How the 2017 Women's March Drew 100 Times the Average Number of Protesters

Will the same happen this Saturday?

On January 21, 2017, some 700,000 people took to the streets of Washington, D.C., to participate in the Women’s March. Close to 3 million people marched in solidarity, joining sister marches that spread across over 400 American cities. These protests, a new study demonstrates, far exceeded the scope of typical demonstrations. When you look at the data, other instances of outcry can’t match up in number.

In the December issue of the journal Mobilization, sociologists reveal that the turnout figures for the 2017 Women’s March solidarity events were remarkably high, drawing 100 times the national protest average.

“Our comparative analyses showed how extraordinary the turnout for the sister marches truly was,” the University of Notre Dame study authors write. “This participation blew that of a ‘typical’ recent protest in the United States out of the water.”

The National Study of Protest Events (NSPE) previously collected key information about 1,037 protests across the United States from 2010 to 2011. When the team here compared the numbers from the 2017 Women’s March protests to that set of data, they discovered that while the mean number of protesters in the NSPE was 61, it was nearly 6,000 for the sister marches.

They note that it was likely “threat rather than political opportunity” that ignited the huge crowds at solidarity events, and that the organizations that were behind these marches played a crucial role in getting people on the street.

women's march
A protester at a Women's March.

In fact, more than 80 percent of the 2017 sister marches had previously established organizations guiding them, and among the 86 percent of events with speakers or organizational sponsors, three-fourths or more had roots in the local community.

Ironically, organizational leadership, which made the 2017 marches so successful, is now at the root of the issues that are plaguing some of this year’s marches.

The Women’s Marches of 2019 are set to take place this Saturday, January 18. The main event in Washington, D.C., is scheduled to kick off at Freedom Plaza at 10 a.m. Eastern. It is organized by Women’s March, Inc., which has come under scrutiny for alleged infighting, anti-Semitism, its retraction of its solidarity with sex workers, and a lack of financial transparency.

Regional chapters of the Women’s March, as well as previous high-profile allies like the Democratic National Committee, have distanced themselves from the organization. According to The Daily Beast, less than half of the 500 groups that partnered with the 2018 D.C. march will be returning this year.

In New York City, there will be two demonstrations. The Women’s March on NYC will kick off near Columbus Circle at 11 a.m. Eastern, while the Women’s Unity Rally will be at Foley Square at the same time. This is where things get confusing: For the past two years, the NYC march has been organized by the Women’s March Alliance (WMA), which is not affiliated with the national organization, the Women’s March, Inc. The new rally in Foley Square is organized by the latter. As The Cut reported, WMA says that the national organization has “used bullying and threats to attempt to hijack the inclusive and beautiful Women’s March on NYC.”

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Women's March participants.

The study on the 2017 Women’s March was conducted in order to “document continuity or discontinuity in gender dynamics, organizing strategies, and the presences of counter-demonstrators.” The authors hoped that, because the 2017 Women’s Marches were the first mass mobilizations protesting the presidency of Donald Trump, their research could “identify how they fit into the broader trajectory of the Trump resistance.” They marveled that, despite criticisms from conservative group leading up to the marches, only about 20 percent of the sister marches encountered counter-demonstrators.

It remains to be seen how many of the people protesting the 2019 marches will be individuals who once walked in support, or if people will be able to separate the allegations against the organizing bodies and focus on the actual reason they are protesting.