Rep. Leslie Herod joins protesters at Black Lives Matter march

Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver addresses a crowd of thousands in Denver's City Park during a march for Black Lives Matter, organized by Denver Public Schools students, on June 6, 2020. 

A University of Denver marketing professor and her colleagues have concluded that local, grassroots action that converts bystanders into “upstanders” and connects similar organizations to each other is the key to successful movements like Black Lives Matter.

Gia Nardini, an expert in consumer behavior, applied principles of consumer psychology in “Together We Rise: How Social Movements Succeed,” published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, in finding that social movements require tailoring to the circumstances of a given community.

“We make the case that you don’t necessarily want to go for a policy change right away, change laws, talk to people at the top,” she told the DU campus news service. “Instead, try to motivate people at the bottom. I think it’s easy to feel demotivated by a lack of progress or how slow progress is. If you can check these boxes, you have a good chance for social change to succeed, but I think it’s important to recognize how long the process could be or how arduous it might be as well.”

Nardini and researchers from other universities noted the summer 2020 protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis occurred in a pandemic, when people had time to share information and become “upstanders,” the word for those who join in collective action. Other factors included people’s inner motivations to contribute and a feeling that they needed to contribute.

Consumer psychology has long acknowledged the influential power of social norms,” the authors wrote. “For example, bystanders were more likely to stop someone from driving drunk when they felt supported in doing so. This form of social support may enhance people’s propensity to act and increase the belief that their actions will create meaningful change.”

Additional characteristics of the movement's success included gaining support from internal and external allies and developing leaders who shared power.

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