 of those 160 arrests coming in 10 cases of nonviolent civil disobedience. For instance, seven people were arrested outside Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev., after refusing to stop blocking the base gate; the protesters opposed the use of U.S. military drones in overseas attacks.
The number of events with arrests that clearly appeared to be connected to property destruction or violence decreased slightly from March, with arrests at just four events in April.