As the Electors meet, Protests get much more dangerous

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.

Resisters in the 2020 Election

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.

The Women’s March Marches Again

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.

Door-Knocking in Election 2020

Yesterday, Lara Putnam and I published a piece in the American Prospect called “Door-Knocking in a Life-or-Death campaign.” The piece compares the very different ground games being run by the Trump and Biden campaigns during the pandemic. Although rumors were flying yesterday afternoon that the Biden campaign was going to begin canvassing as part of the final month’s GOTV plans, with today’s announcement that the Trumps have COVID, it’s unclear how the campaigns will move forward.

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).

Bracing for More Resistance

As America wakes up to the news that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died, many political groups and Republican Senators have already started pushing forward with their political agenda. Plans are underway to respond with resistance in the streets.

Here is the most recent Resistance Timeline since the 2018 midterm elections (which feel like a lifetime ago). I expect to be adding more to the timeline in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

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.