Sociologist Dana Fisher moved to Washington for the protests. She’d been studying environmental activism for more than a decade at Columbia University, and when she was offered a job as director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland six years ago, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to get close to the action.
But little action came. In Fisher’s first five years in the Washington area, she didn’t see a single large-scale progressive protest – meaning 50,000 people or more – on the Mall. She wound up traveling back to New York City for the 2014 Peoples Climate March.
“It was just funny to me that I got here, and it was just not happening,” Fisher said Monday. “Now look at how the world has changed.”
Since President Trump’s inauguration, major demonstrations on the Mall have become almost a weekly occurrence. Few of Fisher’s past students had ever participated in a protest, but these days “everybody has to get out of class to go downtown because they’re chaining themselves to something or they’re marching,” she said.
Fisher has deployed so many teams of researchers to survey march participants she’s running out of energy – and funding. She looked ahead at the calendar for May, which is momentarily mostly protest-free, and said with relief, “I will be excited to take a few weeks off.”
“There’s an exhaustion about studying protests when it’s happening so frequently. . . . But I can’t miss out on collecting data.”
Fisher’s research is focused on why people wind up at a protest. How did they find out about it? What issue motivated them to join? Are they involved in other civic groups, or is this their first time being part of something so big and public?
“I always have been interested in why and how people participate in democracy,” she said. “What gets people off their butts and into the street?”