What we learned from the #MarchOnWashington2020: very little violence and broader priorities.

Since George Floyd was murdered in late May by a police officer in Minneapolis, media attention has focused on the demands of protesters across the country who want to abolish and/or defund the police.  By listening to the activists who are yelling the loudest, the main message of the protesters who have turned out to protest peacefully is being lost:  the highest priority for participants in the movement is not about the police at all; it’s about race-based health disparities and race-based poverty

For the past three months, activists have flooded city streets across the US to protest racism and to support #BlackLivesMatter in the broadest protests in US history.  Substantial attention has been paid to the numbers of people who have marched in the streets, the clashes with law enforcement, and the loud calls by activists to abolish or defund the police, which is not supported by most Americans

In a new project studying “The Current Mass Mobilization against Systemic Racism: Effects on Democracy and Politics,” I am working with Michael Heaney and Stella Rouse to study who is participating in protests and why these people are out in the streets.  During the 2020 March on Washington, which was held on the 57th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream Speech,”  working with a research team of 10, we collected electronic surveys from 277 participants who had been randomly sampled at the March on Washington in Washington, DC. 

Even though much of the coverage of these recent protests has focused on the violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement and how President Trump and his opponent Vice President Joe Biden have responded, only a third of participants in the crowd reported having participated in any sort of direct action, including civil disobedience or property destruction, in the past year.  Moreover, the Black participants in the March on Washington were much less likely to report any experience with more confrontational protest.  

While defunding and abolishing the police is the highest priority for only a quarter to a third of protest participants, about three quarters of the crowd reported that reducing race-based health disparities and race-based poverty was the highest priority. These results hold when we control for the age, race, and location of the participant.

These results are particularly noteworthy given the race-based disparities in how Americans are experiencing COVID and the economic divide plaguing our nation. Over half of protest participants do identify improving police training to be more racially sensitive and to de-militarize the police as their highest priorities.

As the media focuses attention on a new report about the low percentage of violence in protests while protests continue, it’s all the more important to understand Who is the crowds and Why they are there.

Thus begins a long week of Resistance

On Saturday, the #SavetheUSPS day of action mobilized thousands of people to participate in more than 800 events outside local post offices around the US.  The event was coordinated by a broad coalition of progressive groups including MoveOn, NAACP, SEIU, Working Families, Indivisible, and the American Federation of Teachers.  It provides a great example of how distributed organizing continues to be used on the Left to mobilize activism (for more on this issue read my recent piece in Business Insider).

With this coordinated action taking place on Saturday, protests planned to coincide with President Trump’s acceptance speech for the Republican nomination from the White House on Thursday, and 57th anniversary of the March on Washington taking place on Friday, this week is expected to be filled with protest.

With more details coming out about how Jacob Blake was shot in the back while he tried to get into the car where his kids were waiting, protests in Kenosha, WI are likely to spread and increase turnout across the country.

 

Continuing to Study Protest through the Pandemic

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic originally motivated many groups to shift their activism online, the killing  of unarmed George Floyd by police in May motivated extensive and sustained protest across the US.   As these protests grew and the Trump Administration deployed forces in many cities, it become increasingly clear to me that this wave of confrontational protest is part the story of resistance to the Trump Administration and its policies (see here is a for a full definition of what is the Resistance).

As protests spread across the US in response to the murder of George Floyd in May, I decided it would be a good idea to collect data and see how these protests are similar and different from those I studied as part of the American Resistance project.  Since the University of Maryland is under research restrictions due to the pandemic, I was required to gain approval to do in-person research during the pandemic (in addition to my IRB protocol for collecting data from human subjects).  To limit risks to the research team and research subjects, I revised the project’s research protocol so that everyone on the research team would wear a face mask, wipe down all equipment between respondents (ie wiping our electronic tablets and/or cell phones that were being used for data collection between administrations), and aim to maintain social distance from respondents. Here’s a photo of the research team after collecting data at the District Die-In on June 4th, 2020 (photo credit Cheriss May for the New York Times): NYTsImage

We tested out this new protocol at multiple protests in June.  It worked well: everyone was happy to watch us use the wipes to wipe down our electronic tablets, maintaining social distance was not difficult, and almost all respondents were also wearing masks.  In the end, the response rates were only slightly lower than they had been at other protests where I have surveyed since the Trump Administration took office in 2017.

Thanks to a recent grant from the Russell Sage Foundation, I will be working with Michael Heaney and Stella Rouse over the next year to study “The Current Mass Mobilization against Systemic Racism: Effects on Democracy and Politics.”   By collecting data in Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, DC, we will develop a better understanding of protest in urban centers in the US.  Although we would have loved to include more locations that represent a range of densities following the methodology proposed in this recent paper in Science Advances, we are limited to these three cities due to resource constraints.

Since data collection will continue during the pandemic, we will continue to follow the protocol that includes wearing face masks, wiping down research equipment, and maintaining social distance. Stay tuned for updates as the data are collected (our first protest is the March on Washington 2020, which is scheduled to take place on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington)!

How Violence at Protests Escalates

Last night, the Mayor of Portland joined the protesters in the streets of the city and was teargassed by “federal law enforcement” deployed by the President.  Here’s a great thread by Washington Post reporter Marissa Lang with video of the night and here’s another thread that puts last night in perspective by Sergio Olmos who has been out every night documenting the protests.

As the videos clearly show, the crowds in the streets are diverse, including a “wall of moms” and dads with leafblowers who have been trying to clear the air of teargas.  Moreover, there’s no evidence that these federal enforcers who have been shooting teargas and rubber bullets at the crowds, and beating protesters with batons have reduced the size of the protest.  In fact, based on video footage that is circulating on social media, the numbers have grown substantially.

The President has announced that he is sending these same forces to other cities to “enforce the law.”  As of last night,  “about 200 federal agents, drawn from across the Justice Department” are being deployed in Chicago and Albuquerque.  Based on what we’ve seen in Portland, citizens in the cities will respond to being attacked by law enforcement with confrontation (like walls of moms) and aggressive tactics (like sending teargas canisters back to the source with blowers or even hockey sticks).  In Washington, DC, a number of groups are calling for a march in solidarity with Portland on Saturday.

Given the mounting evidence that this type of federal law enforcement in US cities will escalate the violence and the crowds, one has to wonder what, exactly, is the end goal?

Updated Resistance Timeline

Over the past four years, I’ve posted Resistance Timelines a few times to this site (and a truncated one is included in the book).  If you’re interested in how I define Resistance, see this post.

As the protests that erupted after George Floyd was murdered continue in many cities, Putnam, Pressman and Chenoweth have reported in the Washington Post that “It is the largest sustained mobilization in the United States in our lifetimes.”  Here is a timeline that starts with the mid-term elections in 2018 and includes these recent protests.  With a National Strike for Black Lives called for July 20th, the 2020 March on Washington called for August 28th,  and expected as the election approaches in November, there is no question that we are living through an age of Resistance.

Timeline2018to2020

The Diversity of the Protests is a Good Sign for Racial Equity

Today I posted a new piece on the How We Rise blog  at the Brookings Institution.   The piece discusses the implications of the racial and ethnic diversity of protesters on the 2020 Election.

It highlights that, not only are activists supporting Joe Biden who is more likely to support policies that promote racial equity, but that the 2020 election is on track to elect more progressive candidates of color.  By supporting representation along with policies that promote racial equity, the upcoming election could make some serious progress.

Patterns Across Protests Sparked by the Killing of George Floyd

It’s been a month since protests began after the killing of unarmed George Floyd in Minnesota.  Working with teams of researchers, I have collected data on three different days at the protests in Washington, DC:  during the District Die-In on 6/4, over the weekend on 6/6, and during Juneteenth on 6/19. There are some clear patterns that have emerged across these three waves of data collection regarding the politics of the crowd, their motivations, and demographics.  These findings are consistent with a recent profile of protest participants reported by Pew Research.

Politics. Participants continue to report very high levels of voting in the past year.  These rates are much higher than primary turnout in the region.  Even though there is some variation in political ideology (and the Juneteenth event turned out a number of participants who identify as Right-Leaning) EVERY SINGLE respondent reported that, if the election were held today, they would vote for Joe Biden.  Respondents also continue to report very low levels of satisfaction with Democracy in America and high levels of belief that some level of violence is justified in the pursuit of political goals. 

Motivations. There are consistent patterns of motivations for participants across these three waves of data collection.  The top motivations continue to be Racial Justice, Police Brutality, and Equality.  Participants all report very high levels of voting

Demographics. Across these different events, participants continue to be relatively young (with a median age of 30 or younger) and highly educated (more than 60% had a BA or higher).  Although Juneteenth turned out a higher percentage of Black participants, all events show White allies have joined the protests in solidarity.

The Demographics of the Current Protests

Since protest erupted across the country after the killing of George Floyd, I’ve been working to collect data on the protest participants.  Over the weekend of 6-7 June, I worked with teams to collect data from the protesters in Washington, DC, New York City, Los Angeles, and London. We were testing out the viability of a methodology that we proposed in a recent paper in on studying protests in Science Advances.  To facilitate coordinated data collection and quick analysis, we collected data with cellphones and QR Codes. 

Many have asked about the diversity of the crowds.  As pieces in the New York Times and on CNN have reported, at the US events, we found more than half of participants at every protest were White. In other words, white allies have joined this struggle like never before.  Here’s the breakdown of the protesters by race: 

GeorgeFloydProtestsAggRace

I also wrote about this diversifying movement more generally in a recent piece in Business InsiderThere is a lot of evidence that the diversity in the crowd is due to The American Resistance showing up in solidarity, in terms of the demographics of the crowd, their previous protesting experience, and what is motivating participants to get involved. 

Another big day of protest is called for the weekend of Juneteenth (which starts on Friday).  For details, see this site, which is being coordinated by the Movement for Black Lives.

The American Resistance Joins the Protests Against the Killing of George Floyd

As of early Saturday morning, protests have broken out in cities across the US  in response to police brutality, calling for racial justice in America.  I haven’t seen an accurate count yet, but I expect that the crowd counting consortium will have data for anyone who is looking for numbers.

Three days ago, I wrote a post that asked if the American Resistance would join these protests that were motivated by the killing of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis.  Three days later, the answer is a resounding YES.  Resistance Groups have posted statements in solidarity with the protesters, including Indivisible, and numerous groups are encouraging their members to be allies and join the National Call to Action that is being coordinated by the Movement for Black Lives.  Moreover, the youth climate groups that I have been studying for the past year, which are populated by young people who are children of the Resistance, are also join the protests with their own calls to action.  Here’s the one by Sunrise that was posted last night.   The calls by these youth led groups are particularly noteworthy since the activists in these groups have lots of experience with civil disobedience / direct action tactics.  Here’s a table based on multiple waves of data collection of the past year (yes, you read that right, 69% of organizers for last month’s Earth Day Live report participating in direct action in the past year!):

DirectActionOverTime

With all of these Left-leaning groups supporting calls to protest in solidarity, what can we expect from these protests that are spreading and, in many cases, turning violent with the police responding with teargas and pepper spray?  I wrote a piece for TIME about when we should expect to see protests get more confrontational back in December.  At that time, I was unable to envision a pandemic that closed schools, shut down a huge portion of the economy, and lead us all to be staying at home for months.

In the piece, I write:  “History shows us that when activism gets more disruptive and confrontational, institutional power responds. And that’s when the distance between peaceful protest and violent protest narrows.”  We are seeing clear examples of the violence that ensues.  With more people taking to the streets in more places, it’s important to remember that riots are the product of the actions and reactions by institutional political actors (eg the police and the national guard).  Although it’s too soon to say what will be the result of the protests, there’s very little question that this is only the beginning.

 

Will the American Resistance Join the Protests Against the Killing of George Floyd?

We know that the American Resistance is comprised predominantly of highly educated middle aged White women.  We also know that many of them are motivated to participate in activism by issues related to Racial Justice and Police Brutality.  So, the question is whether they will join the protests in the streets in response to the killing of George Floyd by police yesterday in Minneapolis?  Will the Resistance Groups that serve as the connective tissue of these activists mobilize their members?   For more details on the protests right now, see this thread.