Why, as de Tocqueville observed, do government reforms provoke political unrests? I develop a theory of fair process empowerment by documenting and explaining the emergence of school admissions protests in China. Analyzing policy documents, national protest data, and longitudinal fieldwork from 2010-2019, I find a school admissions reform in the early 2010s had the unintended consequence of empowering parent protests in Chinese cities. The post-reform procedures were more formalized and were perceived by parents as fairer than the pre-reform procedures. Unanticipated by the government officials, the fairer procedures enabled better recognition of substantive injustices, facilitated mobilization, and supplied information for claim-making. This study expands the social movement literature by identifying procedures as a novel determinant of protest emergence.