Study Shows Activism Changes Minds…Eventually

Given the current political climate, many of us are having difficult conversations with neighbors, coworkers and family members about everything from democratic socialism to police violence to the place protest has in a democratic society.

As challenging as these conversations are — and anyone who has argued with an older family member about Colin Kaepernick or visited Twitter lately has witnessed emotions flare  – new research suggests that these discussions measurably move society forward.

As the study’s author explains:

Using the case of the U.S. civil rights movement, I develop a theory in which protests can shift attitudes and these attitudes can persist. Data from over 150,000 survey respondents provide evidence consistent with the theory. Whites from counties that experienced historical civil rights protests are more likely to identify as Democrats and support affirmative action, and less likely to harbor racial resentment against blacks.

This is a conversation I’ve found myself having a lot lately. A work colleague with similar politics to my own is sure that Colin Kaepernick will be recognized decades from now as our era’s Rosa Parks. But when I have conversations with those who lean more to the right, there are all kinds of ad hominem arguments: He’s a spoiled jerk, he’s ruining the game, or he’s an attention-seeker.

To call Kaepernick ungrateful or selfish when he’s giving up huge money for the benefit of people with less of a voice makes little sense. Yet when I make that suggestion, the person I’m speaking with just gets in more of a fervor. Are their minds slowly changing, as this research suggests?

Up to a couple of years ago, most people living today had no personal experience with large-scale protests. Yes, of course I remember Occupy, but that movement didn’t get the level of public participation that we’ve seen since the beginning of the Trump era.

In news story after news story about the Women’s MarchStanding Rock and Charlottesville, I hear it said again and again: There are people showing up to protests, marches and sit-ins — and calling their elected representatives – who have never been politically involved before.

We need to look back at the Vietnam protests and the civil rights movement in order to understand that, at that time, there was not widespread agreement that something needed to change. Protesters were unpopular people. But history showed most of them to be in the right.

Do things get better on their own, or do we have to keep having these difficult conversations to slowly change minds? I’m more and more inclined to think it is the latter. We have to talk about Antifa, taking a knee and pipeline expansions – and not just with those who agree with us. We have to make our case cogently and calmly, but also firmly.

It’s on us who live in divided regions to fight the good fight, or reap the harvest of those who sit it out, reliving the worst parts of the 2010s, well into the 2050s.

Photo Credit: Will H McMahan/Unsplash


Mary B
Mary B6 months ago

Steve F, movements don't evaporate, they just stop being reported on so people like you assume they're gone, but environmentalists don't stop being environmentalists. Progressives don't stop plugging for progress, democratic socialist don't stop researching the new Socialists ideas, alternative health advocates don't stop using herbs, vitamins and alternative health care. If you don't know anything about it the only thing you're going to have is whats stored in your memories the last time you looked.

Maria P
Past Member 6 months ago

thank you

Caitlin L
Caitlin L6 months ago

Thanks for this

silja s
silja s6 months ago

One voice can lead to a revolution of change. I have been an activist since my high school days. today I am a grandmother of three well informed people, ages 17, 16 and 10. All of whom are strong in their view that change is necessary. we all live on one planet namely Earth, therefore as a citizen of said planet I will always add my voice.

heather g
heather g6 months ago

Thank you, Joel Boyce, for an excellent article. Canadians do seem to flare up when one talks about something they're not open to. In my experience, they don't watch international news or any educational TV programs and pretty much like to live with closed minds. Apologies to those who don't fit this bill - you seem to be in the minority where I live.

Colin C
Colin Clauscen6 months ago

Thanks interesting

Janis K
Janis K6 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill6 months ago


Kathy G
Kathy G6 months ago

Thank you

Kathy G
Kathy G6 months ago

Thank you