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.

Published by Jay Ulfelder

Jay Ulfelder has worked for more than two decades at the intersection of social science and data science, with particular interests in contentious politics, democracy, and forecasting.

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