How Can We Know When Popular Movements Are Winning?

Martin Luther King Jr. shaking hands with Lyndon B. Johnson at the signing of the Civil Rights Act. Photo courtesy of the US Embassy New Delhi.

In 2016, Erica Chenoweth wrote this piece on the four trends that predict the eventual success of popular movements. She identified size and diversity of participation, nonviolent discipline, flexible and innovative techniques, and loyalty shifts as key indictors of success.

Are any of these characteristics true of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States? Some analysis suggests that the BLM protest are the largest movement in US history, as well as being promisingly diverse. PVG contributor Deborah Avant recently wrote about high-ranking military officers who have signaled their adherence to the rule of law and their unwillingness to obey executive orders to use troops to quell protester dissent. Erica also recently wrote in The Guardian that the pandemic is spawning new forms of innovative activism, techniques that are being deployed in the US and around the world (the piece was co-authored by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, Jeremy Pressman, Felipe G Santos and Jay Ulfelder).

So what can we learn from these trends? How else can we know when popular movements are winning?

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