The rise and fall of the Reopen movement: an analysis of the online and offline anti-quarantine protests in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic (April - November 2020)
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On April 15th, 2020, a group of armed protesters stood on the front steps of the Michigan State Capitol building, chanting, waving flags, and holding up posters that read: “Live free or die!” Their intention was clear: end the lockdown that Governor Gretchen Whitmer implemented to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus and reopen Michigan’s economy – no matter the cost. This small act of rebellion inspired other in-person protests across the United States, all while hundreds of Facebook groups linked to the new “Reopen Movement” proliferated around the same time with the original goal to reopen the country. This paper serves as an analysis of the rise and fall of the Reopen Movement from its conception in April to the U.S. presidential election in November of 2020. Through a year of original ethnographic research and observations of over 170 Facebook groups tied to the Reopen Movement, I found that while members were originally concerned about the economy, these groups became more strongly supportive and aligned with the Trump agenda as the pandemic worsened in the U.S. and ongoing racial problems (specifically, American law enforcement’s disproportionate killing of Black Americans) were reignited. The groups began exhibiting stronger partisanship, signs of right-wing populism, and latent racism and sexism as events such as the Black Lives Matter protests, reopening of businesses and schools, and strong anti-mask discourse pushed members to more radical, violent, and hateful speech. This study analyzes the shift from a center-right movement to a more radical, polarized partisan movement, and highlights the ways that social media platforms such as Facebook can inhibit or truncate social movements. It is one of the only in-depth, original research papers on the Reopen Movement, a contemporary American social movement with over 2 million members.
Honors thesis. B.A. in International Relations, Spring 2021, Boston University.
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