Why Violent Protests Work

Laura Bassett, GQ, with Prof. Daniel Q. Gillion, University of Pennsylvania

This conversation with author and University of Pennsylvania professor Daniel Q. Gillion examines the history of protests in America and how they've inspired actual policy change. Highlights include:

  • "The reality is that—objectively examining protests—violent protest has a positive impact on political and policy change. Nonviolent protest brings awareness to an issue; violent protest brings urgency to an issue... naturally I don’t condone violence, and I’m not pushing for individuals to engage in unlawful behavior, but if we are objectively examining the influence of protests, we’re being disingenuous to say that violent protest does not bring individuals to the table, that it does not lead to policy change. That simply isn’t true."
  • "What protest does, especially Ferguson, is it fits in this larger narrative of racial and ethnic minority protests that have pushed back on police brutality throughout the years. So we’re seeing the Ferguson arrests around 2014—what’s the impact it has? It begins to bring awareness and urgency to this issue. Shortly after that, there’s more attention and more interest in Black Lives Matter. There are more protests in 2016, and Black Lives Matter begins to grow in strength. By the time we get to 2020, the reason why George Floyd becomes a protest that bubbles over into the streets and leads to various forms of violence and resonates across the world is because of all the protests that preceded it. George Floyd is not necessarily the catalyst—it’s the crescendo."
  • "When you look at the positive support towards Black Lives Matter, it’s highly correlated with individuals voting. They’re more likely to turn out and when they turn out, they vote for the Democratic candidate. More African Americans turned out in 2012 than in 2016, but when you look at the areas where BLM protests took place, we saw increases in black voter turnout even as other areas saw a drop. So the backlash to these protests will not have the electoral outcome people think it will."
  • "...these protests cause a spike in donations to liberal candidates. This is also true for conservative protests—the more protests there are, the more money people donate to conservative candidates and causes. But the current protests are part of a blue wave. If history is any guide, we should see a major change take place in 2020."
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