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Protest movements with limited violence can sometimes be effective

28 April 2022
Eric Shuman
Eric Shuman

Protest movements with limited violence can sometimes be effective. That's what the 2020 BlackLivesMatter protests demonstrate. This conclusion is contained in the research of PhD student Eric Shuman and colleagues. The study was recently published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

The murder of George Floyd unleashed one of the largest mass mobilizations in U.S. history, including both nonviolent and violent BlackLivesMatter (BLM) protests in the summer of 2020. Many have since asked: Did violence within the largely nonviolent movement help or hurt its goals?

Impact on BLM policy goals and biases

To answer this question, Shuman and his colleagues used a dataset of all 2020 BlackLivesMatter protests with survey data that included measures of prejudice and support for police reform.

Protests were not associated with a reduction in prejudice but were associated with an increase in support for police reform. In particular, a mix of nonviolent and violent protests was associated with an increase in support for police reform among conservatives living in liberal areas.

Disruptive effect

According to Shuman, the biggest lesson overall is that protests need to be somewhat disruptive. "They need to disrupt people's ordinary everyday lives a little bit in order to create some pressure to incentivize supporting policy concessions in line with the demands of the protestors. That doesn't mean that the protests have to be violent but they do have to be a little disruptive. For example, a small amount of violence mixed into a large non-violent movement is disruptive. As a result, people are willing to support policy changes so that their lives can return to normal and tensions calm down. At the same time, prejudice did not diminish. This shows how complex the role of protests is in bringing about change – they may not be effective for every kind of goal.”

Effectiveness of protest

This study demonstrates the importance of multiple measures of protest effectiveness. And it suggests that mass protest can be effective in advancing the goals of the movement. Even if it is a mix of nonviolence and violence.

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Information

Eric Shuman

Eric Shuman, Siwar Hasan-Aslih, Martijn van Zomeren,Tamar Saguy en Eran Halperin (2022)
‘Protest movements involving limited violence can sometimes be effective: Evidence from the 2020 BlackLivesMatter Protests.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) .

Last modified:28 April 2022 3.13 p.m.
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