Black Lives Matter may be the largest movement in the history of the United States




Black Lives Matter protests on June 6

Sources: Crowd Counting Consortium, analysis by Edwin Chow and New York Times | Note: The Times partnered with Edwin Chow, an associate professor at Texas State University, to count protesters based on available aerial images from June 6, and added those estimates to data from the Crowd Counting Consortium. The counting efforts are still ongoing, so the map is not comprehensive and the totals shown are an average of high and low estimates.

The recent Black Lives Matter protests peaked on June 6, when half a million people flocked to nearly 550 locations across the United States. That was a single day in more than a month of protests that still continue to this day.

Four recent surveys, including one released this week by Civis Analytics, a Democratic data firm, suggest that between 15 and 26 million people in the United States have participated in protests over the death of George Floyd and others in recent weeks.

These figures would make the recent protests the largest movement in the country’s history, according to interviews with academics and crowd-counting experts.


Number of people in the United States who said they protested, according to polls

Note: Surveys are of the adult population in the United States

“I have never seen self-reports of participation in such high protests for a specific topic in such a short period,” said Neal Caren, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who studies social movements in the United States.

While it is possible that more people said they protested than they actually did, even if only half told the truth, polls suggest that more than seven million people participated in recent protests.

The 2017 Women’s March had a participation of between three and five million people in a single day, but it was a highly organized event. Taken together, the recent more organic protests by Black Lives Matter appear to have far exceeded those numbers, according to polls.

“It really is hard to overstate the scale of this movement,” said Deva Woodly, an associate professor of politics at the New School.

Professor Woodly said that civil rights marches in the 1960s were considerably fewer in number. “If we add up all those protests during that period, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of people, but not millions,” he said.

Even protests to topple government leadership or for independence are often successful when they involve 3.5 percent of the population at their peak, according to a review of the international protests by Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School who co-leads the Crowd Counting Consortium, which collects data on the size of the multitude of political protests.

Why is this movement different?

Accurate participation in the protests is difficult to count and has led to some famous disputes. An amalgamation of estimates from organizers, the police, and local news often make up the official total.

But the crowd-counting team counts reveal extraordinary scale numbers. On June 6, for example, at least 50,000 people flocked to Philadelphia, 20,000 at Chicago’s Union Park, and as many as 10,000 at the Golden Gate Bridge, according to estimates by Edwin Chow, an associate professor at Texas State University and researchers at the Consortium. crowd counting.

Philadelphia on June 6, 2020, when 50,000 to 80,000 people protested.

Source: EarthCam

Across the United States, there have been more than 4,700 protests, or an average of 140 a day, since the first protests began in Minneapolis on May 26, according to an analysis by the Times. Participation has varied from dozens to tens of thousands in approximately 2,500 small towns and large cities.






Protests against racism and

police violence per day

Protests against racism and

police violence per day

Protests against racism and

police violence per day


Source: Crowd Counting Consortium

“The geographic spread of the protest is a really important feature and helps to point out the depth and breadth of support for a movement,” said Kenneth Andrews, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

One of the reasons there have been protests in so many places in the United States is the endorsement of organizations like Black Lives Matter. While the group does not necessarily lead every protest, it does provide materials, guidance and a framework for new activists, Professor Woodly said. Those activists are turning to social media to quickly share the details of the protest to a wide audience.

Black Lives Matter has been around since 2013, but there has been a big shift in public opinion about the movement, as well as broader support for the recent protests. A deluge of public support from organizations like the NFL and NASCAR for Black Lives Matters may also have encouraged supporters who would generally stay on the sidelines to get involved.

Protests can also benefit from a country that is more conditioned to protest. The confrontational stance the Trump administration has taken on issues like weapons, climate change and immigration has led to more protests than under any other presidency since the Cold War.

According to a survey by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in five Americans said they had participated in a protest since the start of the Trump administration, and 19 percent said they were new to protesting.

Who protests

More than 40 percent of counties in the United States, at least 1,360, have had a protest. Unlike past Black Lives Matter protests, nearly 95 percent of counties that recently had a protest are largely white, and nearly three-quarters of counties are more than 75 percent white.






Percentage of white population

in counties that had protests

Percentage of white population

in counties that had protests

Percentage of white population

in counties that had protests

Percentage of white population

in counties that had protests


The New York Times·Source: Census 2018 through Social Explorer; Protest Database of the Crowd Counting Consortium; New York Times Database of Protests

“Without questioning the reality and importance of widespread white support for the movement in the early 1960s, the number of whites who participated steadily in the struggle was comparatively small, and certainly nothing like the percentages we have seen in recent years. years. weeks, “said Douglas McAdam, a professor emeritus at Stanford University who studies social movements.

According to the Civis Analytics survey, the movement appears to have attracted protesters who are younger and wealthier. The age group with the highest proportion of protesters were those under the age of 35 and the income group with the highest proportion of protesters were those who earned more than $ 150,000.

Half of those who said they protested said it was the first time they had engaged in a form of activism or demonstration. Most said they saw a video of police violence against protesters or the black community in the past year. And of those people, half said they made them more supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The protests collide with another watershed moment: the country’s most devastating pandemic in modern history.

“Being at home and not being able to do as much could be amplifying something that is already critical, something that is already a powerful catalyst, and that’s the video,” said Daniel Q. Gillion, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has written various books on protests and politics.

“If you are not moved by the George Floyd video, you have nothing inside,” he said. “And that catalyst can now be amplified by the fact that people probably have more time to participate in protest activities.”

In addition to the increase in protests in Juneteeth, the number of protests has decreased significantly in the past two weeks, according to the Crowd Counting Consortium.

But the amount of change that the protests have been able to bring about in such a short time is significant. In Minneapolis, the City Council promised to dismantle its police department. In New York, lawmakers struck down a law that kept police disciplinary records secret. Cities and states across the country passed new laws prohibiting strangulation. Mississippi lawmakers voted to remove his state flag, which includes a Confederate battle emblem.

“It appears that, for everyone, these protests are accomplishing what very few do: launch a period of significant, sustained and widespread political and social change,” said Professor McAdam. “It seems that we are experiencing a turning point in social change, which is as rare in society as it is potentially potential.”

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