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grassroots activism and non-profits

Last week, I gave a brief talk at ARNOVA, the academic association of non-profit scholars. Our friend, Katherine Chen, asked me to speak about Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, and other recent movements.

My talk focused on a few simple points that deserve further thought:

  • First, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) represents a rejection of traditional progressive organizing. Throughout the 20th century, a lot of left social movements have worked through big organizations – unions, NAACP, the National Women’s Party, etc.
  • Second, the Tea Party represents the first major conservative movement in American history to happen completely within the Republican party. Tea Party sympathizers are overwhelmingly Republican, Tea Party orgs were started by GOP PACS.
  • Third, the Arab Spring represents a sort of melding on for-profit and non-profit spaces. Facebook and twitter aren’t just electronic message boards. It’s a “place” where activism was planned in a space of relative safety. And remember, Facebook is a for-profit group.

Add your own view on the link between recent movements and the non-profit form in the comments.

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Written by fabiorojas

November 28, 2012 at 12:01 am

4 Responses

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  1. The Arab Spring was not planned on, nor executed through, nor caused by social media. This has been way overblown. The early risers were often internet-inclined groups and citizens, but the primary movers sustained protest through classical techniques. Phones/texting, word of mouth, and boots on the street was far more important in mobilization. And regimes worldwide have been using the “safe space” of the internet as a primary tool in repression by identifying activists. Check out some recent research.

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    cwalken

    November 28, 2012 at 2:10 am

  2. cwalken: First, I congratulate you on posting a comment that does not deal with my Obama 2008 prediction. It’s a relief. I no longer cringe when I see your handle in a comment.

    Second, I think you and I are *almost* in agreement. Nowhere in my talk or in the post did I claim that social media caused the Arab Spring, or that it was more important than other factors that are traditionally thought to have a big hand on social protest.

    My point was much more modest. Social media were extensively used and this is important because it’s a “place” to do things that is primarily a for profit space. That’s a notable development and it reflects an important development in how people do movements. Communication media are not completely internalized. It’s kind of like staging the Civil Rights movement inside of the mall.

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    fabiorojas

    November 28, 2012 at 6:36 pm

  3. I’ve thought that the main way in which Twitter and other social media assisted the Arab Spring was in helping to convey information about what was going on in those countries at the time to a much broader global audience. Because people sitting in their offices and living rooms in the U.S. could follow protests in real time via Twitter, they weren’t reliant on mainstream media to inform them about events or about the perspectives of protestors. In this sense, social media helped to expand the audience the protestors needed to gain leverage over their targets. In a previous post, I talked about social media as “audience creation machines.” I still think that’s true.

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    brayden king

    November 28, 2012 at 11:44 pm

  4. Well, there’s more agreement among all of us than difference.

    Interestingly, for profit “spaces” as an organizing tool is actually quite old. To wit–the English pub as an organizing place for the Chartist movement (see EP Thompson for wonderful transcripts of beer drinking songs with class consciousness), or the importance of the sold pamphlet in the American Revolution.

    Social media are certainly an interesting case for understanding less mediated diffusion and audience effects than traditional news media. And that level of mediation/editorship may be the most novel aspect of them (given that innovative media of whatever form has always been harnessed, from the Lutheran printing press to communist radio to Zapatista cell phones).

    (Obama is certainly not toast, but Fabio gets a free pass from me until the next election cycle. Then we can see if Dick Morris and Karl Rove have been rehabilitated and take that as a guide as to the longevity of prediction fails.)

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    cwalken

    November 29, 2012 at 1:32 am


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