But activists trying to sustain momentum face serious headwinds. The media are fickle in their attention, and a flitting spotlight makes it hard for activists to be seen and to draw in new people. Already, although issues of racial justice raised by the protest remain a crucial part of public discussion, headlines have moved away from focus on street actions and instead turned to stories such as President Donald Trump's reelection rallies and the surge in new coronavirus cases.
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Another factor that can slow protests is that they demand a serious commitment of time and energy from participants; eventually, many tire out. As the weeks stretch on, the pressures of ordinary life begin to reassert themselves, and people must return to responsibilities that they might have set aside in a moment of crisis. Some of those who are most committed may be encumbered with arrest and subsequent, time-consuming legal entanglements. As just one example, protests at the 2000 Republican National Convention, in Philadelphia, resulted in hundreds of arrests, bail as high as $1 million for those deemed "ringleaders," and a legal battle that took years to resolve.
Either due to strategic calculation or exhaustion, some protest participants may divert their energies into more institutional channels. For instance, many of those who protested the Iraq War in early 2003 turned to focus on electoral work by the summer or fall, believing that the campaigns of candidates such as Howard Dean represented the best hope of unseating President George W. Bush and thereby ending the war.
Political officials and other targets of protests may offer short-term concessions to movements or invite high-profile activists to sit on commissions and propose policy solutions. Optimists might cite these as positive examples of reform. Critics are more likely to label them examples of “co-optation” and point out that the changes enacted are only small steps toward addressing the root causes of an issue. Depending on the particulars, either or both assessments could be right (although the fact that corporate PR agencies recommend task forces and advisory boards as means of "managing activism" would suggest that skepticism is warranted). Regardless, the perception that something is being done to address protesters’ concerns can serve to blunt public discontent.
For all of these reasons, and with the passage of time, the initial shock of the trigger event fades. At that point, mass protests decline and other components of social movements tend to come back to the fore—that is, until a new trigger reignites the prospect of revolt.
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Mass mobilizations take place within a wider ecosystem of social-movement activity. Other pieces of movements include building long-term organizations—such as unions and community groups—and taking on "inside game" work, such as electoral campaigns and legislative lobbying. Still other segments of a movement might devote themselves to political education, cultivating personal transformation at the individual level (through spiritual and cultural programs), or to building alternative institutions (such as community spaces, bookstores, food co-ops, and independent media). All of these types of organizing contribute to the movement’s long-term impact, even if they might have varying importance at different times in a movement's lifecycle.