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Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest Movement in U.S. History

Revolt TV How Black Lives Matter may be the largest movement in American history - REVOLT
Revolt TV How Black Lives Matter may be the largest movement in American history - REVOLT

Recent polls suggest that about 15 million to 26 million people in the U.S. have participated in recent protests.

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

Four recent polls — including one released this week by Civis Analytics, a data science firm that works with businesses and Democratic campaigns — suggest that about 15 million to 26 million people in the United States have participated in demonstrations 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 scholars and crowd-counting experts.

Number of people in the U.S. who said they protested, according to polls

POLLPCT. WHO PROTESTEDIMPLIED POPULATIONPOLLING PERIODKaiser Family Foundation (n = 1296)10%26 millionJune 8-14Civis Analytics (4446)9%23 millionJune 12-22N.O.R.C. (1310)7%18 millionJune 11-15Pew (9654)6%15 millionJune 4-10

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

“I’ve never seen self-reports of protest participation that high for a specific issue over such a short period,” said Neal Caren, associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who studies social movements in the United States.

While it’s possible that more people said they protested than actually did, even if only half told the truth, the surveys suggest more than seven million people participated in recent demonstrations.

The Women’s March of 2017 had a turnout of about three million to five million people on a single day, but that was a highly organized event. Collectively, the recent Black Lives Matter protests — more organic in nature — appear to have far surpassed those numbers, according to polls.

“Really, it’s hard to overstate the scale of this movement,” said Deva Woodly, an associate professor of politics at the New School.

Professor Woodly said that the civil rights marches in the 1960s were considerably smaller in number. “If we added up all those protests during that period, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people, but not millions,” she said.

Even protests to unseat government leadership or for independence typically succeed when they involve 3.5 percent of the population at their peak, according to a review of international protests by Erica Chenoweth, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School who co-directs the Crowd Counting Consortium, which collects data on crowd sizes of political protests.

Why this movement is different

Precise turnout at protests is difficult to count and has led to some famous disputes. An amalgam of estimates from organizers, the police and local news reports often make up the official total.

But tallies by teams of crowd counters are revealing numbers of extraordinary scale. On June 6, for example, at least 50,000 people turned out in Philadelphia, 20,000 in Chicago’s Union Park, and up to 10,000 on the Golden Gate Bridge, according to estimates by Edwin Chow, an associate professor at Texas State University, and researchers at the Crowd Counting Consortium.

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

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

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