Save8Rally - 6 Points that Prove that 9k and Not 100k Marched


Saturday March 10th saw an anti-choice march pass through Dublin, part of their campaign to try to maintain the status quo where pregnant people and doctors can be jailed for 14 years for taking abortion pills in this country while others are denied control of their own maternity care. Polls show that few people support this position and its ‘let women die’ implications so the anti-choice campaign is trying to create the fiction of mass support in the hope that people will be more inclined to vote No.

Aware of this, WSM decided to put together a team to go out and document the march for ourselves including physically counting everyone who marched and using other techniques that give a good estimate of the numbers marching. Below we will bring you through the results of each of these counts and estimates but the headline item is that when the organisers claimed 100k had marched this was a blatant lie that we will show is even physically impossible.  We counted 8930 marchers. All of the other methods we used also limited the maximum size of the march to less than 15,000.

1. The Count

The most reliable method we used was to physically count the march at two different locations.  Each of those counting teams had two counters, one of them also live-streamed their count.  You can view that livestream.

  • The first team at the O'Brien statue where the Luas crosses O’Connell St. counted 7,800 as the march passed. 
  • The second team at the new Luas bridge named after Rosie Hackett counted 10,060.
  • The average count was 8,930 which we can call 9000 to be generous.  

Both teams counted blocs of 10, marked down a stroke on paper for each bloc of 10 people and then totalled these strokes after the march passed their location. There could be be an error of +/- 20% with that method but there is no possibility of an error of 100% to get 20k  never mind the 1000% plus error that the 100k figure claimed by the organisers would require.

2. Area occupied at Start

A crude way of estimating crowd size is to map out the area a crowd occupies and then calculate how many people could fit into that space at the crowd density. We used this technique to give a maximum limit to the size of the crowd at both the start rally and the end rally.  In both cases we used the maximum possible crowd density, one equivalent to a rock concert or a football stadium.  Because of this these figures give the absolute maximum number of people that could fit in, the reality, particularly at the end was that the crowd was not packed tight and the number would have been smaller that this maximum.  In both cases it was physically impossible for the organisers claimed 100k to fit into the space by enormous margins, a factor of 10 at the start and a factor of 6 at the end. In other words to fit that number into the space people would have had to stand on each others shoulders in piles 10 people high.

There was a short rally with speakers before the march started. The official start time was 14.00 so we waited 15 minutes until 14.15 and at that point in time one person photographed and reported on the location of the front of the march as it spilled onto Parnell Square East (including a lot of people on the large grass verge) while the other did the same for Parnell square west where the back of the rally came around on one side of the road to the entrance to the Rotunda staff car park. We had also surveyed the site an hour beforehand so we knew where objects that occupied large areas of space like the stage were and could make allowance for them. This information was fed into the Crowdsize app, we told it the crowd was at maximum density and it returned a calculation that at most 10,400 could fit into this space.  This figure is comparable with the 9000 people count we performed later but not al all with the organisers claimed 100,000 attendance.

The size of the crowd at 14.15

3. Area Occupied at Final Rally

We had also visited the site of the final rally an hour before the march was to start and in fact posted a short video ahead of the march starting to explain why the space on Merrion Square south as laid out could not fit more than 15,000 people. This took into account the placement of the stage, the other areas barricaded of around giant screens and the rather odd decision to take up a lot of space by parking two large truck in the space rather than somewhere nearby. 

We followed the back of the Save8Rally up to and then into Merrion Square recording photographs and video that demonstrate that the street was not full and that there were in fact substantial gaps for over 1/3rd of the way down the street, beyond where the lorries were parked. As such, although we had calculated that the space could hold as many as 15,000 people if it was packed, the visible gaps made it clear that the crowd was significantly smaller. Again this is fully compatible with our 9,000 people count but not at all with the 100,000 claimed by the organisers. For 100,000 to fit into the available space there would have to be six people standing on each other's shoulders.

Merrion Square south had also been the end point for the September March for Choice rally, the Save8Rally had configured the street so less space was available and the September rally had filled the street from pavement to pavement.  In other words the March for Choice rally was bigger than the Save8Rally but the same people who claimed there were 100k there on Saturday had declared that the March for Choice rally - filling the exact same space - was ‘small, only a few thousand’. Were they lying then, lying now or as seems likely lying both times?

The size of the crowd at the closing rally as the last marchers arrived


4. Video of Entire March Passing on O’Connell Street

We also videoed the entire march passing the small counter protest near the GPO on O’Connell street.  The unedited video is available and as you can see it is 60 minutes (and 2 seconds) in length.  Anyone who marched from the Garden of Remembrance to Parnell Square had to pass this point and because the video is an hour long we can calculate how many people would have to pass per minute in order for the various claimed sizes of the march to be true.

If the organisers' claim of 100,000 people marching was true then 1667 people would have to pass this point per minute.  This is very, very, obviously not the case in the video.

Some media including RTE reported a vague ‘tens of thousands’. If we take the lower limit of that to mean 30,000 people marched, then 500 people would have to pass on the video for each and every minute.  The very front of the march was packed and moving fast so you might get near 500 for just that segment but its very clear that this is not the case at any other point in the march.

We counted the march with two teams and their average count was that 8930 people marched, so let’s round up to 9,000. For 9,000 people to have marched then 150 people would pass the camera on average per minute.

At this point we’d invite any doubters to select 3 one minute segments of the video and count how many people pass in each of those segments. You will find that the number counted will only be comparable with our 150 per minute figure.  It will be well below 500 a minute and nothing even slightly close to 1667 a minute. We suspect a well drilled army would have a problem marching 1667 fit young soldiers past a point per minute at walking pace.

5. The Route Length and March Length

Google Maps has a handy tool that enables you to measure distance.  If you go to the Google map of the area, right click on Parnell Square north and then trace the route of the march to Merrion Square south, you will see it is slightly under 3km in length. This length also imposes maximum limits on the number who could have marched, limits that are very much short of 100,000. 

Again let’s think of a very well drilled army where the soldiers are capable of maintaining a formation that is ten abreast and with each rank only 1 metre behind the one in front. They are so good at marching that there are no other gaps in their entire formation from start to finish, even going around corners and crossing bridges. 100,000 such soldiers would form a column that was 10km long - this column would not fit in the 3km from the start point to the end point. If the march had been formed of such well trained soldiers than the RTE ‘tens of thousands’ interpreted as 30,000 figure would be just about possible, then the route would be entirely filled.

As far as we can tell from tweets from the organisers the front of the march arrived at the Customs House on the quays while the back was still at Parnell Square.  Although that sounds impressive this is a distance of a little over 1km and when you do the calculations it again imposes a maximum number marching of around 10,000 for well trained soldiers.

The march passing one of our counting stations

Needless to say the march was not in the tight formation of a well trained army. By the time it had reached our second counting point at the new Luas bridge it was strung out with large gaps and was almost nowhere more than 8 abreast, often less. When we followed the end of the march we recorded a video segment on Pearse Street that shows an 80m gap with almost no marchers in it and many such gaps are recorded on the livestream. And there were the buses, trucks and huge horizontal banners that took up much space in the march.  

6. Where’s Wally?

Our experience is that when people look at a large crowd they always over-estimate how many people are there. We count most demonstrations and the organisers claimed figures will always be twice what we count, in most cases this isn’t attempted deception but simply down to guesswork based on hearing past over-guesses. So a visual guess is terrible for getting an accurate crowd size.  But Merrion Square does have the major advantage for crowd size calculations that back in 2011 there was a Guinness book of records attempt to get the most amount of people dressed as the cartoon character Wally in the one spot. Being a record attempt the number present were counted precisely and a cherry picker was used to get overhead photographs. So if all you are going to do is make a visual guess from the stage you can at least first look at that image of 3657 people and base your guess on how much greater or smaller the crowd in front of you then appears. Needless to say there is no way you could look at the image of 3657 Wallies and then look at Saturday's crowd and decide it was the required 27 times larger.  

Why We Did It

This may seem like a lot of effort on our part, and it did take a team of 9 of us a few hours to do all the things described here. However we believe it was worthwhile to uncover the deception that the rally organisers tried to pull on their own supporters and, through the media, on the general public. To an extent they succeeded despite us, the Sunday Independent which is the largest circulation newspaper in Ireland, published with a headline that claimed 100,000 attended. As we have shown, this was physically impossible. Newstalk and RTE radio both reported that tens of thousands had attended, again this was physically impossible even if they only meant 30,000. An Irish Times journalist who was on the stage said she thought the crowd looked like 70,000 or about 19 times the size of that Where's Wally crowd. 

The Irish Times itself was mixed in the messages it put out in headlines, the same journalist's write-up being subheaded ‘Thousands turn out to march through capital in show of commitment to status quo’ but what we guess to be her video report repeats the impossible tens of thousands. This is indicative of the power the anti-choice side have in the media, a power that entirely comes from elite influence and does not reflect the support for their ideas in the general population. Literal Fakenews that is being furiously contested online gets reported as fact.  Which meant that to an extent we succeeded in a second objective, to demonstrate that whatever it claims the media is not bias free, that even the most respectable newspapers and state media play a role in amplifying and spreading ‘fake news’ due to the influence of the rich and powerful.

On social media it is very different, all over Facebook and Twitter attempts to claim 100k or even tens of thousands are inviting ridicule from commentators who are using the figures and video we provided as well as some of the methods described above. Our Tweet thread has been Retweeted 200 times so far and in the period since the march we’ve had 200,000 or so impression on Twitter.  Our Facebook reports have hundreds of people commenting - lots of them are not very happy about the information we've provided but no one has seriously challenged one of the six points above, never mind all of them.   

It's Going to Be a Long Campaign

The anti-choice campaign won a short term battle in getting its fake news reported but the social media response suggests it’s going to contribute to their long term defeat as the cost is the loss of any remaining credibility. This lack of credibility is part of the story of why urban voters, young voters and voters with good internet access are all polling strongly Yes despite all the smears and false claims of the No campaign, spread by their incredible amounts of cash & media access.  The No campaign is only polling reasonably amongst groups that lack access to such corrections and who may well have no choice but to believe the reporting in the Sunday Independent, the Irish Times and RTE as a result.   

If you are young, urban, and active on social media, it probably looks like we are guaranteed an overwhelming win. Not only are No voters thin on the ground but the No campaign is a laughable farce that lumbers from one false claim to a poorly executed smear to the transparent lying we saw in relation to Saturday's numbers. 

But lots of people who will vote are not seeing any of this, they are only seeing the media reports of what is often anti-choice fake news and not the refutations that quickly follow on social media.  Even on social media these refutations are only visible to those who are somewhat active and, when they share posts, to their mates.  There are a lot of people not being reached by us but who are being reached by the huge US backed advertising spend of the anti-choice campaign. A spend that even one year ago was at the level of ten thousand plus euro to promote a single ambush video to everyone following the National Ploughing Championship page. They literally have money to burn.

Pro-choice organisations don’t have the money to compete with that. In terms of our effort here we are entirely dependent on your shares and retweets to reach people outside the bubble of people fighting for a better world. The sheer power, influence and wealth of the No campaign mean it is essential to have that Vote Yes conversation with everyone you know, particularly older people and the folks back home where the broadband is dodgy or non-existent. It is essential that come polling day you get out and vote Yes and make sure everyone you know does likewise. A defeat in May would be a disaster and it is up to you to make sure that is not what happens.