What did it mean?

Ten thousand people stretched out for a mile along Congress Street last month, many wearing pink hats and carrying signs supporting women’s rights and chanting in rhythm (or something close to it) in a demonstration of solidarity like nobody in this city has ever seen.

And that was just in Portland. Augusta also had a demonstration with about 5,000 at the same time, flooding the capital area behind the State House. A week later, 1,500 people showed up at Portland City Hall in support of the Affordable Care Act, and an estimated 3,000 turned out at the jetport the same day to protest the new president’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations.

Then last Wednesday, another 1,000 or so showed up outside City Hall in support of refugees, asylum seekers and other immigrants who make their homes here.

Five demonstrations, five big crowds in a 10-day span. What does it mean? And does it matter?

The answer to the first question is, who knows?

The five crowds were ostensibly gathered for different reasons, tied together by a general sense of grievance with the new administration in Washington. Who knows whether these interests will splinter as people get inured to the circus in Washington or whether they’ll come together in a cohesive political movement.

But to the second question, does it matter? Oh yeah, it matters. It matters bigly.

Like most of my generation of journalists, I had trained myself to ignore the evidence staring me in the face when it comes to crowds, and I trusted the invisible magic of big numbers. Crowds represent only a fraction of the populace, I assured myself, the few fired-up ones that are safe to ignore. The polls tell you what the real people think.

But if you wanted an accurate story of the last decade in politics, you could do worse than tracking the biggest in-person events, starting with the anti-war protests in 2007. You would see the first Obama campaign, the birth of the tea party, Occupy Wall Street, the Keystone XL pipeline protests, Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders’ insurgent race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the Standing Rock water protectors and, of course, the election of Donald Trump.

They are all popular movements that, at least on paper, used the collective power of many voices to challenge the elites.

And they all put big groups of strangers in the same place where they could feel the power that comes from being part of something bigger than themselves.

Being in a crowd influences our behavior, not always for the better, making them hard to control. Moods can be contagious, and that’s what makes crowds such a potent political force. It’s not about the speeches or what celebrities showed up – it’s about the power.

Virtual communities don’t give you that same feeling. Your online life, curated by you and a friendly algorithm or two, stresses how your choices – political, entertainment, fashion – add up to who you are as a person.

Being in a big crowd, whether it’s a football game or a peace vigil, you are reminded about how superficial differences don’t matter and how much you have in common with people who might not look exactly like you.

When you become part of a crowd, you give up some of your individuality, and that’s something most of us don’t like doing. But unless you are a billionaire in this society, individuals are weak and easy to control.

Crowds don’t necessarily do anything. “The crowd does not have a politics. It is the opportunity for politics,” writes leftist intellectual Jodi Dean in her book “Crowds and Party.

Developing the program and next steps happen after the crowd goes home, but it’s the energy of the crowd that gives them authority.

Politicians in a democracy are always claiming to represent the will of the people.

Winning an election is usually the way that the will is expressed, but it’s not the only way. Writing letters to members of Congress is another. Posting on Facebook has some impact.

But “the people” have a funny way of emerging when large numbers assemble in public, and they become formidable when their voices come together.

There may not yet be a coherent political program behind the demonstrations that we have seen in the last couple of weeks, but I’m certainly not going to ignore them.

If the people in power are smart, they won’t, either.

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Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

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Twitter: @gregkesich