Counting heads - 1000+ attend 'pro-life' rally


Every now and again something winds you up a little too much and you find yourself being a little obcessive in response.  On hearing RTE had reported a daft figure of 8000 as attending tonights anti-choice rally this happened to me.  It was very clear this was a massive overestimate but then how to produce an actual calculation of an event in the past.  But then the anti-choice movement gave a hand and posted a video of the entire rally, shot it appears from the roof of Buswells.

This reminded me of the row over the numbers who had taken part in the March for Choice and in particular a blog post by a pro lifer styling himself Thirsty Gargoyle. It's considerably more long winded but you can still read it.  He had taken some video footage posted of the crowd towards the end of that march, dropped a little red dot on everyone's heads in a sequence of overlapping stills and proclaimed that 850 had marched, more or less.  That blog sent the various anti-choice tweeters into a frenzy of retweeting and remembering that I thought 'why not'.  So off it was to photoshop for an hour or two of careful dotting.

The video - I think we can take it if this gets pulled down by the time you read this that they felt I was making my point a little too well.

Now the task wasn't that easy, the camera swings around in an arc and while some of the crowd is right underneath the camera  the back of the crowd is towards the half way point of Molesworth street where it is crossed by two side streets.  Youth Defence had also left a number of large devices plonked in the middle of the street behind which some people may be hidden.  So I wouldn't claim to have counted everyone but most of them, yep I got most of them.

Step one was to grab frames from the video and then merge them into a whole using key indicators like the van.  As you will be able to see I was a little generous in this step leaving overlap with the margins so some people will have got counted twice.  I did two fram by frame passes, the first time anyone with a candle got a red dot dropped on the candle.  This was the easy pass as the candles were distinct.  Pass two was trickier, here I dropped a green dot onto anything that looked like it might be someone but who hadn't been dotted as a candle holder.  There are probably rucksacks, dogs and parked bikes counted in there so again perhaps a bit of an overcount.  (click on the images for a larger version).

I ended up with 4 frames but with the furthest one I counted it in two sections, one in front of that giant expensive looking plasma cube they had erected and the other behind that.  That last section being furthest away and behind the cube was the hardest to count, henced the seperation.  So what are the results?

1st 101 red 52 green 2:1 / 153
2nd 122 red 29 green 4:1 / 151
3rd 189 red 65 green 3:1/ 254
4th front 247 red 57 green 5:1 / 204
4th rear 47 red 120 green 1: 2.5 / 167

Total count of 1029

Now obviously this is a broad estimate and I'm much more certain of the figures for 1, 2 & 3 than for 5.  But its certainly not the 10,000 claimed by Youth Defence.  Not the 8,000 claimed by the Pro-Life Campaign and faithfully reported by RTE after some pressure.  It's not even the 4,000 first reported by RTE.  The initial Garda estimate of 2,000 sounds more reasonable, allowing for a bit of coming and going and a few people being out of shot. Sprinke on some wishful thinking and the fact that people had been visibly spread out to take up lots of space and you might get a reasonable Garda going for 2,000.

But 10,000?  Nope.  

I await to see a frency of retweeting by all those pro-lifers who got so excited when Thirsty Gargoyle used the same methods.

A final word.  I actually don't think the numbers mobilised have any importance as to whether women should have access to abortion in this country.  My position is simple, if one women wants an abortion she should be able to access it regardless of how large or small a majority of people agree with her choice. That is what the pro-choice position means - the choice is for each women and not anyone else to make.  However the political reality is that the arguments about numbers are going to be used to scare cowardly politicians so I'm not inclined to allow the crazy no abortion whatsoever forces that represent no more than 15% of the population these days away with anything.

WORDS: @Andrew Flood

Some updates:  Remarkably both RTE & the Irish Times reported 'several thousand' attending the demonstration but both without giving any information as to where that figure came from.  I contacted Morning Ireland asking where it had come from but received no reply.  As I say above its quite possible my count missed some people but really there is no way at all that 6,000 peopel were tucked behind the white van.

As expected the 'pro-life' twitter gang that loved this technique when it was used on the March for Choice have been completely silent when it was applied to their own demonstration.  The couple of attempted replies focused on this being an anarchist news site (!) or claimed there were 'a couple of thousand' people around the corner on Kildare street.  That second claim sounded feasible but then @Fintanotoolbox tweeted me with photos they had taken on Kildare street from both above and below the Molesworth st junction.  Both show not very many people arranged in a long thin band, exactly the sort of shape you might ask people to stand in if you were going to video them from above and wanted to maximise the appearance of numbers.  For good measure those photos also include a third one looking up Molesworth street towards the Dail that confirm Molesworth street was less than half full.

A final more substantial reply was that figures of up to 10,000 have been given before for demonstrations that filled that half of Molesworth street, this from someone who I suspect is quite connected to the organisers.  My response to this is that while it is true that figure has been claimed (I'm not convinced 10,000 can fit into that space*)  it appears to me that this was why the organisers tried to create the appearance of Molesworth street being half full.  A few people had already commented on the amount of space the giant cube of video screens, vans & platform took up but what is more to the point is that the crowd far from being packed in as it normally it for demonstrations is quite spread out.  The additional screen grab I've included here demonstrates this, its from the moment the camera is almost looking straight down so you can see how far apart people are standing.

I've been to a lot of demonstrations on that spot, often as a photographer, and I'd estimate that crowd is at about 1/3 the 'normal' density.  I'm very aware of normal densities because as a photographer you want to move through a crowd to get shots from different vantage points.  With the Savita vigil's people were packed in shoulder to shoulder and back to belly so that moving throught the crowd was quite hard.  Basically my technique was to hold my large camera at head height in front of me so it protruded between people's heads and mumble 'excuse me' or 'sorry' alternately as I pushed through the throng - it was still hard work. At the crowd density shown above I could have roller skated through.  So being cynical if I wanted to 'fill' the space of 10,000 I might well put in a load of vans, platforms and giant TV screens and then get people to spread out a good deal to create the desired impression.

* slight additional update.  After this post the existance of the CrowdSize app was brought to my attention.  When I sketch out the area we know this rally covered on the app and assume a very packed crowd (which we know it wasn't) it returns an estimate of 4,000 people.  This estimate also dosn't allow for the space taken up by vans, speaking platform & TV screen.  If instead of a densely packed crowd we assume that of a busy city footpath it returns an estimate just over 1000.

And finally - this was intended as a short addition to a more general review I had written of this anti-choice demonstration, because this piece has been linked to by Broadsheet and retweeted a lot you might like to read that and the additional points I made there if this piece was you arrival spot.  We have been providing consistent coverage of the pro-choice struggle for some 25 years and just so its clear we are 100% for a womens right to choose.

WORDS: @andrewflood