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response to seth masket on social protest and civil rights

Seth Masket recently discussed the popularity of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement more generally. In general, the civil rights movement was deeply unpopular, even at its height. Polls showed that a majority approved of civil rights after the fact.

The point is well taken, but there is more to the story of public opinion and civil rights. Roughly speaking, public opinion was moving the direction of civil rights for decades, even if the general public didn’t quite approve of individual people or groups. It didn’t happen by itself. As Taeku Lee shows in Mobilizing Public Opinion, public opinion started to soften because of activism. A lot of local action caused civil rights to emerge on the agenda of elites at the state and federal levels.

Seth is right that for most people, the time is never right for protest. But that is not necessary for movements. You can accomplish a lot with a strongly motivated coalition of activists and elites. And if you push hard enough, public opinion will follow.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 17, 2014 at 12:01 am

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