Physical protest in the time of a pandemic is a dangerous and broken tool of civil resistance. Experts, including those in the White House, acknowledge that restrictive measures will need to be maintained in some form for months to stop the spread of the coronavirus and to prevent a “second wave” of cases.

This report places recent American protest movements in historical perspective. It outlines why conservatives are particularly aggrieved by the lockdowns in many states and examines the conservative players agitating for the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, including the president. By using state-level data of the protests, this report maps the number and trend of protests in the United States in response to the pandemic restrictions.

It also considers how such a devastating economic downturn and incredible use of government power could expand the scale, urgency, and boldness of conservative and progressive movements both during and after the pandemic.

The United States is now an immensely divided nation tackling a high-stakes health crisis and headed towards a high-stakes presidential election.

Key points:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with an historic era of protest in the United States.
  • The number of individual protests in the United States significantly diminished at the beginning of the lockdown, increased in mid-April and accelerated following President Trump’s LIBERATE tweets on April 17.
  • The biggest increase in protests has been mostly in states that went to Donald Trump in the 2016 election, but that have Democratic governors.
  • The pandemic and its economic fallout have created new protest movements and stand to embolden already simmering progressive and conservative movements.
  • The lockdown policies across the United States set the conservative priority of individual liberty against the progressive priority of the common good, exacerbating an already entrenched partisan divide in the United States.
  • At this point, only small numbers of conservatives are protesting, yet movements of all stripes are taking the time to digitally re-tool and prepare to mobilise when restrictions are lifted.
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