In Trump's America, Who's Protesting and Why? Here's Our May Report
Erica Chenoweth is a professor and associate dean for research in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies. She has taught at the University of Denver since 2012. Chenoweth's areas of research includes political violence, terrorism, counterterrorism and homeland security, repression, civil resistance, nonviolent action, protest, and international security.
This is the fifth installment in a monthly series reporting on political crowds in the United States. Each month, the Crowd Counting Consortium will post updates about trends and patterns from the previous month as recorded by our volunteers. Find all the previous posts in the series here. (For our counting methods, please see our first post in the series.)
For May 2017, we tallied 495 protests, demonstrations, marches, sit-ins and rallies in the United States, with at least one in every state and the District. Our conservative guess is that 100,807 to 128,464 people showed up at these political gatherings, although it is likely that there were far more participants. Because mainstream media often neglect to report nonviolent actions — especially small ones — it is probable that we did not record every event that took place. Sometimes no one reports the size of the crowd, which makes undercounting more likely.
Nevertheless, we think our tally gives us a useful pool of information to better understand political mobilization in the United States — particularly how reports of crowds change from month to month. In this case, we note that fewer people protested in May than in April, when 637,198 to 1,181,887 people turned out.
Who demonstrated against and for what in May?
1) The opposition to Trump
Resistance to the Trump administration continued to drive most protests. We estimate that 68 percent of the events we recorded were opposing President Trump’s policies. About 54.5 percent overall were explicitly anti-Trump, while 13.5 percent overall took stances on issues that contradict the president. Some of the main protests included:
- About 80 May Day or similar events on May 1, from Naples, Fla., to South Bend, Ind. These included tens of thousands of demonstrators in a Los Angeles march to City Hall.
- Frequent protests against the House Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, such as outside the office of Rep. Mike Coffman in Aurora, Colo., or outside a town hall meeting with Rep. Elise Stefanik in Plattsburgh, N.Y.
- Protests that were not explicitly anti-Trump but took positions contrary to those of the president, including support for workers and for LGBTQ rights, calls for pro-environment policies, protests against police shootings, a Take Back the Night march, and students protesting sexist school dress codes.
Protesters used creative approaches, including kayaktavists protesting at a Trump golf course in Sterling, Va., during the Senior PGA Championship; a moving motorcade protest in Bedminster, N.J., at a different Trump course; 12 athletes who swam more than six miles from Imperial Beach in San Diego County to a beach in Tijuana to protest Trump’s immigration policies; and planting a row of “sacred” blue Ponca corn on a farm north of Neligh, Neb., to symbolically block the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
2) The support for Trump
About 5 percent of the events we recorded were rallies supporting the president and his policies. This is a slight increase from April, when about 2 percent of the crowds represented pro-Trump claims. Such rallies took place in Boston; Lynchburg, Va.; and St. Paul, Minn. When the president delivered the commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., about 50 Trump supporters rallied outside. Other rallies included several in support of Vice President Pence and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).
The trend of corresponding protests and counter-protests continued in May.
3) Neither for nor against Trump
The final 27 percent of the crowds were involved in actions directed at other politicians or about issues that were neither pro- nor anti-Trump. We found a broad range of such topics. That’s a continued uptick from about 19 percent of crowds in April 2017.
For instance, in May, we saw protests against a deep borehole research project in Alamogordo, N.M., and one against a plan to require residents to pay for sidewalks in Royal Oak, Mich. Dramatic protests, including verbal and/or physical confrontations, took place over the removal of statues of confederate leaders and at the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C.
Demonstrations about budgetary and personnel decisions at K-12 schools remain a regular feature of the protest environment. The choice of a specific turf sports field infill brought opposition in Bellevue, Wash. Students at St. Catherine University held a sing-in to protest cuts to drama and music programs.
Where did people protest?
The most common locations for protests remain sizable outdoor spaces such as parks and plazas where crowds can easily gather, and government offices such as capitols, detention centers and courthouses. For example, on May 30, protests took place in Buffalo’s Niagara Square; at congressional offices in Gainesville; at DePaul University; and at the North Carolina state capitol and Rhode Island state house.
How many people were arrested and/or injured in political crowds?
At about 465 events (94 percent), no arrests were made. In terms of people arrested, the numbers rose from 160 arrests in April to 349 in May, with about 259 of those May arrests coming in 19 cases of nonviolent civil disobedience. For example, 23 people were arrested for disrupting the meeting of a legislative committee at the capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., and demanding passage of a bill limiting gifts for public officeholders.
However, the number of events with arrests that appeared to be connected to property destruction or violence was only six, with the circumstances of five additional events less than clear.
Not all standoffs between competing protest groups led to confrontation. In Seattle, a few pro- and anti-Trump protesters found common ground — rolling joints.