Since tallying attendance at the Women’s Marches on Jan. 21, we have continued counting political crowds — and are launching a monthly series of Monkey Cage posts about our findings. 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 February 2017, we tallied 762 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 233,021 and 373,089 people showed up at these political gatherings, although it is likely there were far more participants.
It is possible, because mainstream media often neglect to report nonviolent actions — especially small ones — that we did not record every event that took place. This is particularly true of the Day Without Immigrants strikes Feb. 16. It’s virtually impossible to make an accurate tally of participants for strikes of this nature, in part because many people deliberately concealed their motivations for skipping out on work or school.
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.
Who demonstrated against and for what in February?
1) The opposition to Trump
Resistance against the Trump administration continued to drive most protests. We estimate that 85 percent of the crowds we recorded were opposing President Trump’s policies. Some of the main targets of these protests included:
- The first executive order on immigration, often called the “Muslim Ban.” This executive order was withdrawn amid court challenges; federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland have blocked a revised executive order.
- The cabinet nominations of Betsy DeVos for secretary of education and Andrew Puzder for secretary of labor, the latter of whom withdrew.
- Dozens of strikes Feb. 16 associated with the Day Without Immigrants.
- Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline and several other pipeline projects.
- The plan to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Some protesters looked for clever hooks, as with the many #NotMyPresident protests on Presidents’ Day, Feb. 20. Others incorporated political theater, included a mass mooning of Trump Tower in Chicago, which attracted hundreds of participants Feb. 13. Children organized some of the events, such as this “Kindness March” in Boulder, Colo., on Feb. 18, as well as various walkouts and strikes Feb. 16 associated with the Day Without Immigrants. In Oak Creek, Mich., one man reportedly protests the Trump agenda every day.
Opponents of the Republican administration also rallied for things. Those included transgender rights, after the Trump administration revoked the Obama-era federal guidance enabling students to use the bathroom that accorded with their gender identities, immigrant rights, and the Affordable Care Act.
2) The support for Trump
About 12 percent of the events we recorded were rallies supporting the president and his policies. For instance, on Feb. 18, Trump spoke to thousands of supporters at a rally in Melbourne, Fla. Most of the pro-Trump demonstrations in February took place as part of a nationwide day of protest against Planned Parenthood on Feb. 11, such as the two dozen people who came out in Tulsa in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic there.
Protests associated with the #RallyforLife illustrate another feature of the United States’ current protest environment: the phenomenon of paired protest and counterprotest. In Tulsa, for instance, across the street from the antiabortion protest in front of Planned Parenthood, about a dozen people counter-rallied in support of Planned Parenthood. Dozens of places — from New York City to Cedar Falls, Iowa — witnessed such simultaneous dueling protests.
3) Neither for nor against Trump
The final 3 percent of the crowds we recorded were involved in actions directed at other politicians or about issues that were neither pro- nor anti-Trump. We found a broad range of such topics. For instance, on Feb. 9, several hundred people in Chicago demonstrated for and against an affordable housing proposal. Most of the protesters, many of whom had arrived hoping to attend the community meeting on the plan, opposed the project. On Feb. 11, in Sheridan, Wyo., 12 people rallied on Main Street against a bill to use public funds to allow children to go to private schools. On Feb. 28, in Hartford, Conn., the Connecticut Coalition Against Crumbling Basements rallied, with 100 homeowners seeking greater support from the state.
At times our sources reveal what groups organized a protest in our tally. In these, we see the multiplicity of organizations and interest groups in the United States. For example, we tallied protests organized by Black Lives Matter Sacramento, Cedar Valley Patriots for Christ, the Eastern Idaho Water Protectors, the Islamic Society of Greenville, the Pride Foundation of Maryland, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, and We the People — Tucson.
Where do people protest?
Within each state, government locations are, not surprisingly, common protest locations. We know that hundreds of protests in our February tally took place at a state capitol or state house, local congressional office, city or town hall building, or other government location.
The local offices of members of Congress were a popular site for demonstrations as constituents demanded open meetings to ask questions and make comments. On Feb. 21, nearly 100 people protested outside Republican Rep. Mike Bost’s office in Carbondale, Ill. That same day, between 200 and 500 people protested outside Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey’s Center City office in Philadelphia. The latter disruptions have become routine; there is a weekly protest site with its own Twitter account, @TuesdaysToomey, along with a Facebook page.
Dozens more took place at universities.
What was striking about the February crowds?
Overall, we are struck by the peaceful nature of the protests, particularly given the consistent protest activity throughout the month. At more than 700 events, no arrests were made. At 18 gatherings, people committed acts of civil disobedience that resulted in arrests. These included actions such as refusing to stop blocking streets, chaining themselves to the inside of a pipeline, or occupying an office.
For instance, on Feb. 6 in New York City, 19 rabbis protesting the immigration ban chose to be arrested after blocking the street near the Trump International Hotel.
More than 100 workers reportedly lost their jobs in retaliation for participating in the Day Without Immigrants strikes.
For ongoing mobilization this large and diverse, the resistance against Trump is remarkably nonviolent. Just 11 events, or 1.4 percent, involved arrests that appeared to be connected to violence or property destruction. In almost all of those examples, only a handful of protesters were involved in violence and/or property destruction, while the vast majority of participants stuck to strictly nonviolent resistance.
Erica Chenoweth is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. Oxford University Press will publish her next book, “Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know,” early next year. Find her on Twitter @EricaChenoweth.
Jonathan Pinckney is a PhD candidate at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and author of “Making or Breaking Nonviolent Disciplines in Civil Resistance Movements.” Find him on Twitter @JCPinckney.
Jeremy Pressman is an associate professor of political science and director of Middle East Studies at the University of Connecticut. Find him on Twitter @djpressman.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, where he serves as coordinator of the Middle Eastern Studies program. Find him on Twitter @szunes.