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Wave of Activism After Floyd’s Murder Grew Based on Multiple Issues, Identities, Study Finds

By Rachael Grahame ’17

The Washington, D.C., demonstrations that followed George Floyd’s May 2020 murder by a police officer marked some of the most racially diverse protests against racial injustice ever documented in the United States. Participants were motivated not only by systemic racism, but other salient issues tied to their personal identities as well, according to University of Maryland research published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences.

The study conducted by sociology Professor Dana Fisher and government and politics Professor Stella Rouse provides an in-depth explanation of the ways movements expand through the solidarity of activists motivated by a range of individual identities. It also finds that many activists who supported the Floyd protests were mobilized to organize for overlapping causes.

“The significant role that intersectionality played in motivating participants to take part in protests against racism in 2020 is an important finding. It demonstrates that there is an opportunity for protest movements to tap into individuals’ identities and interests in social justice to increase diverse participation,” said Rouse.

Through surveys of those at the protests, the researchers established that issues related to systemic racism was a nearly universal motivation to get involved. But consistent with prior research, many individuals were also motivated by other issues, including women’s rights (39%), LGBTQ rights (36%) and immigration rights (29%).

Rouse and Fisher found many links between these motivations; for instance, what they labeled LGBTQ motivation was predicted both by pro-women and immigration motivations to protest.

“By resonating with individuals’ subgroup identities, our paper shows how movements can mobilize a more diverse crowd,” said Fisher. “The protests after George Floyd was murdered in summer 2020 were the largest continuous mobilization in American history. This type of sustained and diverse activism has real potential to motivate great social change.”

To view a full copy of the survey, as well as the entire public dataset and a codebook, visit https://osf.io/6t9ue/.

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