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How effective is protesting? This is what Kansas City residents had to say

Police lead a protestor away from a demonstration near the Country Club Plaza on May 30.
Carlos Moreno
Police lead a protestor away from a demonstration near the Country Club Plaza on May 30.

Protest is part of American history, and only more visible over the last decade thanks to social media. But protests over police violence and racism, including the Black Lives Matter movement, have not necessarily led to widespread improvements. So how effective is modern protesting, and what needs to happen to bring about change?

Protest — which is protected by the First Amendment — has a long history in American politics and social justice, from the Boston Tea Party to athletes kneeling during the National Anthem.

But protests around gun violence, abortion rights, labor practices, excessive use of force have been happening year after year — begging the question of effective the practice is at bringing about change.

Before the show, KCUR's Up To Date asked Kansas Citians to tell us their thoughts on protests. Here's what a few of them said:

  • "Protests are still effective. The greater the numbers, the more attention they get. But, they must be unrelenting. Too often the targets of demonstrations just wait until the protests die out and go back to business as usual."
  • "I usually do not attend protest. instead usually just want to approach the politician or politicians thru email. Though sometimes I encourage others to email or call also."
  • "Large focused peaceful protests get the attention of the press and our leadership but I don't think they change anyone's mind; statewide referendums are more effective."
  • "Not sure... in 2020 it seemed that the protests against police brutality only brought on more police brutality. It also seems that no matter how peaceful a protest intends to be, there's always someone who stirs up trouble, prompting the people who don't agree with the protests to blame the protesters for the violence. I suspect that the trouble-makers are often the same group blaming the violence on the protesters." 

Sandra Enriquez, an assistant professor of history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, says there are many different protest strategies that "all play a part in bringing awareness and in bringing social change."
Social movements often come in waves, but the work continues on the ground. "It is really difficult for any of these activities, whether they're, grassroots organizing or more kind of large scale organizing tactics, to bring change," Enriquez says.

One element that's often missing, according to KC Tenants director Tara Raghuveer, is organization. Protests often result from people coming together to express and channel their rage, but don't always have the infrastructure to keep the pressure going.

"[I]f there's not a follow up from that I think there's a real harm that can be done when people feel that they can channel some of that anger, but then it doesn't go any place, they lose faith in that process unto itself," says Raghuveer.

"It's not enough for people to show up episodically, when they're upset when they see something on social media. We need to be building organization that people can kind of channel their political life towards."

After the murder of George Floyd, Kansas City was one of many cities across the globe that experienced multi-day protests over police violence and racism.

"[T]he 2020 protests at least, in the bare minimum, it brought an awareness, and it brought kind of like the next wave of folks wanting to get educated," says Enriquez.

Have questions or show ideas? Text with Up To Date!

Sign up for texts from the Up To Date team to suggest show ideas and weigh in on important issues facing Kansas City. Text UTD to 816-601-4777 to join the conversation. Get more information here.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As a producer for Up To Date, my goal is to inform our audience by curating interesting and important conversations with reliable sources and individuals directly affected by a topic or issue. I strive for our program to be a place that hosts impactful conversations, providing our audience with greater knowledge, intrigue, compassion and entertainment. Contact me at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz.
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