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.


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: 


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!):


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.

The Geography of the Resistance Now

I’ve posted before about the geography of the Resistance in the streets, which was based on the data I collected from people  whom I surveyed while they were protesting in the streets in Washington, DC.

Now that the first wave of the Indivisible Census is complete, I am able to map out the geography of the American Resistance today (defined as Indivisibles here–but I am very aware that some resisters are not involved with the Indivisible network).  The first wave of the census took place from 9-26 April during the COVID19 pandemic.

Analysis of these data are ongoing, but here is a heatmap of where the 14,144 respondents to the census live (based on their zipcodes).   In the following maps, I trimmed out Alaska and Hawaii to make them more readable, but all 50 states are represented in the dataset.IndivisibleCompleteHeatMap_April2020

Participants in the census reported playing various roles at Indivisible.  The following is a heatmap of the respondents who reported being “local group members” of Indivisible.


Leaders of these local Indivisible groups are also spread across the US. Here’s a map of the respondents who identified as being “group leaders.” This one isn’t a heatmap since they are less densely distributed (as one would expect of leaders).


Winning Elections takes much more than Winning Votes.

Today I published a piece in Politico about the youth climate movement and their important role in the 2020 election.  The piece highlights how, although they were resistant to Joe Biden as a candidate through the early primaries, youth climate activists are not part of the #NeverBiden contingent.  In my recent survey of organizers at Earth Day Live, all but one of the 171 respondents reported that they would vote for Biden.

The piece also notes that youth climate groups, which I consider the “connective tissue of democracy,”  have continued to challenge candidate Biden on their core issues.  Without encouragement and organization from these groups, it is hard to imagine they will encourage their members to labor in support of his campaign.

American Resistance documents how activists worked tirelessly after Donald Trump’s Inauguration to resist his Administration and its policies by marching in the streets, as well as working through progressive groups to mobilize energy and enthusiasm for Democratic candidates in the 2018 election.

Without the help of these youth climate groups to organize left-leaning young people to turn out, winning the youth vote in the 2020 election will be a heavy lift for the Biden campaign. Although there is no question that these highly engaged activists will vote, rallying their social networks will be crucial to overcoming Biden’s well documented lack of appeal with young voters.

Studying Resistance During COVID-19

Last week, I began data collection for two projects that will help us understand Resistance in the age of COVID-19 (and leading up to the 2020 election).  Although both of these projects were planned well before the pandemic basically shut-down the US, questions were added about how the pandemic has affected individual’s activism and political work. Luckily, both projects involve data collection through online surveys, which means I am still able to do the research while under stay-at-home orders in the state of Maryland:

  • The Indivisible Census. This project tracks the Indivisible movement during the 6-months leading up to the 2020 elections.  Over 400,000 people involved in the movement were asked to participate in the study to see what activists are doing and how it changes around the election (and due to the Coronavirus).  Some preliminary findings based on the first 10,000 responses were posted as a thread on twitter on April 15th.
  • Studying Hosts of Earth Day Live. This project involves a third wave of data collection with organizers in the youth climate movement.  It specifically surveys the people who are working to host local efforts around the US to participate in the 3-day climate strike that was scheduled to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.  The event has pivoted online due to COVID-19.   Some preliminary findings from early data was posted as a thread on twitter on April 15th.

While I collect data from these groups of activists, the 2020 Election is heating up.  Since Sanders dropped out of the race last week, endorsements for Biden have come in from many of the more progressive candidates in the race, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders himself.  At this point, the Biden campaign continues to work to gain the support of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.   I am hopeful that these new data will help us track this process, as well as how Resistance shifts and endures during this pandemic.