Power of Protest

Reagan Quote

If you’ve ever sacrificed your Saturday to attend a political rally or protest, you’ve probably wondered if your effort really made a difference.

Protests throughout history have had major influence on changing political structure. The Boston Tea Party, French Revolution, Tienanmen Square, Vietnam anti-war protests, and Civil Rights marches are just a few that come to mind.

Recently, we’ve seen two large activist waves in the United States: the Tea Party and Occupy movements. During the 2009-2010 Tea Party uprising, many activists spent hours building a network of protestors, engaging online, educating others, and donating to the cause. But was the Tea Party really the catalyst for the sweeping political change that occurred in 2010?

Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

A new study on the effects of the Tea Party shows strong evidence that protests can build political movements that ultimately affect policy decisions.

The study defines the Tea Party movement as a conservative-libertarian political movement in the United States that has organized protests and supported candidates for elected office since 2009. It broke onto the scene on Tax Day, April 15, 2009, through coordinated rallies around the country.

The study was conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School, the Department of Economics at Stockholm University, and the American Enterprise Institute. Their findings point to the power of protest:

We find that the 2009 Tax Day Tea Party protests increased turnout in favor of the Republican Party in the subsequent Congressional elections, and increased the likelihood that incumbent Democratic representatives decided to retire prior to the elections. Incumbent policymaking was also affected, as representatives responded to large protests in their district by voting more conservatively in Congress. In addition, we provide evidence that these effects were driven by a persistent increase in the movement’s strength. Protests led to more grassroots organizing, to larger subsequent protests and monetary contributions, and to stronger conservative beliefs…

The research found that bigger the protest, the more powerful the results. Even one more person showing up had a multiplier effect:

For every protester, Republican votes increased by seven to fourteen votes.

This goes to show that participating with a community of activists is a powerful impetus for political change, and even revolutionary change. Making a stand for what is right is important in and of itself, but it is encouraging to have evidence that shows that it actually makes a difference.

Read the whole study here and share this post with an activist friend who needs encouragement!