By Kush Desai
March For Our Lives claimed in a Sunday tweet that its Saturday march in Washington, D.C. drew over 850,000 demonstrators.
— March For Our Lives (@AMarch4OurLives) March 25, 2018
“More than 850,000 marched with us in DC yesterday,” the group claimed. Various media outlets and commentators later reported similar attendance figures, citing organizers for the pro-gun control demonstration.
Closer to 200,000 people attended the march in D.C. according to two independent analyses of aerial and satellite images of the crowds.
Less than a week after a shooter killed 17 people at a Florida high school in February, survivors of the school shooting announced they were planning a demonstration called March For Our Lives in D.C. for late March to advocate for stricter gun control measures. Organizers of the march initially applied for a D.C. permit for 500,000 attendees.
The event ultimately received significant media coverage and drew crowds that spanned several blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue. The D.C. Metro tweeted that it counted 334,000 rides by 4 p.m. on the day of the march, which was scheduled to end at 3 p.m. – more than two-and-a-half times the number of rides it usually clocks by 4 p.m. on a Saturday.
Organizers later claimed that attendance at the march in the nation’s capital exceeded expectations by drawing over 850,000 people.
The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department does not publish crowd size data for public demonstrations, but the 850,000 figure is over four times greater than the roughly 200,000 people that Digital Design & Imaging Service, Inc. (DDIS), a Virginia-based analytics firm, calculates were in attendance at the march at its peak using a proprietary method of analyzing aerial snapshots.
A group of researchers led by professor G. Keith Still of Manchester Metropolitan University in the U.K. similarly calculated that around 180,000 people attended the march based on an analysis of photographs, video and satellite imagery, according to The New York Times.
By comparison, Still and his team estimated that around 470,000 people attended the 2017 Women’s March in D.C. on the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration – more than double their March For Our Lives estimate. DDIS calculated attendance at around 440,000 people.
Estimates by these groups were consistent with ridership data from the D.C. Metro. While the Metro recorded almost 560,000 riders throughout the entire day on Saturday, the Metro reported almost twice as many – about 1 million riders – on the day of the Women’s March.
The Metro suggested that the disparity between ridership data and claims about the march’s attendance may in part have to do with heavier use of charter buses and other means of transport by the demonstrators. “I think a lot of the people came on [charter] buses because they’re kids and can’t afford hotel rooms,” a spokesperson told The Washington Post.
(Reports indicate that a significant number of demonstrators had also used charter buses to travel to D.C. for the 2017 Women’s March.)
March For Our Lives’s claim of 850,000 attendees only addressed attendance at the rally in D.C. Over 800 other marches were also organized on Saturday, with events in some major cities bringing substantial crowds. New York City drew 175,000 demonstrators according to local officials, and 30,000 people attended marches in Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
March for our Lives did not respond to a request for comment.