Do Violent Protests Produce Social Change?

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Not usually. As Reason summarizes,

When it comes to enacting social change, are broken windows and displaced limousine drivers merely the cost of doing business? No. In fact, violent and destructive protesting is less efficient than nonviolent protesting, according to the research.

Why Civil Resistance Works,” a study written by Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth,1 found that nonviolent tactics were much more effective than violent tactics. Researchers surveyed anti-governmental resistance movements in the 20th century in a variety of countries: nonviolent means achieved their aims 53 percent of the time, while the violent means worked only 26 percent of the time.

“Whereas governments easily justify violent counterattacks against armed insurgents, regime violence against nonviolent movements is more likely to backfire against the regime,” wrote the authors. “Potentially sympathetic publics perceive violent militants as having maximalist or extremist goals beyond accommodation, but they perceive nonviolent resistance groups as less extreme, thereby enhancing their appeal and facilitating the extraction of concessions through bargaining.”

Another study, by Princeton University Assistant Professor of Politics Omar Wasow, found that violent extremist movements in the United States in the 1960s and ’70s inspired a conservative backlash that helped elect Richard Nixon to the presidency. Nonviolent protests, on the other hand, did not provoke a backlash.

“In the 1960s, black-led protests that escalate to violence cause increased conservatism in white voters who live nearby,” Wasow wrote in an email to Reason. “Conversely, I find that proximity to black-led nonviolent protests, particularly those in which the state engages in brutal repression, are associated with increased liberalism among white voters.”

The science isn’t exactly settled: Wasow said other scholars have found that violent protests occasionally prompt the government to implement favorable social policies as a means of de-escalating the violence.

“If the recent modest amount of protest-related property damage remains an outlying event, I’d expect very little effect,” wrote Wasow.

Still, violent tactics—such as those displayed against Spencer—run a risk of provoking a conservative counter-reaction. Historically, authority figures have known this. When President Nixon was informed by an aide that campus violence was expected to increase in the coming year, his response was, “Good!” Nixon understood what too many leftists do not: Violent resistance is often the health of the state.

The article concludes,

The Women’s March sent a message that Trump is unpopular. The black bloc rioting likely accomplished the exact opposite: undermined public sympathy for Trump resistors.

It certainly seems like the organizers of the Women’s March chose the more tactically effective route. Wasow said the march might have the same kind of lasting effect as the Tea Party movement, which accomplished many of its political goals…I won’t say violence never works as a means of advancing social progress, but the Women’s March is powerful evidence that orderly resistance is the better tactic for the struggles that lie ahead. And recall that during the primaries, when protesters shut down Trump’s speeches, this made Republican voters more favorably disposed toward Trump.

With that, enjoy this rap battle between two advocates of nonviolent resistance.

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