Our talk at the 2017 Personal Democracy Forum
On June 8, 2017, we gave a talk at the 2017 Personal Democracy Forum in New York City
about protest trends that we've observed across the United States. We had a fantastic time
sharing Count Love with others, and we were honored to meet so many
wonderful and supportive members of the civic tech community. Below, we've transcribed our
talk (with light edits) and included the slides that we presented. You can view an official recording
here. The data in this talk reflects
protests through June 5, 2017. For more recent data (updated nightly), see our searchable map and
This is a photo that we took of the Women's March in Boston on January 21st.
We were relieved to see that there were so many people concerned
about the same issues that we were concerned about. But when we were walking
home from the protest, we kept talking to each other about how ephemeral
protests are. We thought, “Wouldn’t it be powerful if we had a historical
record of these protests so that we could understand some of the broader
trends about what people are concerned about and how also how those
trends change over both geography and time?” So we went home, and we built it.
We call our protest tracker Count Love, and we are counting protests against
the current administration's policy agenda.
Here is how it works: We have an adorable robot—a software robot—and
every night, it visits over 1,600 local newspaper and television websites,
where it meticulously looks for words like “demonstration,” “rally,” and “protest.”
We then collect these articles and manually read each one.
When we find a protest event, we note the date that it occurred, the
general topic that people were protesting about, the location and, if possible, an
attendance count. We try to be fairly conservative with the attendance
count. So if an article says that there are dozens of attendees, we will
count that as 10; if it says "hundreds," we will count that as 100.
Each night, after we finish reviewing articles, we publish
the latest data on our website countlove.org. We have also built simple
search and statistics tools, so that anyone can go to the site and explore
the full set of data.
Now that you know a little bit about how Count Love works, we are going to share
some trends that we've observed thus far in the data.
We have learned about over 2,500 protests and five million protesters. The video
above is a time-lapse animation of all these protests. The circles represent the
relative number of attendees, and the protests tend to fall into a
handful of categories ranging from civil rights to racial injustice to the
environment, as well as complaints against the executive branch and the
legislative branch. Notably, as you can see in the animation, the protests are
not limited to just the coastal states or the urban, dense cities. They are
everywhere, and people have been protesting in all months since January.
We can take this data from the time-lapse and look at it as a chart showing
what brought people out to protest each week, broken down by those high-level
categories previously mentioned (immigration, executive branch, etc). There
have been a lot of protests that have garnered large-scale coverage and
headlines—for example, the March for Science, a Day without Women. These events
were nationally coordinated and brought
thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people out to
advocate for certain policy ideas or values.
But it is also worth noting that there have been some substantial events that
were not as coordinated, like the response to the first executive order on travel and
immigration. These protests, which were more grassroots in nature, took many
different forms—people going to the local airport to help others through immigrations
and customs, or going to city hall to advocate for sanctuary city status.
There wasn't a single date for the protests and there wasn't a single group organizing
the response, but it still made a huge impact.
You will also see that in mid-March and mid-May, there was a big lull in the number of people
that came out.
If we look at a slightly different chart (shown above) that shows not the number of protesters, but
the number of events that occurred each week, we see that there were still a lot of
protests going on in mid-March and mid-May. These gatherings took a different form and
tended to focus on local advocacy—people who held die-ins, making their congressperson
aware that they were not comfortable with the new health care bill, or people who
went out to advocate for town hall meetings.
By having this comprehensive resource that lists protests and attendees, we can see trends
in national headline-grabbing protests, as well as in local and regional events.
We also have geographic data for where these protests took place. We were curious
to see if there are differences in what brought people out in different parts of the
country. Using the density of counties, we can compare what is happening in the more dense,
more urban counties and what is happening in the less dense, more rural counties; we can
see if people are protesting about different things.
We were surprised to see that there is a lot of overlap in the priorities
and motivations that underly protests. It is not identical; there are differences. Immigration
receives a bit more attention in urban counties, while health care and the environment
are the focus of a larger proportion of protests in more rural counties. But for
the most part, people across the United States are coming out to protest many of the
same topics and feel passionately about many of the same values.
Because we have this geographic data, we can also look at a breakdown of protests per
state. The image above is a cartogram, which reflects not the geography of each
state, but the population size. The area of each circle is proportional to the
population of the state, and the color of each circle indicates how many protesters
per capita we have counted since inauguration. For example, California is a large
circle, due to its large population, and is darker blue as there have been many protesters
per capita; Vermont, which has a smaller population, is also dark blue as it is one of the
highest number of protesters per capita.
Some swing states during the last election, like Wisconsin and Minnesota,
are relatively dark blue. People in these swing states are relatively active in
expressing their concern about the direction of the current administration.
These are just some of the trends that we can explore with the data in Count Love.
We continue to update the site nightly, so we encourage you to check it out at
countlove.org. We will continue to share trends and
data that we find on the website. We have also built a simple iOS app that allows people
to submit information about an on-going protest anonymously, so that we can keep
collecting information about new events that occur.
Thank you for your time.