History, Identity, and Protest: Activist and Media Narratives about Black Lives Matter and Parallels to the Civil Rights Movement

Activists around the globe have referenced past social movements or repression to try to mobilize anti-government resistance and political change—from 2015 protesters in Burkina Faso carrying signs and images invoking assassinated revolutionary Thomas Sankara, to Myanmar’s anti-coup demonstrators in 2021 picking protest dates and tactics to recall the country’s 1988 and 2007 uprisings. Statements and photos in traditional media and shared over social media are crucial to transmitting historical references to wider audiences. How effective are these efforts at ‘historical framing’ in mobilizing support for contemporary protests and in spurring people to continue advocating for a cause after the streets have grown quiet? And whose participation and support does historical framing attract? This project will study these questions in the context of the United States and support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Using a survey with an embedded experimental design, we will test the impact of text and visual primes (simulating an online news article) about parallels between the Black Lives Matter movement and Civil Rights movement, examining effects of historical framing on support for protests and advocacy for police reform.

This project is in collaboration with Eric Mosinger, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Santa Clara University, and Lisa Mueller, Associate Professor of Political Science at Macalester College.

Image credit: Ivan Radic