Vox Populi
A Letter to the Editor

Inflated Crowd-Estimates at the Anti-War Demonstrations
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

by Fred Onderdonk

Love how Mr. Berg-Andersson took on that Brit lass! (what a "leftie"!-- she referred to Tony Blair as "her own Prime Minister", so I assume she supports the Labor Party over there-- so clearly the product of youth and inexperience).

I do have a bone to pick with him, however: in his response of 24 February to Henri-Paul Bolineau, Mr. Berg-Andersson wrote that "if nothing else, despite the controversy as to exactly how many might have actually shown up to protest [which is, to me, merely the stuff of 'how many angels can dance on the head of a pin'], the anti-war demonstrations of the other weekend- in this country, as opposed to those elsewhere on the globe- were a clear indication that such anti-war sentiment as there is nowadays has been granted no small amount of time to get itself 'fired up' in a way not seen a dozen years ago." My problem is with that part of his comment in which Mr. Berg-Andersson states his evidently personal belief that "how many might have actually shown up to protest" is "merely the stuff of 'how many angels can dance on the head of a pin'".

In this country, we have more than enough fringe groups made up of self-hating Americans which claim to have had X number of people show up for a rally or a demonstration in support of them, only we find out later that the best estimates of actual turnout are significantly less than X. Did a million people really show up for Louis Farrakhan's so-called "Million Man March"- or, for that matter, the anti-gun "Million Mom March"- on the Mall in D.C. (both a few years back)?

In San Francisco (which is not all that far from my own home), there was an anti-war rally over the weekend of 15-16 February in which it was widely reported, including in the San Francisco 'Chronicle', that 200,000 had attended. Then, the 'Chronicle'- probably with a pang of conscience largely unseen in the staff of that rag before now- decided to do a "recount" based on aerial photographs and other sources and came up with a figure more like 60,000... 60,000 as opposed to the original 200,000!- more than two-thirds fewer people than originally reported!!

"angels dancing on the head of a pin"? How about a little something called "the TRUTH"!

Fred Onderdonk
Pittsburg, California

Mr. Berg-Andersson responds:

"Leftie"?!... I don't recall, anywhere in her piece [the 'vox Populi' of 25 February], Ms. Stormont indicating her personal political preference. First of all, I believe that- at the age of 17- she would, right now, be too young to vote in elections in Scotland (though she will be of voting age soon enough): yet, assuming that- like most young people raised in a democratic society and about to embark on a career as "citizen" and "voter" ere long- she, nevertheless, actively supports a political Party even now, I have no idea- from what she wrote- which Party that might, in fact, be. I have no way, from her piece, of discerning whether Ms. Stormont supports Labour (whether "New" or "Old"), the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats or, for that matter, the Scottish Nationalists! I myself merely took the reference to "[her] own Prime Minister" as an acknowledgement on her part that her Scotland- as a constituent "country" of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland- happens to have Tony Blair as its Prime Minister and that, therefore, Mr. Blair is, indeed, Ms. Stormont's "own Prime Minister".

"Youth and inexperience"??!!... Let me tell you something! Ms. Stormont's 'vox Populi' was one of the most intelligently written submissions I have ever received here at 'The Green Papers': if it, at times, was something of a strident diatribe, it was certainly a well-thought out diatribe. I took no personal offense at Ms. Stormont's having referred to me as "pompous" or "flippant" and conjecturing that my views, as expressed in my 15 February Commentary, gave America "an appalling name"- not only because, of course, Ms. Stormont doesn't know me from Adam's proverbial "off-ox", but also because I took it to be part of the normal "give-and-take" inherent in good political discourse (in which a bit of sarcasm, sardonic humor and even a pinch of name-calling is all in the game [read my own Commentaries and responses to various 'vox Populi', for example!]). It may well be a severe indictment of the educational system here in the United States for me to have to here note that Ms. Stormont's 'vox Populi' was a damn sight better than a fair amount of the garbage I receive from time to time in my TheGreenPapers.com Inbox from many of my fellow Americans three times her age! (and I can say this, of course: being nearly three times Ms. Stormont's age myself)

Now, as to your contention regarding my so blithely dismissing the "numbers game"- in this case, as regards the relative strength of anti-war forces in this country at the current time:

I just did some quick math and I discovered that the total population (per the most recent U.S. Census figures from 2000) of the entire San Francisco Metropolitan Region (if we, if only for sake of the argument, define this as the City/County of San Francisco plus the 4 other counties in California that directly border it, including- based on the town in which you yourself reside as you have provided it- your own) is roughly 4.1 million people. 200,000 of that is a little less than 5 percent of the whole (and, for the time being, let's just put aside any thought of so-called "outside agitators" and assume, again for sake of this discussion, that those who attended the anti-war rally in San Francisco were, likely, residents of the San Francisco Metro Area as I have herein defined it); 60,000 drops the percentage down to around 1.5 percent.

So, exactly how many angels can dance on the head of that pin?-- 5 or 1 1/2?!

The best polls of late, as I noted in my response to Ms. Stormont, indicate that anywhere from 63 to 69 percent of Americans of voting age support military intervention in Iraq (65% seems a good "ball park" figure) and anywhere from some 25 upwards of 30 percent oppose it (28% seems to be the best "give or take" number). What difference does it make if only 60,000 people showed up in San Francisco to protest war in Iraq some ten days ago and it was originally thought to be more than 3 times that amount? The anti-war forces in the United States, right now, don't have the votes (or- to quote Lyndon Baines Johnson from his Senate leadership days- "the head count's against"). And, speaking of "head counts", did anyone actually go through the crowd and do an actual head count? Of course not! It wouldn't be particularly cost effective... so the number at the San Francisco rally could have been 55,000- or 65,000- or 62,739 for all we know. There were no turnstiles registering "paid attendance" at this particular event!

And an attendance of 60,000 is nothing at all to sneeze at! How many events can even draw 60,000 people? You can't cram that many people into Shea Stadium on New York Mets' 'Opening Day' (nor, I bet, Pac Bell Park for the Giants' home opener)! The real headlines here are two: 1. Most Americans support War in Iraq in some form or fashion; 2. a lot of people around the world- including those in major cities in the United States itself- turned out to show their opposition to said War anyway... both factoids are rather significant re: one's reading the political "tea leaves" here in America surrounding the eventual decision to go- or not go- to war.

What is not significant is the pro-War in Iraq side somehow thinking they've now won this great political victory because they've managed to find a newspaper willing to admit the original crowd-estimates they reported happened to have been greatly inflated!


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