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Tip sheet: Is protesting effective?

February 13, 2017

With protests being highly publicized, participants and others may wonder if  pushing back results in change, and if it does, if those instances are exceptions and not the rule.

One of the most recent examples of effective protesting is the public outcry in the wake of President Donald Trump’s ban on immigration from seven majority Muslim countries.

“This unexpected sudden show of support that emerged from civil society emboldened Democratic senators, and also caused some Republican senators to break ranks and speak out,” said John Dale, a professor of sociology at George Mason University.  

“It also emboldened CEOs at Apple and Google to speak out confidently against the executive order,” Dale added. “This protest, combined shortly afterward with legal suits and ultimately a judicial stay, forced Trump to ‘walk back’ many of the elements contained in his original order.”

Cher Weixia Chen, a professor in George Mason’s School of Integrated Studies and an expert on social activism, noted that the ACLU received more than $24 million in donations when it challenged the travel ban in court. Leaders there have said they plan to use the donations for additional legal challenges.

“So it may lead to more policy change,” Chen said.

John Dale is a professor of sociology in Mason’s Department Sociology and Anthropology. He studies social movements and collective action, the sociology of human rights and economic sociology. He can be reached at

Cher Weixia Chen is a professor in Mason’s School of Integrative Studies and a research fellow in the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Her research focuses on human rights, particularly the rights of marginalized groups and social justice activism burnout. She can be reached at and 703-993-4074.

For more information, contact Jamie Rogers at 703-993-5118 or

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 35,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.