2020 Anti-Racism Protests and Their Aftermath in Connecticut

This is a guest post by Mason Holland, an undergraduate student at the University of Connecticut majoring in Political Science. He also serves as President of the Student Body.

In 2020, the United States bore witness to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests that arose in the wake of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and, most prominently, George Floyd. BLM protests have been cited as among the largest organized demonstrations in recent US history as Americans and world citizens alike protested police brutality, anti-racism, and called for substantive institutional and legal shifts pertaining to policing. What was the impact in the state of Connecticut?

From May 31 to December 31, 2020, 105 of Connecticut’s 169 towns held at least one protest, with some towns hosting multiple events. In total, there were 316 protests listed in the data of the Crowd Counting Consortium (CCC), with many events being concentrated in a few, specific towns. The towns that saw the most anti-racist protests were Southbury with 33, Hartford with 29, New Haven with 27, Bridgeport with 16 and Stamford with 14, all together accounting for about 37% of all Connecticut anti-racism protests listed in CCC data for that time period. 

On that list, Southbury is a notable anomaly, with the town of just under 20,000 accounting for the highest concentration of demonstrations. The anomaly can be attributed to the consistency of social justice group, Justice for Southbury, in holding anti-racist demonstrations on a weekly basis from late May to December of 2020. It is also important that the media reported on the weekly protests so that CCC could gather the information; the press may lose interest in weekly events, especially outside of major metropolitan areas.

While all the aforementioned demonstrations can be broadly categorized as anti-racism protests they generally differed in terms of the resulting impact of individual demonstrations. The evidence of impact is mixed, with some of it demonstrating a correlation between a protest and outcome and other stronger evidence substantiating a causal tie.

In New Haven and New London, demonstrators called for the removal of each town’s Christopher Columbus statue. In both cases, protest organizers argued that Christopher Colombus represented a deeply racist and colonial history of America and that honoring him with a statue was deeply offensive to residents of color. New London saw a series of demonstrations over late May and early June 2020 calling for a series of changes, including the removal of the Columbus statue. After multiple demonstrations and one in which a group of youth activists vandalized the statue, the Town Council voted to remove the statue on July 16, 2020. Statue removal occurred similarly in New Haven as demonstrations and instances of vandalism led to the New Haven City commission voting to remove the statue on June 24, 2020. In both cases, it is evident that the advent of anti-racism protests in 2020 were crucial and consequential in both statues being removed. 

In two other examples, the evidence is suggestive that protests led to policy change: the passage of the 2020 Police Accountability Bill and the simultaneous efforts to implement police reform in Connecticut. We see a correlation between the protests and the policy changes that followed. Despite being initially spurred by the killing of George Floyd, the Police Accountability Bill began to receive support from demonstrators in Connecticut in various ways. A Fairfield protest in June 2020 specifically called for House Bill 6004 to be passed through the Connecticut legislature. Protests in other towns, such as New Britain called for measures that ended up in the bill, such as the expansion of body camera use. These two demonstrations demonstrate preliminary evidence of a link between Anti-Racism demonstrations and the passage of the 2020 Police Accountability Bill. But we do not have enough evidence to state with certainty that they are causally linked.

In addition to protests that actively called for legislative action on police accountability, Hartford began to implement police reform in the wake of demonstrations. In June 2020, the city voted to “reduce and reorganize” the policing budget after days of demonstrations calling for reduced police allocation in favor of funding social services. While there is evidence to suggest a correlation between Connecticut demonstrations and police reform, there is not yet enough to suggest a causal link. 

A key recognition we made is that in a few of these towns, Bridgeport, New London, Hartford and New Haven in specific, there were several demonstrations that occurred pre-2020 that laid the groundwork for policy changes and implementation. For example, all of these towns saw demonstrations, relating to the death of Jayson Negron, police brutality, and police reform stretching back months and years prior to May of 2020. This suggests that the history of protests allowed time for these demands to spread and develop within individual communities. Previous protests raised people’s consciousness about the issues. 

This research is preliminary in establishing the true range of impacts that anti-racism protests in 2020 have had on Connecticut. It also opens future avenues of research that can be further developed through a closer analysis of those demonstrations through interviews, research into related government documents, and the systematic assessment  of police reform and policy changes that were spurred on and inspired by anti-racism demonstrations.

Escalating Right-Wing Attacks on the LGBTQ+ Community

In 2022, the American right has sharply escalated its attacks on gay and transgender people and the broader queer community. This escalation shows up in the Crowd Counting Consortium’s data as a steep and sustained increase in the rate of right-wing demonstrations pushing anti-LGBTQ+ claims.

These anti-LGBTQ+ actions represent a still-modest but growing fraction of all right-wing protests and demonstrations in the U.S. In CCC’s data, the monthly share of right-wing events with anti-LGBTQ+ claims stayed at or close to zero from the start of collection in 2017 until mid-2022. By September of this year, however, it had increased to about 16 percent.

A substantial share of these recent anti-LGBTQ+ events have explicitly targeted transgender people.

Drag shows and Drag Queen Story Hours have also been a common target of the current hate wave. So far in 2022, CCC has logged more than 40 actions targeting these events, including at least 15 so far in September.

Firearms have also become more common at anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations. Armed protests with these theme are still the exception rather than the rule, but they have clearly been more frequent this year than they were last year. (CCC only started consistently tracking this and other tactical specifics in 2021.)

That escalation in intimidation and terrorism stems, in part, from violent groups like the Proud Boys shifting their attention to anti-LGBTQ+ issues and actions as right-wing media and influencers increasingly harp on these theme, as watchdogs like Media Matters have documented.

If you’re wondering just how ugly it’s getting, look no further than a September 24 protest against a drag bingo event at First Christian Church in Katy, Texas. Promoted on Steve Bannon’s War Room show, that protest drew not just Proud Boys but also Patriot Front and members of the Aryan Freedom Network waving flags with swastikas.

What these charts don’t show (but CCC is also tracking) are the frequent and usually successful counters to these anti-queer protests. You can see one in reporter Candace Bernd’s Twitter thread on the recent protest in Katy, but there’ve been many others, too.

These counters are often joyful in tone and creative in tactics. At recent pride festivals in Provo, Utah, and Boise, Idaho, for example, some counter-protesters wore large angel wings and stood in a line to block peoples’ view of the protesting bigots. In Helena, Montana, counter-protesters danced to music from a speaker and blew an air horn to drown out protesters’ shouts. Outside the Arlington Hills Library in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a counter-protester parked their car near shouting Proud Boys and cranked up the stereo while others formed a wall with blankets and banners.

Counter-protest at Boise Pride on September 11, 2022. Photo credit: Redoubt Antifascists (@RedoubtAFA on Twitter)

In other cases, armed community defense groups are helping hold the line. At the counter-protest outside that recent drag bingo fundraiser in Katy, some participants openly carried firearms. On August 28 in Roanoke, Texas, the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club provided armed security in the face of an protest at a drag brunch event. Back in June, the same group led an open-carry march through the street in Dallas in response to protests against drag shows at local establishments.

This is part of a broader trend we’re seeing in the CCC data toward more frequent armed protests and counter-protests organized by groups on the left (broadly speaking), including socialists and anarchists. As the chart below shows, these remain rare, but they’ve been more common in the past several months than they were in late 2021 and early 2022.

Technical Note: All of the charts in this post were made with R using the compiled and augmented version of the CCC dataset posted to the Nonviolent Action Lab‘s GitHub repository on September 28, 2022. Right-wing actions are identified by a 2 in the ‘valence’ column, and we look for the “lgbtq rights” tag in the ‘issues’ column to identify actions associated with that theme. To look for armed protests, we apply the following regular expression to the text in the ‘participant_measures’ column:

"(?<!water |squirt |bb |stun )\\b(hand ?)?guns?|rifle|(?:fire|side)arm"

Most of the material in this post was originally shared as a Twitter thread.

Demographic Change and Anti-CRT Protest in U.S. Counties

Last week, NBC News ran a piece linking changes in the racial diversity of student bodies in U.S. schools to recent pushback against school districts’ diversity, equity, and inclusion measures. Per its authors, Tyler Kingkade and Nigel Chiwaya,

Student enrollment data suggests that [conflicts over these diversity and inclusion measures] tend to occur in communities that experienced significant demographic shifts in recent decades.

As someone whose dissertation centered on competition theories or race and ethnic relations, Kingkade and Chiwaya’s hypothesis rings true to me. As a social scientist, though, I found their research design wanting. Instead of looking at changes in racial diversity and the occurrence of recent pushback in all school districts nationwide, or even in a random sample of districts, the authors looked only at “33 cities and counties where school districts have faced rancor over equity initiatives this year in at least three recent school board meetings,” according to NBC News’ tracking of media reports. And they found that, in 22 of those 33 districts, “The exposure of white students to students of color increased more than that national average.”

This kind of design is called selection on the dependent variable. Researchers identify cases that experienced an event or change of interest and then look for commonalities among them to see what might be driving that change.

The problem with this design is that it doesn’t tell you whether those common elements differentiate the cases studied from cases that didn’t experience the event or change of interest, which is what you really want to know when you’re trying to draw inferences about cause and effect. Kingkade and Chiwaya nod in this direction by comparing changes in school diversity in their set of 33 districts to the national average, but that’s not as robust a test as we’d ideally like to see.

Like I said, I’m a social scientist, and I happen to work on a project that collects data on protest activity in the United States, including against critical race theory and other concepts connected to the school equity, diversity, and inclusion measures discussed by Kingkade and Chiwaya. So, I thought I’d take a crack at their idea, but with a statistical model applied ot a larger sample that escapes this problem of selection on the dependent variable, and with some other features that also affect, or at least co-vary, with counties’ propensity to protest.

To be clear, I’m not exactly replicating what Kingkade and Chiwaya did. Their analysis used school districts as its units of observation; their event of interest was people showing up repeatedly at school board meetings in 2021 to complain about diversity, equity, and inclusion measures; and they looked at change in the demographic make-up of student bodies in those districts as a potential driver. By contrast, my analysis uses counties as the unit of observation; my event of interest is the occurrence of at least one protest in 2021 at which participants complained about critical race theory; and I’m looking at demographic changes in the county as a whole as potential drivers, rather than in the student body in particular. Also notable, while some of the protests considered in my analysis occurred at or around school board meetings, not all of them did.

Okay, so what did I find?

First, it’s important to note that only a small fraction of counties have actually seen any protests against critical race theory in 2021. Of the 3,223 counties in the United States, CCC has only recorded anti-CRT events in 72 of them, or about 2.2 percent. Of those 72 counties, 60 had just one anti-CRT protest; eight had two protests; three had three protests; and one had six. By contrast, in the peak part of the George Floyd Uprising in June and July 2020, CCC recorded protests against racism in 1,400 counties (43 percent). So, while protests against CRT have garnered a fair bit of media attention this year, they haven’t exactly mushroomed, at least not so far.

Because these events are so rare, I decided to treat their occurrence as a binary outcome (any vs. none) rather than trying to model counts of events or participants, as I’d prefer to do if there were more variation in those things. So, instead of something like a Poisson or negative binomial model, I’m just running good old logistic regression.

For demographic change, I tried differences in two different measures, both estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 and 2019 five-year American Community Surveys: 1) change in percent white alone (i.e., not white and some other race(s)), and 2) change in percent foreign born. Per competition theory and consistent with Kingkade and Chiwaya, I expected to find that, other things being equal, counties which experienced larger declines in the white share of the population or larger increases in the share of the population born outside the U.S. from 2009 to 2019 would be more likely to have seen protests against CRT in 2021. Because these two measures are interrelated, I fit a separate model for each.

As for what other things we should hold equal, I included several in my model: total population (logged), median household income (logged), whites as a share of the county population in 2009 (to get a “pre-treatment” take on local demographics), and the share of the presidential vote won by GOP candidate John McCain in 2008 (to get a “pre-treatment” take on local partisan loyalties). Because prior analysis leads me to expect a non-linear relationship between GOP vote share and these events, I used a generalized additive model (GAM) with smoothing splines for that one covariate.

The first chart below plots the predicted probability of any anti-CRT events in 2021 across the observed range of changes in percent white, holding all the other socio-demographic covariates constant at their median values and holding the 2008 GOP vote share constant at 50 percent. The second does the same with changes in percent foreign born. In both plots, the vertical dashes along the x-axis show the distributions of those quantities (change in percent white or change in percent foreign born, respectively) in the observed data.

As I read those charts (and the tables summarizing the relevant models, which I won’t dump here), I see some support for the hypothesis that demographic changes are helping to drive recent right-wing mobilization against anti-racist education, which often gets shorthanded by its opponents this year to “critical race theory.” With both measures of demographic change, the effects work in the expected direction, and they are statistically significant (at the 0.05 level for change in percent white and the 0.01 level for change in percent foreign born). They are not substantively large, however. For percent white, the difference in the probability of any anti-CRT events from one end of the fat part of the distribution of observed values to the other (-0.2 to +0.2) is only about 0.005, or about 25 percent. For percent foreign born, it’s more like 0.01, or roughly double. That’s hardly trivial, but remember that most observed values are closer together than that.

So, on the whole, I’d say my analysis supports the view that different experiences with demographic change are contributing to local variation in recent backlash against purportedly leftist anti-racist education efforts in schools. Best I can tell, the effects aren’t large, but they do seem to be there at the margins, at least in the data I can assemble now. Where whites’ share of the population is shrinking faster or the foreign-born population is growing faster, people are more likely to gather in protest against anti-racist activism and ideas that some (many?) whites might construe as insulting or threatening. As others have noted, white grievance has effectively become the organizing principle of the Republican Party, and many whites apparently feel more aggrieved when they find that they’re encountering more and more people in their daily lives who don’t don’t share their racial identity.

Right-Wing Backlash Against COVID-19 Mitigation Measures

Over the past two months, mobilization against public-health measures meant to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. has swelled to levels that exceed the wave of protests against business closures and stay-at-home orders around the start of the pandemic in 2020, Crowd Counting Consortium (CCC) data show. And, so far, the current surge shows no signs of abating.

The figure immediately below charts daily counts of protest events in the CCC dataset that had the COVID-19 pandemic as a major theme and were labeled as right-wing. In the CCC data, events related to COVID are generally labeled “right-wing” when they oppose public-health measures such as mask or vaccination requirements, whether or not the protesters explicitly identify themselves in a partisan fashion. So, for all practical purposes, these are events at which participants were protesting against those kinds of mandates, usually on grounds that those mandates infringe upon their personal liberty, parental prerogatives, or “medical freedom.” (Consistent with CCC’s general practices, this set of events does not include protests voiced during comment sessions at meetings of bodies such as school boards or county councils, unless those protests deliberately and successfully disrupted or derailed the larger meeting.)

As the figure shows, the ongoing wave has already exceeded the one seen in spring 2020 in both intensity and duration, and it may not even have peaked yet. The single day with the most protest actions in the current wave happened just a few days ago, on August 28, with more than 60 events nationwide, many of them backed by the Tea Party Patriots.

The next figure plots daily sums of participants in those protest events, splitting the difference between the high and low crowd estimates recorded by CCC coders for each action. This chart suggests that the recent protests are not drawing larger crowds than the ones in 2020, even as there are more of them. (Note: estimates of crowd size are unavailable for roughly 40 percent of the events in the CCC data set, so these sums almost certainly underestimate the scale of participation in these events. That’s true for 2020 and 2021, however, so it probably doesn’t affect comparisons across the two waves.) 

The scale of the ongoing wave has varied widely across states. As shown in the bar chart below, the state with the most of these protests in the past two months by far is California, where opposition to COVID-19 public-health measures is thematically and organizationally intertwined with the effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom. Washington ranks second, due mostly to a statewide, single-day mobilization led by the group Unmask Our Kids Washington on Wednesday, August 18. Despite its liberal reputation, New York ranks third, and New Mexico and Florida follow close behind. Only Wyoming and Puerto Rico have yet to see any events in the current wave, or at least any that CCC was able to spot.

In per capita terms, however, California does not look so exceptional. As the next chart shows, relative to their population size, it’s New Mexico, New Hampshire (“Live Free or Die”), and Hawaii that have contributed proportionately the most to the current wave. Washington state still lands in the top five, but Idaho, the Dakotas, Montana, Oregon, Maine, and Alaska now show near the top of the list as well. (James C. Scott’s work on resistance to government from afar among hill peoples in Southeast Asia comes to mind…)

So, why is this happening now? As the person who’s been reading the news stories and social-media posts and watching the TV-news videos to code events during this period, I’d say it’s pretty clear that the current wave has two main catalysts.

  • The approach of the new school year, and the imposition of mask mandates in many districts where students will at least start the year attending school in person; and
  • COVID-19 vaccination requirements announced by many hospitals and other employers in the healthcare industry—and, in places like New York and Oregon, by city and state governments as well.

Mask mandates in schools were more often the focal point through much of July, but the wave really swelled in August as deadlines for vaccinations as a condition of employment at many healthcare facilities began to loom. In California, a group calling itself America’s Healthcare Workers for Medical Freedom has promoted dozens of demonstrations against COVID-19 vaccination requirements for healthcare workers on social media in recent weeks, most of them outside area hospitals. But similar demonstrations have occurred across the country in places like Staten Island, New York; Miami, Florida; and Memphis, Tennessee.

A crucial question we can’t answer clearly with our data is the extent to which the impetus for the current wave is coming from national conservative groups with broader goals, as opposed to local activists motivated specifically by frustrations over these public-health measures. The frequent appearance of groups like the Tea Party, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, and the Proud Boys in the lists of organizations involved with these events suggests that right-wing movements are looking to use frustrations over COVID public-health measures to boost recruitment and mobilize voters for upcoming elections to everything from local school boards to federal office. So, too, does the appearance of GOP office-holders and candidates at some of these events, including one this past Sunday on the steps of the state capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and one earlier in the month in Lansing, Michigan. Long-time observers of the anti-vaccine movement have also described how its leaders are exploiting public frustration over COVID mandates to push the Republican Party toward a broader anti-vaccination agenda. For now, though, we’ll have to leave more confident answers to the “grassroots vs. astroturf” question to the investigative reporters, who, as far as I can tell, are still digging.

Pro-Palestine Movement of 2021

In May 2021, opposition to Israeli occupation and the displacement of Palestinians set off a large wave of pro-Palestinian protest activity in the United States. The initial protests were especially motivated by the Israeli push to remove Palestinian families who live in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and replace them with Israeli Jews, but other factors contributed as well. During this period, the Crowd Counting Consortium has logged more than 460 events in the United States in support of Palestine with more than 130,000 total participants, and, more than a month later, the movement continues to unfold and evolve.

While protests against expulsions from Sheikh Jarrah had already occurred in Israel and Palestine, the first 2021 event captured in CCC’s dataset that specifically mentions “the current violence against Palestinians in Jerusalem” occurred in Boston’s Copley Square on May 1. One week later, Palestinian-led groups organized demonstrations in Brooklyn and Chicago to condemn Israeli actions and support Palestinian resistance in Sheikh Jarrah. 

Over the next several days, various pro-Palestinian organizations organized a series of “emergency” actions across the U.S. to decry the expulsions from Sheikh Jarrah and aggressive Israeli police actions in the al-Aqsa Mosque. As the charts below show, on Saturday, May 15, roughly 60 events nationwide drew tens of thousands of participants, and nearly as many turned out for a smaller number of events the next day. That peak weekend included massive marches in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles on Saturday and in Chicago and Dearborn, Michigan, on Sunday. The Chicago and L.A. marches both reportedly drew 20,000 or more, while high estimates for the D.C. and Dearborn events put turnout around 10,000 each. These are some of the largest political crowds CCC has seen in the United States in 2021 so far.

As of June 10, CCC had recorded events associated with this wave in 250 unique cities and towns. The geographic scope of the groundswell of recent activism in support of Palestine is also evident in the animated map below.

At many of these events, organizers and participants harshly condemned Israeli practices, using words such as ethnic cleansing, atrocities, genocide, and apartheid. Recent reports from Human Rights Watch and from B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, characterizing the Israeli system as apartheid have brought renewed attention to that wording. But it has long been the Palestinian contention that the Israeli system meets the international definition of apartheid. Moreover, organizers from Black Lives Matter–associated groups have used such messaging fairly consistently since at least 2016.

Indeed, at some events, anti-racist and abolitionist organizations and pro-Palestine demonstrators have expressed solidarity with one another, emphasizing related experiences with settler colonialism, white supremacy, and police brutality. The chant “From Ferguson to Palestine,” which existed prior to this protest wave, speaks to the ways in which many contemporary activists draw on Black radical traditions to articulate common cause between Palestinian and Black liberation struggles. Solidarity protests along these lines took place in Dearborn, Greenville, Portland, New York, L.A., and elsewhere. 

Sometimes the protests have explicitly challenged U.S. policy that favors Israel over Palestine. At numerous actions, protestors called for ending U.S. aid for Israel, about $3.8 billion annually. Pro-Palestine protesters have recently demonstrated at the offices of members of the U.S. Congress, at the U.S. State Department, and at the headquarters of corporations like Boeing, Raytheon, and Gulfstream. In the first few weeks of the current wave, several actions were held outside Israeli consular offices in places like Los Angeles and New York. In June, demonstrators in several cities have gathered to prevent Israel-flagged ships from off-loading cargo in U.S. ports.

A wave of mobilization in support of Israel has also occurred during this same period, but it has been much smaller. So far, CCC has recorded 57 explicitly pro-Israel events since May 1, 2021, with 10,000-15,000 total participants across 46 different cities and towns. The first third of those events all occurred on Wednesday, May 12, when the Israeli-American Council collaborated with local groups to organize rallies in 19 cities under the slogan “Stand Up Against Terror, Stand with Israel.” The early phase of these waves also saw a number of direct counter-protests and some physical clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators. 

As antisemitic attacks in the U.S. accelerated, the Israeli-American Council coordinated a second batch of rallies on Sunday, May 23, that emphasized opposition to antisemitism in addition to support for Israel. The single-largest in-person pro-Israel rally during this period took place in Cedarhurst, New York, on May 27 when an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 people came to a local park “to show support for Israel and Jewish people around the world.” A number of leading American Jewish organizations had declared May 27 a national Day of Action Against Antisemitism, and a virtual rally held that same day drew faith leaders and top lawmakers from across the country.

Among other things, these protests supporting Israel or Palestine serve as a reminder of how sensitive the protest environment is to current events. From January through April 2021, CCC tallied only two protests in the United States in support of Palestine and none in support of Israel.  

In our research thus far, we did not try to disentangle the various aspects of Israel-Palestine to ascertain exactly which sub-claims were the most important. The Sheikh Jarrah displacement, heavy-handed Israeli police actions in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, Israel not allowing Palestinians to congregate at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City during Ramadan, the IDF bombing of Gaza, and Israeli Jewish citizens attacking 1) Palestinians in Jerusalem and 2) Palestinian citizens of Israel inside pre-1967 Israel (e.g., in Lod, Haifa, Jaffa) all could affect the organization of, and participation in, pro-Palestine events. Each of these sub-claims reinforces certain aspects of a larger Palestinian narrative about Israeli occupation, settlements, and apartheid; Palestinian dispossession; and the need for Palestinian rights and/or statehood. While the exact sub-claims would vary, the same connection between specific issues and a larger narrative is happening among U.S. groups and protesters supportive of the Israeli government.

Protest Themes in Biden’s First 100 Days

On April 29, 2021—today—President Biden has held office for 100 days. While the president plans to mark the date by headlining a rally in Atlanta, we decided to use the occasion to look back at the major themes in U.S. protest activity in the first few months of the Biden Administration.

So far, the Crowd Counting Consortium has logged just over 5,300 events since Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021. Of those, roughly 60 percent (3,202) have been ostensibly left wing in their political orientation; 31 percent (1,664) nonpartisan or other; and only about 8 percent (441) right wing.

One hallmark of contentious politics under the Biden administration so far is that left– and right-wing activists are mostly talking past each other. When they gather in public spaces to voice political grievances, they are mostly emphasizing different issues and speaking in different terms.

Here, we’ll use two types of charts to show this pattern: tree maps and word clouds.

  • Tree maps use visual area to represent the relative frequency of categorical data. In the compiled version of the CCC dataset, we use natural language processing to attach tags to each event identifying the recurrent political issues raised by its participants. In the tree maps in this blog post, the size of each rectangle represents the relative frequency with which each of the three dozen recurrent issues we track were raised, where frequency is measured by counting the number of times each tag appears in the ‘issues’ field in the data.
  • Word clouds do something similar with words, only here it’s text instead of rectangles that represent each element (word) in the summary data, and the size of the text indicates relative frequency. The larger the text, the more frequent the word. The word clouds below are derived from the text coders use to summarize protesters’ grievances (the ‘claims’ column in the data). All that text gets dumped into one big pool; each unique word in that pool (minus words like “the” and “a”) gets identified and then counted; and then the word cloud visualizes the relative size of those counts.

As the tree map below shows, the dominant themes in left-wing protests over the first 100 days of the Biden presidency have been racism and policing. These two issues have figured in nearly three-quarters of the thousands of events we’ve observed so far. Other leading themes have included migration (e.g., calls to shut down ICE detention facilities, or to offer a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants); labor (including nationwide support for the unionization drive at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, which many activists also cast as a push against racism); the economy, and the environment (led by calls for urgent action on climate change and opposition to the Line 3 pipeline project). The coronavirus pandemic (covid) makes the top 10, but not by a lot, and is similar in frequency to concerns about democracy, education, and native peoples’ rights (which, in recent months, often co-occurs with ‘environment’).

The word cloud below visualizes the relative frequency of individual words in coders’ summarizations of protesters’ grievances. Here, we can see more clearly what any regular news reader would already know: when left-wing protesters are raising concerns about racism and policing, they are mostly demanding an end to police violence directed at Black people; calling for police who perpetrate that violence to be held accountable; and, often, calling for defunding or abolishing police departments. The past several weeks also saw a surge in activism rejecting racist violence and hate targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and a spate of events in response to the killing of Daunte Wright by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.

The dominant themes of right-wing protest in Biden’s first 100 days look very different. As the tree map below shows, racism has been only a tertiary issue, and policing is just one of a host of quaternary concerns. (And, it should be noted, these counts include events endorsing racism and some events expressing support for law enforcement.) On the right, the coronavirus pandemic (covid) has been the leading concern, followed by reproductive rights (mostly annual anti-abortion events around the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision), executive (a tag that gets attached to events expressing support for Donald Trump or opposition to President Biden), and civil rights (including concerns about censorship and freedom of speech).

The word cloud below helps clarify what, exactly, those right-wing COVID-related protests have emphasized: opposition to state– or county-mandated public-health measures meant to control the virus’ spread, including mask mandates and vaccinations. As captured in the word cloud, right-wing protesters often describe these mandates as a form of tyranny and cast themselves as agents of freedom and patriotism in their opposition to them. Donald Trump has been invoked at some of these events (76 of 441), but—somewhat surprising to me, anyway—he has not been a focal point of most right-wing rallies and demonstrations in Biden’s first 100 days. (That may change soon, however.)

Finally, we can also take an early look at patterns in the more than 1,600 events—some 31 percent of the total so far—that CCC identifies as neither left-wing nor right-wing. This set includes actions over most local and workplace issues, along with actions about wider concerns that aren’t particularly partisan (say, local criminal violence, or sexual assault). Here, the dominant theme is clearly the covid pandemic and its effects on schools (education), hospitals and nursing homes (healthcare), and access to housing. This is also where most strikes and other local worker actions show up (labor), along with recent flurries of events opposing the military coup in Myanmar or the war and purported genocide in Ethiopia’s Tigray region (foreign affairs).

A word cloud of claim summaries at local and nonpartisan events mostly reinforces what the tree map showed: in the first 100 days of the Biden Administration, the coronavirus pandemic has spurred a lot of protests over school closures and worker safety in hospitals and other places of business.

We’ll try to revisit this analysis later in the Biden presidency to see how these patterns change.  Meanwhile, If you’re interested in replicating or tweaking this analysis, you can find the R script used to generate these figures and stats on the Nonviolent Action Lab’s GitHub repository. The compiled CCC dataset is posted there as well, but please note that it changes with each weekly update, so you can expect to get slightly different results if you rerun this analysis after early May 2021.

FIPS Codes!

To make Crowd Counting Consortium (CCC) data easier to integrate with other datasets commonly used by scholars and journalists studying social and political behavior in the United States, we have added FIPS codes to the version shared on the Nonviolent Action Lab‘s GitHub repository (here).

Federal Information Processing Series (FIPS) codes are numbers that identify geographic areas. They include two-digit codes for states; three-digit codes for counties and county-like entities (e.g., Louisiana parishes, Alaskan boroughs, and independent cities in various states); six-digit codes for census tracts; and four-digit codes for blocks within tracts. As the U.S. Census Bureau explains, these numbers can be combined to generate unique IDs for geographic entities.

FIPS codes for smaller geographic entities are usually unique within larger geographic entities. For example, FIPS state codes are unique within nation and FIPS county codes are unique within state. Since counties nest within states, a full county FIPS code identifies both the state and the nesting county. For example, there are 49 counties in the 50 states ending in the digits “001”. To make these county FIPS codes unique, the state FIPS codes are added to the front of each county (01001, 02001, 04001, etc), where the first two digits refer to the state the county is in and the last three digits refer specifically to the county.

The compiled version of the CCC data now includes a column called fips_code that shows the unique five-digit (state + county) code for the county or county-like entity in which each event occurred (assuming that coders were able to associate the event with a specific locality). These codes make it much faster and cleaner to merge the CCC data or summaries of them with U.S. Census Bureau files and other U.S.-specific resources that already include FIPS codes for this purpose. Faster and cleaner merging, in turn, should make it easier for us and others to study the relationship between protest dynamics, social-structural conditions, and other forms of political behavior (e.g., voting).

If you’d like to see code we’re using to generate these IDs—mostly leaning on the lookup_code() function from the R package tigris, with custom handling of various exceptions—you can find it on the NAL repo, too (here). If you hit any snags or find any errors in this field in the dataset, please open an issue on GitHub to let us know. (And note the advice in the data dictionary on how to handle the likely omission of leading 0s when the data are ingested.)

Happy number-crunching!

Monthly Review: March 2021

So far, the Crowd Counting Consortium has recorded more than 1,800 protest events in the U.S. in March 2021, with roughly 88,000 to 125,000 participants in the events for which we were able to find information about crowd size (a little more than half of the events recorded). That’s an 80-percent increase in the number of events over the previous month and more than five times as many events as we recorded in March of 2020.

The political themes associated with U.S. protest activity in March did not change dramatically from February, but the predominance of the leading theme did.

  • Nearly 900 of the events recorded in March so far, or almost half of the month’s total, included claims about racism. Of those, more than 400 centered or touched on the theme of #StopAsianHate, opposing racist attacks on Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Another 50 events commemorated Breonna Taylor on or around the one-year anniversary of her death at the hands of Louisville police, and the start of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial for the murder of George Floyd spurred another surge of events associated with this theme near the end of the month.
  • Concerns about policing also figured prominently in March’s protest activity, usually in the form of opposition to police brutality and calls for greater police accountability or defunding or abolishing police. Fewer than two dozen of the more than 300 events associated with this theme in March expressed support for law enforcement or opposition to defunding police or holding them more accountable (e.g., by limiting or ending qualified immunity).
  • COVID also remained a leading theme of protest activity in the U.S. in March, almost always in tandem with other themes such as education (e.g., demonstration for or against resuming full-time in-person schooling) and housing (e.g., calls for cancelling rent, extending eviction moratoriums, and providing more help to unhoused people during the pandemic).

As noted in a previous post, one striking feature of the wave of “Stop Asian Hate” events that swept across the country in March (and continued into April) has been its geographic breadth. As the map below shows, while the peaks of this wave have occurred in or near large metropolitan areas on the West and East Coasts, many smaller towns in parts of the country with relatively few Asian-American residents also saw actions in the wake of the March 16 mass shooting in Georgia. In this sense, the Stop Asian Hate wave resembles the initial weeks of the George Floyd uprising, albeit still on a smaller scale. Also interesting, many of the initial flurry of Stop Asian Hate events took the form of vigils rather than rallies or demonstrations, and local and state elected officials often participated in (or even organized) them.

Notably lacking in the set of events we’ve logged for March so far are ones with a right-wing bent. Only 116 of the more than 1,800 events recorded, or about 6 percent, fit that description. A sizable fraction of those events came on a single day, March 20, when a transnational action dubbed the World Wide Rally for Freedom spawned actions in more than 30 U.S. cities and towns. The claims expressed varied from location to location, but the dominant theme of these events—in and outside the U.S.—was opposition to government infringements on personal liberty in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Stop Asian Hate

In the several days since a young white man shot and killed eight people—six of them women of Asian descent—at three sites near Atlanta, Georgia, vigils and other demonstrations of sadness, solidarity, frustration, and anger over racist violence and micro-aggressions targeting the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community have mushroomed across the U.S.

The chart below shows daily counts of events against anti-Asian racist violence that the Crowd Counting Consortium has recorded so far. Since the Atlanta-area murders, we have logged 126 events focused on this issue, most of them this past Saturday and Sunday, March 20–21. At least three of those events—in Atlanta on Saturday and in New York City and San Jose, California, on Sunday—drew crowds of more than 1,000.

As that chart implies, collective action over this issue did not suddenly erupt in the past several days. On August 1, 2020, hundreds gathered in Brooklyn to march in protest against a violent attack on an 89-year-old Asian woman, and against the decision by the police not to classify the attack as a hate crime. And, as we noted in our recent blogged monthly report, protests centered on this issue accelerated in February, accounting for some of the largest crowds we saw in the U.S. that month.

What was especially remarkable about this past weekend’s wave of events on this theme was its geographic breadth. Much like the George Floyd uprising, activism aiming to #StopAsianHate has diffused widely and quickly in the wake of the Atlanta killings. As the map below shows, while recent actions against anti-Asian racist violence have been concentrated in major urban areas on the East and West Coasts, similar events occurred all across the country, reaching places like Norman, OK; Des Moines and Iowa City, IA; Birmingham, AL; and Conshohocken, PA, a town of about 8,000 residents, of whom 90 percent are white and less that 1 percent are of Asian descent. In all, we have counted 92 unique U.S. cities and towns with events centered in this issue in the past five days alone.

Finally, while most the vast majority of these events have stuck to the broad theme of #StopAsianHate, some have explicitly called out the intersection of anti-Asian racism with other themes and identities, especially other forms of racism, sexism, policing, and the decriminalization of sex work. In Washington, DC, for example, the group Total Liberation Collective quickly organized a vigil and march on Wednesday, March 17, in response to the Atlanta killings that emphasized solidarity against white supremacy and colonialism and distrust of police. At a Saturday-evening vigil in Alhambra, California, one speaker drew cheers from the crowd when she instructed police on the scene to leave, saying, “Our community does not welcome you.” And at a Saturday press conference and rally in Fullerton, California, speakers called out racism in many forms along with the “racialized misogyny and hypersexualization of Asian women.”

This is, of course, a developing story. We expect to record more events on this theme as they occur, and as news stories and social media posts describing additional events from the past several days continue to surface. Meanwhile, you can find and browse Google Sheets with the Crowd Counting Consortium’s ongoing monthly logs of events on our data page, and you can find a compiled and augmented version of the entire CCC dataset, updated weekly, in the Nonviolent Action Lab‘s GitHub repository.

Say Her Name: Breonna Taylor

On the night of March 13, 2020, police in Louisville, Kentucky, shot and killed Breonna Taylor in the dark in her bed. Police officers were executing a search warrant as part of an investigation into drug trafficking with which Taylor, a Black woman and healthcare worker, had nothing to do.

One year later, on Saturday, March 13, 2021, people held vigils, rallies, demonstrations, and protests in cities and towns across the U.S. to remember Taylor and call for an end to police violence and racial injustice. So far, the Crowd Counting Consortium has identified 47 events honoring Taylor on the anniversary of her death in more than 30 localities.

The map below shows where those events occurred. Darker circles represent localities with multiple events. According to our data, New York City had at least five distinct events commemorating Taylor; Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., each had at least four; L.A. had at least three; and Louisville and Seattle each saw at least two.

In Taylor’s hometown, hundreds gathered and marched throughout the day around Jefferson Square Park, a.k.a. Injustice Square, which has served as the focal point for Black Lives Matter demonstrations in that city since late May 2020. A local group called United Pharaoh’s Guard provided armed security for marchers. As is almost always the case with protests against police violence and racial injustice in the U.S., no violence occurred. That night, police in riot gear declared an unlawful assembly and broke up a march of about 50 protesters on River Road a couple of miles away.

New York City saw several events honoring Taylor throughout the day, many of them organized by Black women. In Manhattan, a few hundred people met at the Red Steps in Times Square for a die-in and march. In Brooklyn, the Roses for Breonna event brought together hundreds who later marched across the Brooklyn Bridge. Taylor was remembered at the nightly gathering in the Upper East Side’s Carl Schurz Park.

Washington, DC, hosted a six-mile bike ride—one mile for each of the shots police reportedly fired into Taylor’s apartment—from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, followed by a sunset rally and vigil for Taylor at Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park in the evening.

In Seattle, activists set up a memorial to Taylor at 11th and Pine Streets and invited people to drop by and pay respects throughout the day. That night, about 100 activists took part in a commemorative march that started at Occidental Park and made its way toward the ferry terminal, where police arrested 13 marchers for vandalism and obstructing or assaulting an officer.

L.A. saw several events in honor of Taylor throughout the day, including an afternoon march in Hollywood and an evening gathering in Sherman Oaks. Of course, the one that seemed to garner the most media coverage was a nighttime march from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery that involved as many as 200 demonstrators and led to clashes with police, vandalism, and 11 arrests.

In Portland, Oregon, things got started on Friday night, when police kettled and detained a group of roughly 100 people out to protest against ICE and police violence shortly after they started marching. On Saturday, an afternoon march and an evening vigil on the Burnside Bridge each brought out hundreds to honor Taylor. That night, activists argued about tactics after the Black Unity group that staged the vigil on the Burnside Bridge joined hundreds of demonstrators already gathered outside the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse.

In Dayton, Ohio, dozens came to a rally and march that started at Courthouse Square, with members of the New Black Panther Party on hand to provide security.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Taylor was born, the group Family Over Everything organized a commemorative march that brought together more than 100 people, including members of Taylor’s family.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a small crowd convened next to a mural of Taylor for a brief, silent vigil in her honor.

In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the youth council of the local NAACP chapter organized a candlelight vigil at Peace and Justice Plaza on East Franklin Street. Scores turned out for speeches, musical performances, poetry, and chants of “Say her name! Breonna Taylor!”

Those are just some of the events honoring Taylor the Crowd Counting Consortium has recorded on March 13. We will probably find more over the course of this week, and we will inevitably fail to see some others, either because they were not covered in the media sources we track or we found no traces of them on social media.

Meanwhile, you can see our data collection in progress, including the records for all of these events and others from that day, in our monthly Google Sheet for March 2021. If you know about an event we have overlooked or see an error in our descriptions of events here, please consider submitting a record so we can record it.