Women’s March in Washington DC, January 21, 2017. © Hanna Rhodin
The body of people forced itself forward, towards the White House. The air was crisp and the atmosphere was vibrant, optimistic, to the point where it almost felt like you could touch it. Pink hats were worn proudly and signs were raised up high. Saying “I’m with her” surrounded by arrows, a picture of a cat saying “Grabs back”, the creativity and the messages were many, touching upon gender issues, corruption, disbelief in the new president, immigration, refugees, and of hope for a brighter future. A woman was holding a big blue flag with yellow stars on it. When asked what the flag represented she said “Alaska”. All around people struck conversations with strangers from all over the United States, all gathered in the nation’s capital, Washington DC, on January 21, 2017 to have their voice heard.
I first heard about the Women’s March on Facebook. I clicked that I was “Interested” in the event. Weeks later my immigrant friends and I walked along the streets in Washington DC toward the march. Social Media was how we all found out about the event, and soon thereafter the march got traction in the mainstream media. It seems that no longer is social media something we can discredit from affecting people’s actions and opinions, not to mention politically. Aday, Farrel and Lynch et al. writes “New media, such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, have played a major role in episodes of contentious political action. They are often described as important tools for activists seeking to replace authoritarian regimes and to promote freedom and democracy, and they have been lauded for their democratizing potential.” (Aday, Farrel, & Lynch et al. 2010:3). Over 200 000 people clicked “Going” to The Women’s March in DC, over 200 000 clicked that they were interested in the event, and in reality, estimates show 470,000 to 680,000 participants.
Jeremy Pressman, a professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, and Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the University of Denver and an expert on nonviolent protest, collaborated and created a spreadsheet open to the public. They gathered data from coverage and news of marches around the world. Whilst their best guess is a total of 4,157,898, their low estimate versus high estimate ranges from 3,267,134 to 5,246,670. To eventually settle the question, artificial intelligence may come to the rescue providing advanced technology to crowd counting, as organizers often have a reason to exaggerate in order to convey an even more impressive turnout.
Can social media take all the credit for creating the turnout for the Women’s March? Not necessarily. In 1995, before internet had made it is breakthrough in daily life the Million Man March in Washington DC, attracted an estimated 400,000 to 600,000 participants. It is possible that the Women’s March on its own would still gather a large support with our without new media, but that it is new media alone, we cannot take for granted as more factors likely would play a part. However, social media can be a very powerful and important tool, it can also lower the communicational transaction cost (Aday, Farrell & Lynch, 2010:10f).
Regardless of the actual turnout, the Women’s March in Washington DC, in many other cities and towns around the United States, and all over the world, was a powerful statement in unity and in number, and a testament to new media being used to mobilize, organize, and democratize.
Aday, S., Farrell, H., Lynch, M. et al. 2010: Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics, Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.
Captain, Sean. January 20, 2017. ‘The Science and Politics of Counting The Inauguration and Women’s March’. Fast Company. Retrieved February 25, 2017. https://www.fastcompany.com/3067376/fast-cities/the-science-and-politics-of-counting-the-crowds-at-the-inauguration-and-womens-m
Janofsky, Michael. October 21, 1995. ‘Federal Parks Chief Calls ‘Million Man’ Count Low’. The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/1995/10/21/us/federal-parks-chief-calls-million-man-count-low.html
Pressman, Jeremy, and Chenoweth, Erica. 2017. Crowd Estimates, 1.21.2017. Retrieved February 25, 2017. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1xa0iLqYKz8x9Yc_rfhtmSOJQ2EGgeUVjvV4A8LsIaxY/htmlview?sle=true#gid=0
The Women’s March. Facebook Page. Retrieved February 25, 2017. https://www.facebook.com/events/2169332969958991/?active_tab=discussion