On crowd size during the Occupy Oakland General Strike


Having spent all day in Oakland Wedesday for the General Strike launched by Occupy Oakland, I knew something was wrong when I read reports like this one, which appeared in the San Jose Mercury News:

"Quan said she was happy the crowd -- which police estimate hit 7,000 people at one point -- protested all day with only a small amount of destruction and violence." (Emphasis mine.)

I'm terrible at estimating crowd sizes. Estimates of as low as 5,000 had made their way onto Twitter by mid-afternoon, but when I randomly asked people how large they thought the crowd was hours later, they guessed 20,000 or 30,000. None of us had an aerial view of the scene, of course, but the streets of downtown Oakland were clearly packed full.

Later on, the idea that the protests had drawn only 7,000 people seemed laughable. After following the 5 p.m. march from 14th and Broadway to the port, I spent more than an hour milling about in the crowd assembled there, where people were standing on top of trucks and holding dance parties in the streets. Upon heading out, I was amazed to see that people were still pouring in -- a cluster was just making its way across the overpass.

(By the way, if you ever happen to be in West Oakland and start getting a craving for fried oysters or fish and chips, check out Jk's Brickhouse, a bar nearby the port where longshoremen apparently like to hang out.)

Chronicle Columnist Zennie Abraham has published the highest crowd estimate I've seen yet. He wrote: "Oakland’s Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan (a capable and politically smart leader in a tough position) got the Occupy Oakland General Strike crowd count massively wrong: it’s not 7,000, but 100,000."

This seems reasonable. Check out this video of people marching to the port, which goes on for four and a half minutes.


As Abraham points out, a crowd of this magnitude counts as historic.


Believe me, I hope I'm wrong, and I hope somebody tries to do a more scientific count than I did, and comes up with a bigger number than I did... but I did try to do a count myself in the following way:
I started near (but not at) the front, around 6PM, and I walked back. I counted the number of people across the road with every step I took. Obviously a different number of people were there each step, but 10 across was a good average. And then I started back and just counted steps... 10...20...30... and so on.

I got to about 600 by the time I got back across that bridge, meaning (very) roughly 6000 people, and by then the crowd was really starting to thin out.

That does NOT count some number of people ahead of me when I started, but there weren't that many.

That also doesn't count other waves of people coming in after that, but again the crowd was getting a lot thinner.

And maybe I was off in the original count of how many people were spread across the road with each step... but off by a factor of what, 1.5? 2?

If somebody tells me 10,000 people went on that march, I'd believe that. But 100,000? Sorry, that's just not credible.

Note too, this is just one of the several marches and actions of the day, so participation throughout the day was of course higher.

But I think we do have to be honest with ourselves.

That said, there's no denying that the movement is growing. There's no denying the support that keeps registering in the polls. Many people who aren't out there camping, didn't go out there on the marches, are still supportive of the movement. We see that in the polls, and we saw that on the streets from people in their cars and in the neighborhoods.

And whether the number was 5,000 or 15,000, it was a pretty darn big crowd. Let's put this into perspective: at the very height of the Egyptian demonstrations, "up to" 1 million people came out to Tahrir Square -out of a city of 20,000,000. Maybe 5% of the population, at the very largest of the protests. Here, we saw 2-3% of the population come out for just this one single march. And to those who say that not every one is there was an Oaklander, I say yes, but not everyone in Tahrir was from Cairo either.

We don't need to exaggerate the crowd size, because any way you slice it, this was big. Damn big.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 11:33 am

You're high dude. In the first case, your counting method sounds pretty idiosyncratic and open to high levels of human error. Second, I'm looking at a photo of the people coming off the bridge,


....and there's about twenty to thirty people across. Which doubles or triples your count across. Which comes pretty close to twenty or thirty thousand using your own counting method. The columnist, by the way, was adding the number of people who participated throughout the day as well for his 100 000 figure, which sounds plausible as well. There is a way that the parks and recreation dept of DC uses to estimate crowd size using aerial photography, but they haven't been applied here for some crazy reason. Nor has the police method for gauging the crowd size actually been reported at all.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 7:58 am

If you notice, I acknowledge the fact that I may be off. But it's not as far off as you claim. The head-on picture makes the crowd look more dense than it really was when I was in it. When I was in it, 10 was actually a lot closer to the truth. Sometimes, in very dense packs, it may have been 20 to 30. But sometimes it was also zero. I did however acknowledge that I may be off, but not likely more than by a factor of 2, and that's being generous. I also took care to say, repeatedly, that I was estimating the crowd only at that march, not at the plaza where many stayed behind, and not at other events throughout the day. And yes, of course my method is rough, but I think it's in the ballpark. If you want to say 10,000 went on that march, I'd believe you. But 20 or 30 thousand... no. It's just not the case. Not high, just calling it as I saw it.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 8:49 am

My criticism still stands. Idiosyncratic ad hoc methodology, aggravated by the human error on your part of undercounting the number across. Regardless, even your own review of your methodology is loaded with error:

Your claim that it couldn't be off by more than a factor of 2, for example. In the first place, that is no more based on something tangible than your methodology was in the first place. But if you are in fact off by a factor of 2, in any case, and there were two waves of equal size, one that left around four, and one that left somewhat later at around five, then that makes 24,000 people using your own methodology. I wouldn't use it to count chickens in a hatchery, but its your own claims that bear out the lower side of the 20 to 30,000 claim. You just don't realize it.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 11:10 am

I am really disappointed that there are no helicopter videos that panned the crowd from one end to the other like they did in the final scenes of Woodstock (the movie). All we got was just 4 minutes of tunnel vision. I suspect a "big meida" conspiracy.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 08, 2011 @ 6:58 pm

the authorities always understate them. Nothing new there.

Two thirds of those arrested were not from Oakland, so even if there were 12,000 on the marhc, then of the Oakland residents, that's about 1%. Not so high.

In places like London and Paris, they have 100,000 plus out for all kinds of protests. Compared to that, this was little more than a picnic. and the enxt day, they all sheepishly went back to their cubicles.

I doubt the Russian Revolution started like this.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 11:48 am

Have 10 to 15 times the population of Oakland.

As for the percentage of Oaklanders in the protests, there are several things to remember about the extrapolation you're making:
1. Your statistic may or may not be true. I haven't seen the latest arrest figures from this particular protest.
2. The arrests in this protest probably came disproportionately from the black-block types, who were the ones doing the vandalism on the whole. Those folks are also going to be disproportionately out-of-towners.
3. And again, the same argument can be made about *any* protests. Not everyone in Tahrir Square was from Cairo. People came from all over to participate there, and still the numbers NEVER exceeded 5% of the population of Cairo, even on the biggest day.

And yet, they toppled the dictatorship.

So to have 2,3,4% of the population of Oakland out in the streets, is a very big deal.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

The Bay Area is about 5 million. The figures are comparable.

There were over 100 arrests according to OPD. Several are still in custody including three on felony assault charges and a parole violator. Bail is up to 25K - these were not minor crimes.

And really, Oakland? They routinely riot there - they just need a pretext, like a drug dealer being shot by cops resisting arrest

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

People from all over their respective countries converge on places like London and Paris. Nobody called for people to converge on Oakland from all over America. And yet Oakland put itself on the map Wednesday.

But your final comments really give away your bias... mocking things like the unprovoked extra-judicial execution of Oscar Grant shows what kind of a person you are.

I think it's clear from my posts that while I sympathize with the movement, I'm trying to neither minimize nor exaggerate -I'm trying to be as objective as possible about what I saw. You're just posting propaganda and spin.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

Two thirds of them were from outisde Oakland and many were from different Counties. Some were from OR and WA. So in fact protestors came from further distances than is possible in France or England.

Oakland was set up as the "poster child" for Occupy because of it's long history of riots. The organizers made a grave error, and now their movement is smeared by the voilence caused. An opportunity missed.

The Grant case went to court and the verdict wasn't murder, meaning his death cannot be regarded as an execution.

Posted by Anonymous on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

"The Grant case went to court and the verdict wasn't murder, meaning his death cannot be regarded as an execution."

WTF? So, because of the prosecutor's decision to charge the guy with manslaughter instead of murder (not the jury's decision, mind you) that changes what happened?

Please, go back to your hole, little troll.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

and most informed observers agreed with that assessment. An anonymous internet troll doesn't invalidate the verdict of a fair trial. Sorry.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

Could you be a little more general, please?

Posted by matlock on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 3:01 pm
Posted by Guest on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 4:36 pm
Posted by Guest on Nov. 05, 2011 @ 11:07 pm

you're high - there are these 'small' scuffles occurring.. uhh.. EVERYWHERE..

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 10:55 pm

ACORN /NYCC aka OWS planed the whole thing out trying to get the police to react so someone could get hurt or killed because they need a new martyr since the gay Marine lived and is of no use to them anymore .People and company's of Oakland that where hurt and lost business I urge you to sue OWS and go after there $600,000 to make up for your loses.

Posted by Guest Josh Brown on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 11:58 am

"People and company's of Oakland that where hurt and lost business I urge you to sue OWS and go after there $600,000 to make up for your loses."

1: it's "companies"
2: it's "losses"
3: form your own opinion instead of parroting what you have heard. Obviously this will require a bit more education since it is clear that you are severely lacking in this department.
4: "they need a new martyr since the gay Marine lived and is of no use to them anyomore" really? fuck you!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

you're crazy.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 2:15 pm

Hi. My 100,000 crowd estimate was for the entire day, not for any one moment in time. The idea is that the crowd size is a population. So, like any population, it changes by births, deaths, in-migration and out-migration. We had no births or deaths (thankfully) impacting the pop size, but we had a lot of in-migrations and out-migrations. People coming and going.

What was amazing was that there were about 20,000 people in Oakland City Hall Plaza at any one time, even as marches were under way down Broadway and then later to the Port. Plus, there were people marching with signs on various streets downtown.

So, when you consider that, and the fact that at 4 PM, MORE people were literally streaming onto Broadway from Oakland City Center BART, and that contributed to the march, YET the crowd size at Grant Ogawa plaza DID NOT decrease, and that, for the day, adds up to 100,000 people.

Posted by Guest Zennie on Nov. 04, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

Lucky for you, everyone else is still willing to work. Riot dining, how your-a-peein.

The fact that the rich spend more money on finding ways (buying cpas) to avoid taxes, than paying taxes is retarded.The worst part is that the deductions are for the exact same things that lower income people also do; except the laborers don't deduct every lunch,car ride, dinner, clothing purchase, travel/vacation, ..etc... as a business expense. Or instead have it paid for by the co. they work for in order to avoid not only income tax but also virtually allowing their co. to deduct an employees salary on the co. sheets b/c it can be claimed expenses!!!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 05, 2011 @ 2:46 am

Would somebody please tell me what scientific methodology for crowd counting was used to come up with the number 100,000?

My theory is that the methodology used is a simple one that's been around for years: it's called "lying".

How did anyone count to 100,000?

How did anyone estimate 100,000?

I have an email in to OPD asking them for their crowd counting methodology, and any data they have to back it up.

Occupy Oakland should provide the same. Tell us your methodology, tell us what theory it was based on. Tell us who in the group did the crowd count. Show us the data, photos, infrared images, and other evidence that you have to prove there were 100,000 people.

I don't think any of that data exists. I think Rebecca Bowe either pulled that number out of her ass, or more likely, she was told to use that number by one of the three or four people who are always leading the marches of an allegedly leaderless movement.

I suspect that OPD's number of 7500 is from a flawed or incomplete use of a real methodology. I'm pretty sure that Occupy Oakland's media team is just plain lying or making their number up, and they may even have conspired deliberately to do so.

Posted by Max Allstadt on Nov. 05, 2011 @ 5:06 pm

@Max Allstadt, Why don't you read before commenting? I didn't come up with that number, nor did Occupy Oakland's media team. A columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle, Zennie Abraham, came up with that number. We just pointed it out, and linked to his article. He's also explained it in greater depth in this comment thread, before you posted your comment, saying it was his estimate for the entire day. Instead of coming onto this website to spout your conspiracy theory please read and pay attention. The crowd estimate came from a mainstream news publication.

Posted by rebecca on Nov. 05, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

Yeah, caught that. But it was too late to edit.

Zennie's number is wrong.

The 30000 number put out by organizers is still unsubstantiated. I think it's a fabrication and I won't believe otherwise until someone at Occupy Oakland's media team explains, with data, how they got that number.

Likewise, I think OPD is likely using bad interpretation of real data from a real methodology. Police departments have been caught with similar errors in the past.

But the key difference is: OPD probably had a method. Protest organizers probably had none. Prove me wrong, and I'll accept proof. Without a method, an optimistic guess is not much different from a lie.

Posted by Max Allstadt on Nov. 05, 2011 @ 6:18 pm

Max, we've been turning out protesters in this town for decades and know how to count.

I'll say this. Every protest, I use a very simple methodology that always seems to hit the number pretty much dead on.

Take the cop number,

and average it with the highest reported number.

The resulting split down the middle number, is usually right on the one that shakes out after longer sober analysis.

In this case that would mean that around 53,000 people were in the streets, which, judging from the video I have seen of the day's events, might even be a little low.

Posted by Aragorn on Nov. 05, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

There's only about 680 people on that whole bridge.

Two co-workers of mine and I independently counted and all came within 20 people of 680.

It looks like a lot but when you break it down and count heads, that particular photo shows, sadly, less than 700 people.

Not like there weren't more ahead and behind, but even nine times as many more would still be less than 7,000.

Posted by Factchecker on Nov. 05, 2011 @ 10:39 pm

You don't need to be a statistician to count. I don't care how many statisticians tell me that 2+2=5. I still won't believe it. And what you are telling me is clearly, undeniably, false. I know, because I was there. I counted as I walked back through the crowd. And you're off by a factor of ten.

And of course keep in mind that I can't be in two places at once, so I'm not counting all the people who stayed behind near city hall, and I'm not counting all the people who participated at other times of the day.

I'll leave it for others to decide whether you're a lying shill, or just a statistician who can't count, but what you're saying is just completely divorced from reality.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 05, 2011 @ 11:07 pm

Show. Me. Your. Method.

Show. Me. Your. Data.

You "counted"?

Really, how fast can you count to 100,000? How'bout we make it 10,000?

There are 3600 seconds in an hour. Even if you could count 2 people a second, without losing track, you could barely count the number of people that OPD claimed were there. And you couldn't even do that, because you didn't have a birds eye view.

If there was in fact an organized team from Occupy Oakland who went out and did a count, I want to hear from them:

I want to hear their methodology. I want to hear about how they planned beforehand and who was at their planning meetings that can corroborate their method. I want to see their data.

I am almost certain that none of this exists, and that the count is simply an optimistic talking point.

Prove me wrong. I dare you.

Posted by Max Allstadt on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 8:39 am

I did explain my method. I counted the number of people across in an average sized clump (neither most dense nor more sparse), and then I counted the steps I took when going back, with each step very roughly traversing the length of one person. Yes, it's rough, but thus far I'm the only one who has explained any methodology at all. Something just under 10,000 is probably a good estimate for that march alone. Given that there were 3 big marches that I knew of throughout the day, and numerous smaller events, some going on simultaneously, and apparently large crowds in the plaza even as these marches were going on... several tens of thousands is probably a good estimate of the total participation for the day.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 8:58 am

Thin fucking air?

"3 Statisticians each Counted"
Posted by Fartchecker on Nov. 05, 2011 @ 10:39 pm

Posted by Guest on Nov. 05, 2011 @ 11:12 pm

On the same subject, when Avalos get pummeled in the election will the Bay Guardian stop claiming to speak for "the people" (tm) and start noting that it speaks only for a narrow list of special interests?

Posted by matlock on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 7:09 am

why don't you explain who you support, and why?

Why are your views superior to those of the Bay Guardian?

Or are you just an angry little thing in a hole, addicted to anonymously criticizing others?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 11:16 am

Are you the same Max Allstadt as seen in this video?

You certainly do not sound like the same person as the man in the video.

"As of January 1, 2011, California’s first online impersonation law – SB 1411 – goes into effect, making malicious digital impersonation a misdemeanor that comes with fines up to $1000 and/or up to a year in jail."

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 11:47 am

in someone copying a fake handle on an anonymous internet chatroom.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

Tell you what. If I see you caught doing it again I'll just go ahead and report you for it, and we'll see what happens.

Law enforcement is taking the new law very seriously because of violence and suicides that have happened because of online impersonations.

Posted by anonymous on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

a suicide or theft as a result, I can guarantee you the cops will have zero interest.

The cops aren't in the business of protecting chatroom trolls from ridicule and mockery.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

Real life online impersonations are being cracked down on hard in order to prevent such incidents. It is whole purpose of the new law.

You would be wise not to fool with it, as people like myself would be more than happy to help see a troll go to prison for online impersonation.

Posted by anonymous on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 5:24 pm

an internet chatroom is being "cracked down on hard"?

I've seen zero evidence of that.

That law exists to provide a remedy for egregious abuse. It doesn't apply to trolls like you.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

The law just went into effect in January. Here is a report on the first conviction.


That first conviction, to cops, is like blood in the water for a very large school of sharks.

Care to risk being the second conviction?


Posted by anonymous on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 7:23 pm

it would only be invoked where real harm or loss is caused. A troll being mocked on an internet chatroom doesn't count as anything. like that.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 6:06 am

You do realize that SFBG's website records reveal your ip address, right?
And those same records would show any other times you posted here, and what other names you posted under.
Probably wouldn't be that hard for someone to put it all together, do a few google searches and identify you.
Not that the SFBG seems like the type of people that would be interested in that.
But somebody could do those things.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

Every wifi zone has a different IP. So you'll know which Starbucks I was in, but that's all.

Oh, and ever heard of proxy servers?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

Be wise and don't play with it. There are security cameras all over the place.

As yourself if you feel lucky...

Posted by anonymous on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

Or just pull up your hoodie.

It's trivially easy to avoid capture if you have even a basic knowledge of how the internet works. The CIA could maybe figure out who you are, but I'm fairly sure they have better things to do than worry about which trolls are impersonating which other trolls in a pointless chatroom.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 6:16 pm

Legislators, and cops are taking that very seriously.

Posted by anonymous on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 7:26 pm

that you like, as SFBG.COM does not require registration. I can guarantee you the "authorities" have no interest in trolls in a chatroom.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2011 @ 6:04 am

what he wrote here is consistent with what he has been writing there for years.

Plus, Max got arrested at the OO march so he has an insight and credibility that you lack, and he is welcome here.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 06, 2011 @ 6:18 pm