New Orleans Remember not so long ago when one self-proclaimed wizard after another, usually in power in some corporation, foundation, or governmental post, declared that “protest is passé.” Those of us so atavistic and anachronistic were simply out of step with modern times, the power of internet petitions, and the civil, on-our-knees begging and pleading for change that has been proven to work so well. Not! There were always suggestions for what might substitute and make their lives easier, even if any change was forestalled or forsaken. Vote instead. Lobby your electeds. Be patient. Work harder. Learn to live with it.
Of course, this was before the recent eruption of protests that are still reverberating throughout the world today, but no matter, it turns out we were right all the time when we headed for the streets to join others and make our voices heard. Reading Daniel Gillion’s recently published book, The Loud Minority: Why Protests Matter in American Democracy, I can now cite chapter and verse proving why protest moves the needle on people, money, and votes. Don’t misunderstand me. I always knew this was the case, and I’ve spent my life living it, but now I have proof!
Gillion is a University of Pennsylvania political science professor so he brings the full weight of surveys, voter analysis, and donor reports to bear to try and establish how protest works to make change happen. Simply put, he found that the more there are protests in any particular geography, and the more local the better, the more politicians were forced to respond. Protests became part of the public “conversation” that communicated to the broader public the cues that they needed in order to instruct their own actions.
Protests inform liberal voters to act, but he also found, contrary to all of the nervous Nellies out there, that the backlash was minimal. The more protests, the more people turned out to vote, and the more likely they were to vote for progressives. Furthermore, and we can see this now among us, the frequency of protests sends messages to potential candidates that their “time is now” to run for office against establishment or more conservative officeholders.
Protests also loosened the pocketbooks of potential supporters of change who moved to donate. Not necessarily on a local basis, but wherever they saw that their contributions might make a difference and keep the fire burning. We certainly see even more evidence of this in the surge of contributions after the BLM and George Floyd outpourings.
The bottom line is clear. Contrary to some popular wisdom, if you want change, and god knows we need and demand it now, it’s time to rock the boat and hit the streets. It might make all of the difference in the world.