Last night, the 2021 Indivisible Census opened. The Census is collecting data on the Indivisible Network to see how this Resistance group has grown over the past year. It will provide insights into the priorities of the network in terms of who is participating, what they are doing, and what is motivating them. Here’s a map of respondents from the 2020 Census (14,144 members of the network participated). Hopefully we’ll get a similar response this year or even more!
With yesterday’s inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, the 2020 election is finally behind us. As executive orders are signed to replace some of the most unpopular of Trump’s policies, we need to ask ourselves (again): Will the Resistance join the Graveyard of democratic politics? History suggests that progressive political movements lose their potency after Democratic electoral wins. Just look at the post-9/11 anti-war movement and the Obama campaign in 2008 for evidence. Although some called the campaign to elect Barack Obama a movement to elect the first Black president, the campaign’s infrastructure (which became Organizing for America) was subsumed into the Democratic party quickly after the inauguration. The grassroots army of activists celebrated as the future of grassroots organizing was swiftly disarmed into a cadre of donors and phone bankers. Will the Resistance meet a similar fate?
Before the 2020 election November, I conducted another wave of follow-up surveys with participants in the American Resistance. Some preliminary findings from that survey was published on election day in the Washington Post. Overall, the data showed that many resisters continued to be politically active through fall 2020 and that they had channeled their activism into working for the election.
In part thanks to these efforts, the 2020 election had record turnout with two-thirds of registered voters participating. But what happens to a movement that has been laser focused on one election after that election is over? Leaders of Resistance groups have developed strategies to keep fighting and channel their members’ enthusiasm into specific political and legislative campaigns now that the Democrats hold the majorities in both houses of the Congress and the Presidency, but will the ground troops continue to follow their lead?
At this point, it is too soon to tell. History provides a cautionary tale, but the sting of the past few years and the very real threat of the Radical Right may just provide sufficient incentive to stay engaged.
The distance between peaceful protest and violent confrontation that can turn into an insurgency is smaller than you might expect but it is not a spontaneous process–it involves significant planning and coordination. When we look back over the past 8 months, there were many signs that pro-Trump groups were radicalizing, in terms of the targets of their grievances and the tactics that they were considering. Look back at the ways they responded to COVID restrictions and organized counter protests to Black Lives Matter events in cities for clear signs.
As I noted less than three weeks ago, the current moment is the product of normalizing hate, legitimizing untruths, and emboldening misinformed Americans to challenge the legitimacy of the US government and take up arms in the streets. Yesterday, I published a new piece in Business Insider that asks: How do we stop an insurgency provoked by the President of the United States? How do you douse the flames of hatred, mistrust, and deliberate misinformation that creates a false reality?
The piece ends by noting how differently participants in the insurrection at the US Capitol last week were treated than protesters have been treated at events I have observed while studying protest for the past 20+ years. Although law enforcement is now rounding people up, there’s an enormous difference between escorting people out of the building to go back to their hotels and arresting everyone who breached the building. A clear message was telegraphed on January 6th that Pro-Trump supporters can incite violence, threaten elected officials, and occupy federal buildings with no recourse. We are now seeing some of the participants facing consequences, but I worry that this type of post-hoc response is not sending a strong enough message as groups prepare to return to DC this weekend and stay through the inauguration next week.
Given the calls for violence and encouragement from the President, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser issued an appeal to locals from the DC area not to participate in counter protests, asking people to avoid areas where protests are scheduled to take place. So far, it is unclear how local groups that have organized counter protests to previous Trump rallies and demonstrations against systemic racism will respond (especially as videos of Proud Boys destroying the BLM memorial fence are being shared on social media).
In other news, American Resistance is now available in paperback!
Yesterday, I posted a new piece at Business Insider that lays out three reasons why America may be drifting towards a Civil War: first, the President and his allies have coaxed hate out of the dark corners of society where it had been relegated by social norms; second, the Trump Administration has cultivated a culture of untruths and alternative facts; and third; misinformed Americans have been emboldened to challenge the legitimacy of the US government and take up arms in the streets.
Today, the electors will meet to cast their votes for the 2020 Election. While many people who have been involved in the American Resistance since Donald Trump took office expected to be seeing light at the end of a four-year long tunnel, there is growing evidence that we are entering a dark place where violent conflict fueled by conspiracy theories against our democracy are rampant.
I spoke to Annie Gowan at the Washington Post on Friday about how we got here for her piece on public officials being targeted by activists: “What we’re seeing is an escalation, so that instead of people calling each other nasty names and cursing each other out on Twitter or Parler, instead they’re doing it in person while holding weapons…The country is at risk of serious armed confrontation in the days to come.” The original quote said that we were at risk of slipping into a Civil War (a not unlikely continuation of our country’s current path).
Since the interview, videos have circulated social media from this weekend’s protests in Washington, DC where Trump supporters were joined by Proud Boys who clashed with counter protesters. There will be a lot of discussions about who fanned the flames of this type of violence in the coming days and weeks. Unfortunately, what we saw this weekend is almost definitely only the beginning.
This week has been a rollercoaster as the 2020 election continues. Although a national day of action to send a message to #ProtectTheResults had been called for Wednesday, the organizers called off the mobilization while states continued to count their mail-in ballots. Instead, only a small number of protests took place in urban areas, with relatively small “rolling protests” in the nation’s capital.
On Tuesday, I published a piece that summarized findings from a follow-up survey with Resisters (those whom I originally surveyed in the streets protesting the Trump Administration and its policies starting after the inauguration in January 2017 and including the 3rd Women’s March in January 2019). The piece discusses how priorities have changed for these activists. Police brutality / Black Lives Matter is now the most common motivation with 76% of Resisters reporting it to be a motivation for their political work and activism.
In addition to these shifting motivations, the article notes that Resisters (who are predominately highly educated middle-aged White women) have continued to be very civically engaged. As of the end of October, 81% had reported voting in the past year (in primaries and/or early voting). These rates are much higher than the national average participation in a presidential election. Beyond voting, all indicators suggest that, no matter who wins the election once the final votes are tallied, we should continue to expect a lot of political participation from Resisters.
Yesterday, the Women’s March coordinated events in over 425 locations across the United States. I was out in Washington, DC with a research team of 10 (here’s the photo before we began data collection). We also collected data in NYC and LA (stay tuned for those findings).
Although the event turned out repeat protesters (only 15% reported being new to protest), about three-quarters of participants reported previous experience protesting systemic racism (76%), with almost half (46%) reporting participating in previous Women’s Marches.
Demographically, the turnout was consistent with other Women’s Marches and the other big protests in the Resistance: the Marches were highly educated (76% with a BA), female (85%), and mostly white (74%). Participants were much younger than previous events with a median age of only 31 years old (vs in the 40s for the other events). This turnout is likely due to the COVID pandemic.
Overall, these findings suggest that participants were the White allies who have been in the streets supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement since George Floyd was murdered in May 2020.
Whatever the campaign decides, it’s worth highlighting that our collective research over many years has found that face-to-face campaigning is much more effective when it is conducted with friends and neighbors rather than strangers who are knocking on doors (and may have parachuted into the district to do so). If you’re looking for historical evidence, I discuss the differences in the ways the George W. Bush and John Kerry Campaigns ran their respective ground games in 2004 in Activism, Inc (Stanford University Press 2006).