This is the eighth 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. Find all the previous posts in the series here. For our counting methods, please see our first post in the series.
For August 2017, we tallied 834 protests, demonstrations, strikes, 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 175,625 and 205,178 people showed up at these political gatherings, although it is likely there were far more participants. Because mainstream media often neglect to report nonviolent actions — especially small ones — it is probable that we did not record every event that took place. At 31 percent of the events we listed this month, we lacked an estimate of the size of the crowd.
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 estimate that August 2017 saw a notable increase in people protesting compared with July, during which we observed between 85,837 and 108,344 people participating in crowds.
Who demonstrated against and for what in August?
1) Charlottesville and its aftermath
The most prominent August protests were the events at Charlottesville on Aug. 11 and 12, sparked by the city’s efforts to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. After a dramatic confrontation on the University of Virginia campus on Friday night, the Saturday protests included a smaller group of white supremacists and larger groups of counterprotesters decrying racism and bigotry. The former group included Identity Evropa, the Traditionalist Worker Party, the National Socialist Movement and Vanguard America. Members of the Three Percenters, a right-wing militia, also came to the city. Counterprotesters included clergy, progressive organizers and activists, antifa activists, and many others.
On Aug. 12, one person drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Before the attack, the man identified by police as the car’s driver had been marching with Vanguard America.
President Trump’s response was controversial. While at times condemning white supremacy and Heyer’s death, he also expressed some sympathy for the cause, including equating the two groups of protesters (“there’s blame on both sides”). There were, he said, some “very fine people, on both sides.”
The events at Charlottesville, as well as Trump’s response, sparked a slew of political gatherings all across the country. We counted 341 events, including vigils to remember Charlottesville and demonstrations against white supremacy or against Confederate statues. People came together at Town Square in Anchorage, marched to City Hall in Atlanta, and gathered at the University of Iowa Pentacrest in Iowa City. In Durham, N.C., protesters pulled down a Confederate statue.
A smaller number of protests (28) after Charlottesville were arguably white supremacist or, in most cases, organized to rally in favor of retaining Confederate statues. Those took place in Hot Springs, Ark.; Graham, N.C.; Portsmouth, Va.; San Antonio; and elsewhere.
Counterprotesters met every gathering of white supremacists. In Boston, where a few dozen people attended a free speech rally that opponents called a white-supremacist gathering, 40,000 to 50,000 counterprotesters showed up.
The vast majority of rallies for Confederate statues were side-by-side with those calling for the statues’ removal. Near the Confederate monument in Lee Square in Pensacola, Fla., supporters and opponents of the monument protested, shouted, sang, argued, and waved signs and flags. Even the location was contested, with opponents of the monument demanding a return of the square to its pre-1889 name, Florida Square. In Greenville, S.C., local police tried to manage the dueling protests by sharing space and time for each, with protesters allowed to rally around the monument for four hours before switching sides of the street with the counterprotesters.
2) The opposition to Trump
Resistance against the Trump administration continued to drive most protests. We estimate that 82.7 percent of the events we recorded were opposing Trump’s policies, a higher percentage of events than in July. About 62 percent overall were explicitly anti-Trump while another 21 percent overall took stances on issues that contradict those of the president.
In addition to the many post-Charlottesville protests and vigils, about 50 protests dealt with immigration issues. In Fort Worth, about 400 people came to city hall to protest a bill outlawing sanctuary cities in Texas. In Billings, Mont., people came to protest Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention of Audemio Orozco-Ramirez. In places such as Grand Junction, Colo.; Kansas City; Lafayette, Ind.; and Los Angeles, protesters rallied to support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
3) The support for Trump
About 10.6 percent of the events we recorded were rallies supporting the president and his policies, either directly or indirectly. As a share of events, last month’s total increased almost four percentage points over July. In addition to the post-Charlottesville protests and rallies, Trump held large rallies in Huntington, W.Va., on Aug. 3 and Phoenix on Aug. 22.
4) Neither for nor against Trump
The final 6.6 percent of the crowds 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, consistent with the trends from previous months, including protesting the installation of “smart” home energy meters in Ann Arbor; Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s rally at the fairgrounds in Springfield; and a rally against “puppy mills” outside a mall in Lake Grove, N.Y.
5) How many people were arrested and/or injured in political crowds?
At about 787 events (94.4 percent), no arrests were made. This was almost exactly the same percentage as in July. The numbers of people arrested dropped from 585 in July to 251 in August, with at least 130 (about 53 percent) of those August arrests coming in 11 cases of nonviolent civil disobedience.
The number of events with arrests that appeared to be connected to violence or property destruction was still small but climbed noticeably from July’s nine events to 31 events in August. In addition to the death of Heyer on Aug. 12, we counted 111 injuries.
Erica Chenoweth is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and the author of the forthcoming “Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford University Press, 2018). Find her on Twitter @EricaChenoweth.
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.