The Psychology of Effective Protest
New research shows why nonviolence works better than extreme tactics.
First, the researchers found that the study’s participants identified less with and were less willing to support a fictional group of animal-rights protesters who broke into an animal-testing facility than with those who marched peacefully. Then, both African-American and white participants felt more support toward Black Lives Matter protesters if they read that the protesters chanted anti-racist slogans than if they encouraged violence against police officers.
Finally, and perhaps most topically: The researchers showed people a video of a “moderate” anti-Trump protest, in which protesters held signs and chanted, as well as a news report about an “extreme” protest, in which protestors caused a traffic jam and blocked Trump supporters from reaching a Trump rally. People shown the extreme anti-Trump protests actually supported Trump more—an effect that occurred, to varying degrees, among liberals and conservatives alike.
The findings echo the results of another recent study by Princeton University’s Omar Wasow, which found that nonviolent, civil-rights protests of the 1960s boosted votes among whites for Democratic candidates, who supported civil rights, while violent protests increased support for Republicans, and might have even tipped the the 1968 election for Richard Nixon.
“You want everyone who can get into the streets,” said [Dana Fisher, a sociologist at the University of Maryland]. But in the longer term, there could be downsides to harping too much on Trump, when many of the policy preferences he has stated or hinted at with his appointments — repealing the Affordable Care Act, restricting access to abortion, and others — are also held by plenty of other conservative politicians. So if the protest movements arising now are all anti-Trump, all the time, [the University of Michigan political sociologist] Michael Heaney said, there’s a heightened risk “they never achieve the policy changes they were aiming to achieve,” because once Trump leaves office it saps the movement’s energy.
But even as movements focus on issues, the research shows that they should do their best to welcome all comers. And the best way to do that is to appear, frankly, welcoming. “What do you do to build a coalition?” Wasow said. “You’ve got to appeal not to the liberals, but to the moderates.” In his study about the 1960s, that meant enticing people who weren’t vocally pro-integration, but weren’t unpersuadable either.
In the current context, he said, “These are people who might vote for Obama and vote for Trump.”
I agree that protests that will influence others’ need to be non-violent. Non-violence is the standard set by Ghandi and it won India their freedom. And a good dose of non-violent, passive resistance. We need to be seen as strong, determined and logical. The moderates and those who are unsure about their vote for the present government, need to see us in the streets for the issues that touch the lives of the marginalized. We need to keep showing them the whole person whether it is a Muslim, Jew, Black, or disabled person. We need to show them the poor, the hungry, those for whom our hearts are filled with compassion.
We need to take these people, the “they” and turn them into real people. Give them a name, show their humanity and suffering, help the conservatives see each individual as a human being and not just some lump of clay that is costing them increased tax dollars.
It is also important that we as liberals and progressives show a multi-faceted picture to the country and to the world. We need to be out in the streets as women and feminist men; as able-bodied and disabled people; as young, old and middle-aged; as poor people as well as those who have more financial options. We need to show them our love for each other by showing black, white, asian, native, Hispanic, Muslim, Jew, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu and all others working together and caring for and about each other. This is important because we are the face and the heart of America. The generations of immigrants and refugees who came here are the strength of America. Their determination, hard work and belief in themselves and the American dream is what makes our society different.
The administration announced yesterday that the EPA is to look over the water regulations and decide if any are harmful to the economics of our country. Harmful to our environment isn’t even a factor. If the environment that we live in and that sustains Mother Earth doesn’t even count except as an economic consideration, then it is going to take a lot of work to introduce the sitting government and the Trump supporters to marginalized people, not as a abstract notion, but as real flesh and blood people with the same needs, concerns, hopes and dreams that they have. This is the real work of the resistance: The American Resistance.
During WWII The French Resistance fought the Nazis and did much to save lives, smuggle Jews out, break German code and make the plans of the Nazis go awry. Today, we also have a movement, the American Resistance. Hopefully it will not require the same long-term dedication but if it does, we will be there to show that acceptance, compassion and love are the mainstays of a great society.