Who Are Black Lives Matter Activists? Niche Realization in a Multimovement Environment
By Michael T. Heaney, University of Glasgow
Within the context of a social movement, a niche is a set of its supporters’ characteristics that define the movement’s location in a multidimensional space. Niches may clearly separate movements from one another or niches may overlap. This article examines the realization of an activist niche by Black Lives Matter (BLM), which has become one of the most prominent movements of the early twenty-first century. It draws on surveys of 3,860 activists conducted in Washington, DC, in 2017 and 2018, and 393 surveys of activists participating in the March for Racial Justice in five cities in 2017. The results show that BLM activists formed a niche along five dimensions. First, BLM activists have a greater-than-average commitment to intersectional activism than do comparable activists in other movements. Second, they use social media more regularly for political purposes than do their peers working on other causes, which helps the movement operate in a decentralized fashion. Third, they are less satisfied with how democracy is practiced in the United States. Fourth, they are more likely to acknowledge justifications for using violence for political purposes. Fifth, they report having experienced high levels of anger in conjunction with politics.