A cycle of protest involves lots of protest activity, lots of people, from different social groups and different parts of the country – or different countries. Classic examples in recent times include the New Left and student protests of the late 60s and peace movement protest of the early 80s. The obvious down-side is that protest cycles tend to die away.
“Although protest waves do not have a regular frequency or extend uniformly to entire populations, a number of features have characterized such waves in recent history. These features include heightened conflict, broad sectoral and geographic extension, the appearance of new social movement organizations and empowerment of old ones, the creation of new “master frames” of meaning, and the invention of new forms of collective action.”
So when movements are on the up they are creating new groups, forms of action and having a major impact. But when they are the down curve – they are splitting over strategy, and losing support (because it’s hard to stay hyper-active forever).
“The most important contribution of Tilly’s concept of the repertoire is to help us disaggregate the popular notion of protest into its conventional and less conventional components. In each period of history some forms of collective action are sanctioned by habit, expectations, and even legality, while others are unfamiliar, unexpected, and are rejected as illegitimate by elites and the mass public alike. Consider the strike. As late the 1870s it was barely known, poorly understood, and widely rejected as a legitimate form of collective action. By the 1960s however, the strike can be considered as an accepted part of collective bargaining practice.” Tarrow in Traugott