Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, and Political Opportunities:

Understanding Social Movement Expansion through Political Process Theory


  • Daniel Turillo University of Pittsburgh



collective action, social movement organizations, racial justice protests, resource mobilization, COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, political opportunity, political process theory


 In the summer of 2020, while mired in the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States experienced an unprecedentedly massive wave of protests led by the Black Lives Matter movement. Given the novelty of this upswell and the lack of a clear precedent thereof, there does not yet exist much scholarly analysis into why and how this movement expanded as significantly as it did or what developmental routes it may take as in the future. My research seeks to remedy this gap by employing the political process theory of social movement activity to interpret how the COVID pandemic increased opportunities for insurgent activity, how Black Lives Matter was in a prime position to take advantage of those opportunities, and how the movement can and should approach its future development to retain the support and leverage it accumulated during the 2020 protests. Through informal qualitative analysis rooted in the political process model, I suggest that COVID led to greater public recognition of institutional maladies in the United States, which Black Lives Matter was able to channel toward protest activity thanks to the low-cost, high-reward membership system inherent in its non-hierarchical structure and tactful use of social media. I then briefly consider different developmental paths that Black Lives Matter may take and assert that carefully implemented attempts at formalization will allow the movement to retain its organizing potential regardless of any volatile external opportunities.


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How to Cite

Turillo, D. (2021). Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, and Political Opportunities:: Understanding Social Movement Expansion through Political Process Theory. Pittsburgh Undergraduate Review, 1(1).