Do protests work?

Release Date
February 16, 2017


Free Speech

Do violent protests on college campuses actually lead to change? What about peaceful protests? Dr. Fabio Rojas says that HOW you protest is crucial.

    1. Why riots happen (blog post): To learn why protests sometimes do turn violent, check out this study on the causes of riots. 
    2. 4 rules for making a protest work, according to experts (Vox article): Brian Resnick explains what protestors should do to create lasting change 
    3. Protesting on Campus – Free Speech on Campus Ep. 3 – Learn Liberty (video): Professor Laura Kipnis talks her experience being the subject of a campus protest. 

Fabio Rojas:
A lot of scholars in sociology and political science have spent a lot of time trying to answer this question. They ask questions like, “Does protest work? When does it work? What are the best ways to protest?” A lot of that research is based on analysis of civil rights and black power. There are a couple of basic findings.
Number one is, that protesting is better than not protesting. There are a lot of groups that put their ideas out there, and without some sort of action or follow-up, they don’t get listened to. It’s a very basic finding but it’s a very important one.
Another thing that we found out, from a lot of research, including my research, is the way you protest matters. In one of the articles that I wrote, a little while back, I asked the question, “Does the way college student protest occur, the strategy, does that affect the likelihood that the students will get what they want?” In this case, I was focusing on academic reform. I was focusing on ethnic studies. I asked the question, “Well, do different kinds of college protest lead to ethnic studies or not?”
The answer is yes. First of all, you have to do it. Campuses without protests are less likely to have ethnic studies than campuses with protests, but even more interestingly, campuses where there’s a lot of nonviolent protests, tend to do better than those with violent protest. If you go through, if you look at examples of campuses with, say, fights between students, property damage, that sort of thing, they’re a lot less likely to have ethnic studies. What I argue in my book on the black power movement is that when you have violent protest, when you have very violent protest, that delegitimizes your movement in the eyes of the public. The way protest matters is very important.