The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tens of thousands of people protested in April and May — on topics like gun violence, labor rights and science

Emmy Adams, of Golden, Colo., joins Jorge Flores and Carlitos Rodriguez, both survivors of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and Nia Arrington and Christian Carter, activists from Pittsburgh, from left, during the kickoff event for the Vote For Our Lives movement to register voters on April 19 at Clement Park in Littleton, Colo. (David Zalubowski/AP)

This is the 16th installment in a 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 or months. For our counting methods, please see our first post in the series. You can find the rest of the posts here.

For April, we tallied 3,773 protests, demonstrations, strikes, marches, sit-ins, rallies and walkouts in the United States, with at least one in every state and the District. For May, we tallied 1,030 such events. Our conservative guess is that between 342,319 and 353,403 people showed up at political gatherings in April, and between 97,738 and 102,188 showed up in May, although it is likely there were more participants in both months.

By 2018’s standards, in April and May we found a modest number of 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. This is especially true because we lacked estimates for crowd sizes for 70 percent of the events we listed in April and 43.4 percent of the events in May. That’s an unusually high proportion, in large part because there were so many walkouts on school and university campuses with no publicly reported crowd sizes.

Regardless, this decline in participation is probably temporary; from what we’ve counted so far, June 2018 stands to be one of the most active months since Trump’s inauguration.

Moreover, 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.

1. More school walkouts protesting gun violence — and supporting gun rights

On April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, students walked out of schools en masse. Although this mobilization was likely not as large as those in March — either the March 14 school walkouts or the March 24 March for Our Lives — we recorded 2,617 walkouts with well over 50,000 participants nationwide. The largest reported April 20 gatherings took place in Houston, Des Moines and Athens, Ga., with two students walking out of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., and three students walking out of Lewis and Clark Middle School in Bellevue, Neb.

On May 2, gun rights advocates staged their own walkouts in response, involving 168 events on schools and campuses, totaling 1,605 to 2,115 participants. The largest occurred in Carlsbad, N.M., with between 200 and 600 reported participants. There were also small gatherings at Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte, Mich., George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and Montford Middle School in Tallahassee, reporting two to four participants each.

2. March for Science, take two 

Many towns and cities hosted a March for Science for the second year running, primarily during the weekend of April 14. We recorded 109 such events in the United States (and another 29 taking place internationally, in cities such as New Delhi and Neumayer Station in Antarctica). The largest event took place on the Mall in Washington, with about 10,000 participants. Chicago’s, Sacramento’s and San Diego’s March for Science each saw participants in the thousands. The U.S. total of participants was more modest than last year, with just above 25,000 recorded participants in 2018 compared with between 400,000 and 700,000 in 2017. This is in contrast to the Women’s March, which has seen much more stable participation rates in its first two years.

3. Poor People’s Campaign

May saw the official launch of a series of civil resistance and civil disobedience events associated with the Poor Peoples’ Campaign. The campaign, which has been building over the past few years out of the Moral Mondays movement, conducted 98 events in May involving about 3,500 people, largely concentrated in state capitals between May 14 and May 29.

4. Other notable crowds

May Day rallies promoting labor rights drew nearly 11,000 participants across 40 events around the country. On May 19, more than 70 events took place as part of the Hands Across the Sand campaign, protesting offshore drilling, offshore seismic testing and deepwater drilling, drawing over 1,000 participants nationwide. And protests in favor of an independent Palestinian state, organized largely by Jewish Voice for Peace, drew over 2,500 participants across 32 events in May.

Two Trump rallies drew thousands of people. At a middle school in Elkhart, Ind., on May 10, 7,500 people attended a Trump rally, and between 5,500 and 8,000 gathered to hear him speak at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium on May 29.

What proportion of protests were either pro- or anti-Trump?

We estimate that about 88 percent of the events we recorded in April opposed President Trump’s policies. About 78 percent overall were explicitly anti-Trump. Another 10 percent overall took stances that contradict the president’s views.

In May, the proportion of anti-Trump events declined, with 63.1 percent of events opposing Trump’s policies and 22.9 percent supporting them. The primary reason for this is the high proportion of pro-Trump events, due to a pro-gun-rights student walkout on May 2. However, these events had quite small numbers of participants total; we recorded between 1,609 and 2,115 people over 168 events.

In May, the final 14 percent of the events we recorded were neither in favor or opposed to Trump’s policies.

In April, the final 5 percent of the crowds were involved in actions directed at other politicians or about issues that were neither pro- nor anti-Trump. In May, the proportion was 14 percent. We found a broad variety of such topics, consistent with the trends from previous months.

How many people were arrested and/or injured in political crowds?

We counted one reported injury in April and 19 in May, 15 of which occurred during a May Day rally in San Juan, Puerto Rico, when protesters clashed with police. At 3,756 events in April (99.5 percent), no arrests were made, compared with 985 events (95.6 percent) in May. Numbers of people arrested decreased from 331 in March to 132 in April; all those April arrests came during in 17 civil disobedience actions. The number of arrests then spiked to 831 in May, with 829 (99.8 percent) of the May arrests in 43 cases of nonviolent civil disobedience.

As in previous months, many of those arrests took place at protests in and around the U.S. Capitol — in particular, protests related to the Poor Peoples’ Campaign.

You can download the data here. We’ll release the data for April soon. In the meantime, we are still counting. Click here to submit information about a protest, and click here to volunteer to help us count. 

Kanisha Bond is an assistant professor of government and politics and a research associate at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Jeremy Pressman (@djpressman) is an associate professor of political science and director of Middle East Studies at the University of Connecticut.