February 17, 2003
Le Weekend I

Anne has already published her recap of the recent protests in Chicago, but to kibbitz in with some of my own thoughts...

Her chagrin at the press coverage and the varying crowd counts (and in Chicago, because the potential high was smaller than it ought to have been, the variance was exaggerated), but to chime in with the ones I heard:

  • The first I saw, from NBC5 originally said that the number was 5000. It now says "much larger" according to the police.
  • The Tribune driven news channel, CLTV, was saying "hundreds" on Saturday evening. Which is accurate, but a bit diminishing.
  • The Tribune in print was saying several thousand, if memory serves.
  • And the organizers were claiming 7000 by one count.

My best frame of reference is rock concerts. By that count, I'd say somewhere in the 5 or 6 thousand range is most accurate.

It was a bit surreal at the beginning. The speakers at the start of the rally were encamped in a 7-Eleven parking lot with a faltering audio system. But the crowd was in good, if chilly, spirits. Once we got moving, it was more tolerable (some wags in the crowd recognised this would be the case, chanting "We're Cold, Let's March! We're Cold, Let's March" during the warmup.

Beyond that, a palliative effect of the march was that the business along the strip of Devon were probably recovered by the rush of customers escaping the cold after the trudge down the avenue. We knew the business were open but in a lull - as the waiters of restaurants stood in the windows and shopkeepers watched from their doorways. Usually Devon is bustling on the weekends with people doing their shopping and families (and yes, outsiders) getting together. But during the march, it was eerily quiet, without the usual mess of traffic and parking, just people.

The warhorse of a slogan regarding "No Blood for Oil" was a bit too used. For some portions, at least, the saner call for allowing sanctions to continue to isolate a dictator, was present. But nuanced concerns about what to do, what is right to do, and how far to accelerate doing those things that need to be done, are difficult to chant...

I've said it before, and Anne has already cited it, but if our current administration could admit that there are multiple points of view on the big issues, and that those multiple points of view - and the fact that they even exists - has a value that out nation ostensibly desires to bring to the world, I would be much reassured about out goals.

Posted by esinclai at February 17, 2003 09:49 AM |

Without citing, the phenomenon you note - local media reports an undercount of attendance to a demo - is endemic to all local media markets, and I believe it is based on the different ways a local reporter sources the count. Joe Local is probably going to call up his buddy, Joe Cop, who gets the police count number (traditionally at least half again smaller than the organizer estimates), and prints that.

Joe Fly-in, or Joe Foreignpress, is going to try to do a personal calculation, then look for the organizer and police estimates, for a story that will run a bit later than the local story.

Additionally, because of the traditional ties between local media and city-booster organizations (Olympics YES, street protests NO), the local media is very likely to have an implicit editorial position that views street protests not as something to be proud of, but something to fear and minimize.

I've seen this cycle in Seattle three times now - Gulf War I, WTO, and now Gulf War II. VERY interestingly, Gulf War II is clearly geting better coverage - in '91 there was a 50k to 100k person march which was so completely forgotten here that The Stranger covered the October 2002 march by noting that in '91 only 7000 people marched - a flatout failure to actually research, derived from the lack of web-based sources on the protests.

There were protests in '91 in Chicago, as I recall - but I don't recall how many people were involved. Did your papers menion them at all?

Posted by: mike on February 17, 2003 02:21 PM
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