Friday, March 6, 2009

How many people came?... And does it matter?

I had a chance, just this week, to catch a glimpse of the most recent Armenian Observer. I was actually somewhat impressed that the front story, March 4, was on the March 1 Demonstration in Yerevan. The title: "Over 10,000 people gather in central Yerevan to rally on the 1st anniversary of March 1st political clashes." Two main thoughts came to mind - here's one of them.

How do we estimate the number of people at a rally? The reported estimated numbers at this demonstration range from 5k-100k, and this huge range is typical of not only Armenia's demonstrations over the past 18 months, but other countries as well. So I Googled it. Apparently a professor at Berkeley tackled this problem during the Vietnam protests by putting grid markings on the ground where people stood, and averaging the densities per known area over time, at different demonstrations. This is what he found:
-Loosely packed people will stand approx one arm's length from the next person, which is approximately 1 person per 10sq feet = 1 person/.93 meter squared
-Tightly packed folks will be at 1 person per 4.5 sq ft= 1person/0.42 sq meter
-Very tightly packed people will be 1 per 2.5 sq feet = 1 person / .23 sq meter

What one eyewitness on March 1 this year told me was that it took 45 minutes for the march to pass by. If we assume that a moderately slow march is about 3 mi/hr, which is 5km/hr, thats 5 km/hr for 45 minutes, which is 3750 meters of people. People seem to be closer to each other in the front than in the back, and also more people in a row in the front than the back. So lets say on average there are 15 people in a row, and they are on average between the tightly and loosely packed. Obviously, this calculation is far from ideal, but lets see what it gets us:

15 in a row, at (.42+.93)/2 = .675 sq meters per person. That's .82 meters length and width for each person's average box. 15 people across x .82 = 12.3 meters across

12.3 meters x 3750 m = 45,000 sq meters
45,000 sq meters / .675 m sq per person = 66,666 people, if they were between loosely and tightly packed.

We can play with the numbers, making it less dense - for example, let's say they are loose all the way through. Thats the 1p/.93 msq, which is a .96 x .96 m box.
15 people across x .96 m = 14.4;, 14.4m x 3750m = 54,000 msq; and 54,000msq / .93msq per person = 56,250 people.

And I think these figures, looking at video and pictures, are if anything, an underestimate.

Impressive, I think. Not just the numbers, which can potentially be fudged any way you like. But that after so much time, so many come out in the cold, in a context of fear and repression, and for some, disheartenment, to speak out for themselves.

As much as I would love to know the concrete numbers, it is actually not the number that matters the most.

4 comments:

Onnik Krikorian said...

10-20,000 estimated by credible independent media. Opposition said 100,000 which is obviously a gross exaggeration, and police said 5,000, which is obviously too small.

Ani said...

Solution to problem: GPS implants for everybody. Think I've seen that movie...

Armen Filadelfiatsi said...

Tzitzernak's numbers make the most sense. If the "credible independent media" disclose their counting techniques then we can judge their credibility. But they haven't.

But here is something to consider. If we take a conservative estimate of the number of people at Yerevan on 3/1 and use 30,000, then a proportional comparison between Armenia, with a population of about 3 million, and the US, with a population of about 300 million, would yield two zeros to Armenia, meaning that a proportionally equivalent demonstration in the US would mean 3,000,000 demonstrators, or 1%.

If I remember correctly, the anti-Iraq war demonstrations in NYC in 2003, February I think it was, and pretty fucking cold, drew 1/2 million people.

In other words, 30,000 people in Yerevan is proportionally equivalent to 3,000,000 in the US, or 2,500,000 more than the biggest demonstration in the biggest city in the US during the biggest controversial war involving the US since Vietnam.

That's saying something.

HH said...

I was among the demonstrators. First I was in the first raws where I couldn't breath, then I slowed down and walked with people in the very last raws (I had to leave early). I thought of counting people only at the end. And so, in the very last raws there were about 24-25 people.

I wonder who is the credible independent media, I really would like to know.

Also, just to mention, I read in a Russian newspaper that 100,000 people participated to the procession.