Platt Presidential Distinguished Professor of Political Science Daniel Gillion from the University of Pennsylvania spoke to the Tufts community yesterday about the power of protests in American democracy. Gillion also spoke about the relevance of the recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and his expectations for the 2020 election.
Gillion said in his talk that protests serve as a vehicle of communication for the loud minority to talk to non-protesting voters at home, whom he described as the silent majority.
“The loud minority is speaking to the silent majority, the individuals at home. They communicate with one another. They inform each other of the issues of the day. When individuals go vote, they have to consider what’s going on in America, and they use protests to make these decisions,” Gillion said.
Following Gillion’s initial presentation of his research, Jeffrey Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts, asked Gillion a series of questions about the BLM protests over the summer.
Gillion shared his optimism for the trajectory of racial equality in America, saying that the receptions to protests over racism have been new.
“Individuals have been influenced by the BLM movement. People are talking more about ways to achieve … racial equity … [and] we see individuals donating money to [historically Black colleges and universities]. That trajectory might lose a little steam [in the short term] but it’s a different path than what was happening 20 or 30 years ago,” Gillion said.
Berry also asked Gillion if the call to “defund the police” was a strategic error on the part of the BLM movement, as conservatives have stoked fear among those wondering what cities without police will look like. In response, Gillion explained that the call to defund the police encompasses many different calls for police reform.
“Some people say we should get rid of police altogether. The notion ‘defund the police’ is really about changing the infrastructure of the police. It’s about reforming, reallocating, and reshaping the police department. For many, that’s what ‘defund the police’ is about,” Gillion said.
Gillion told listeners that he expects major electoral and political change in November.
“Protests are the canaries in the coal mines that warn of future political and electoral change. I think we’re going to see major change in 2020 and a major wave, and that wave is probably going to be blue,” he said to Berry.
Gillion cited previous protests leading up to the 2018 midterm elections as evidence of protests foretelling change. For example, women’s marches took place all over the country shortly before there was a seat change in the House of Representatives in 2018.
He also told Berry that he expects conservative protests to take place if Biden wins in November.
“If Biden gets into office, I expect there to be protests and there should be protests. I see protests as part of the democratic process,” Gillion said.
He acknowledged that many celebrities and professional athletes have spoken out against racism and he believes that it will positively influence younger generations.
“It’s having a major impact. It becomes the hip thing to do,” Gillion said. “Younger generations are saying to themselves, ‘If Jay-Z and Beyoncé are out here doing this, what can I do?’ Because inequality works no matter what stage of the financial ladder you reach as a Black man or woman in this nation.”
After Berry’s questioning, students had the opportunity to submit questions that Deborah Schildkraut, a professor in Tufts’ political science department, asked Gillion.
The event, co-hosted by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, the political science department, the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences and the Office of the President, acted as a celebration of Constitution Day.
“We are thrilled to partner with the Political Science Department on a conversation that is so critical, especially as this country is grappling with a long overdue reckoning on racial injustice,” Program Administrator at Tisch College Jessica Byrnes wrote in an email to the Daily. “Protest is an important tool in the civic action toolkit.”
Gillion encouraged young people to engage politically in a form with which they feel comfortable. He acknowledged that many people may not be comfortable protesting while the coronavirus continues to spread, but said it is still important to participate in some way, such as voting.
“If all else fails, go vote. Make sure you engage in that political process,” Gillion said.