Archive for the ‘social movements’ Category
Mobilizing Ideas has a new forum where a scholars are discussing movements and elections. I’ll start with a few snippets from “Bernie Sanders and the Occupy Wall Street Wing of the Democratic Library,” written by my dear friend Michael T. Heaney:
While it is impossible to definitively establish what fraction of Occupy supporters also supported Sanders, it is possible to look to social media for clues of this support. To this end, I gathered a list of 374 Twitter handles and hashtags associated with the Occupy movement that were in operation between 2011 and 2013. From this list, I randomly selected 150 pages for the purpose of content analysis and coded Twitter feeds for these pages from April 2012 and April 2016. The purpose of this exercise was to understand the extent and nature of movement involvement in Democratic Party politics during two identical periods in the presidential election cycle.
The results of the content analysis reveal significant differences in the activities of the Occupy movement between the April 2012 and April 2016 periods. First, the sites examined became significantly less active over time. In April 2012, 59 percent of sites were active, while this fraction fell to 18 percent by 2016. Second, the level of engagement in electoral politics significantly increased from 2012 to 2016 on the Occupy sites that remained active. Third, the tweets shifted significantly from a more negative perspective on politics in 2012 to a more positive perspective in 2016. In 2012, each site had an average of 0.14 positive tweets about candidates/parties, in comparison to an average of 1.16 negative tweets. In 2016, however, tweets had become more balanced, with an average of 8.70 exhibiting positive valance and an average of 6.62 indicating negative valence.
Read the whole thing.
Earlier this week, we discussed the need to study failed movements, not just the successes. Here, I want to draw attention to the general issue of bias in social movement research. The way I see it is that movement research is shaped by the following biases:
- Survivor bias: We tend to focus only on movements that succeed in mobilizing.
- Success bias: We tend to focus only on movements that get what they want.
- Progressive bias: We tend to focus on movements that come from the left.
Of course, there are exceptions. For example, Rory McVeigh is a well known student of right wing populism and Kathleen Blee’s latest book looks at a random sample of Pittsburgh area movements.
But in general, the overall focus of movement scholarship reflects these tendencies. For every Ziad Munson who studies pro-life groups, we have five other scholars studying pro-choice groups. Collectively, movement scholars should supplement their individual case studies (including my own) with data sets like the NY Times/Doug McAdam/Stanford data set or Blee’s data that looks at larger samples.
Use the comments to discuss or praise research that works against these biases.
This is the last post responding to Professor Amenta’s lengthy, supportive and critical take on Party in the Street. We earlier discussed whether it was wise to group Afghanistan and Iraq and if our explanation of the anti-Vietnam War movement was valid. In the review, he asks, if the antiwar movement of the 2000s failed, what is the point of studying it?
Short answer: Don’t select on the dependent variable.
Long answer: In the social sciences, we often exhibit a bias toward success. We like to talk about Apple and Google, but not Pets.com.But that’s a bad thing, especially if you want to study the outcomes of social processes. Failures are just as important as successes in the social sciences. You need a random sample of events or a sample where you can model the bias. So, in movements, we shouldn’t study only those that succeed. We need comparisons. And detailed case studies of a movement are way to start.
Peace movements are a class of movements that are notoriously unsuccessful, as we note in the book. By studying one in detail, and comparing with others, we can develop a sense of why that might be the case and then ask about other movements. Note: If you want a highly meritorious study of a study that uses a random sample of successful and non-successful movement groups, see Kathleen Blee’s award winning Democracy in the Making.
In the most recent Contemporary Sociology, Irvine’s Edwin Amenta wrote an incredibly kind and generous review of Party in the Street (“Raising the Bar for Scholarship on Protest and Politics“). It’s really humbling to have such an accomplished researcher so deeply engage with our work and find so much value. Not only did Professor Amenta say nice things about the book, he also offered a number of carefully thought out critiques of the book. In this post, I’d like to summarize what Professor Amenta wrote and offer a few brief comments in response.
Amenta takes issue with a fundamental assumption of the book. Here is Amenta:
Specifically, I question the authors’ explanation for the contrast between the decline of the recent antiwar movement and the expansion of the anti-Vietnam War movement, the analytical conflation of antiwar protest and antiwar movements, and their empirical conflation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Let’s start with what I think is a more amenable issue – the issue of the connection between the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Once again, Professor Amenta:
The authors’ most puzzling decision—to combine analytically the war in Iraq and the one in Afghanistan—challenges their account of movement decline. This conflation of the two wars is central to their puzzle— why did the antiwar movement end while war kept going? But the contrast in opposition to the two wars answers this better than the rise to power of a Democratic president. The war in Afghanistan, beginning almost immediately after the September 11 attacks, drew the protest of only scattered anti-imperialist, anarchist, and other smallbore groups. That war was waged on a Taliban regime and its ward al Qaeda, which had planned the attacks, and generated public support. By contrast, even before the war in Iraq began, it drew extensive opposition from a broad coalition of organizations and participants; it was clear during its lengthy run-up that Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks and that the Bush administration claims of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were questionable. Without this war of choice, or ‘‘dumb war,’’ as Illinois state senator Barack Obama referred to it in 2002, it seems unlikely there would have been much antiwar activity or an antiwar movement. As president, Obama quickly wound down the Iraq war, the one that the movement opposed. And so it is not surprising that antiwar activity slowed and did not return, even after the 2009 surge in Afghanistan, as there was never any real movement against that war. The origin of the mass antiwar movement in opposition to the Iraq war—in its gratuitousness, deviousness in justification, and bungled execution—helps to explain the decline of this movement, as it ended as that war ended. The authors’ point is well taken that protest declined after partisan government changed, but the decline of movements is also typically related to their emergence and their influence; and thus any analysis of decline should address these influences.
A number of issues suggested to us that it would be useful to link the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the narrative. First, the “kernel” of the antiwar movement emerged in the days after 9/11. Amenta calls these early groups “smallbore.” I would agree, but all movements need to start somewhere. The Afghanistan war was the event that pulled a lot of hard core activists into peace activism and these activists often went on to leadership positions. For example, one the leading groups during the Iraq War era was International A.N.S.W.E.R. From one perspective, it is a “smallbore” group – allied with the socialist left and operates with a pretty small staff. However, it was one of the groups that got in “on the ground floor” right after 9/11 (the early Afghanistan war era) and became a highly influential player during the peak of the antiwar movement (the Iraq War era). Therefore, it makes a lot of sense (to us) that both of these conflicts were important events that shaped the trajectory of the movement. The Afghanistan war “jump started” a core of activists who were previously working on other issues while Iraq allowed that core to grow into a truly mass movement.
But there is a deeper point. Much of the antiwar movement leadership said they were in the *peace* movement, not the anti-Iraq War movement. Also, it was the frame offered by the Bush 2 administration. They were both parts of the “War on Terror.” If you can accept this view, then a lot of public opinion makes sense. The public supported both Iraq and Afghanistan as responses to terrorism and only turned on Iraq once casualties mounted. Among activists, they were both wars to be opposed for similar reasons (e.g., pacifism or anti-imperialism). Only among the Democratic/liberal wing of the electorate do you see the split on Iraq and Afghanistan, which we attribute to the tension between partisan and movement identities. This overall pattern only makes sense if you consider Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a broader context, not completely independent events.
Later this week, we’ll delve more deeply into the comparison between peace activism in the Vietnam and Iraq War eras.
Let’s start with a quiz. Guess which policy demands are from the Black Lives Matter platform and which ones are from the original 10-point plan from the Black Panthers in 1966:
- We believe that this racist government has robbed us, and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules.
- An end to the privatization of education and real community control by parents, students and community members of schools including democratic school boards and community control of curriculum, hiring, firing and discipline policies.
- We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else
- We believe we can end police brutality in our Black community by organizing Black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our Black community from racist police oppression and brutality.
- A reallocation of funds at the federal, state and local level from policing and incarceration [specific programs omitted] to long-term safety strategies such as education, local restorative justice services, and employment programs.
- Institute a universal single payer healthcare system. To do this all private insurers must be banned from the healthcare market as their only effect on the health of patients is to take money away from doctors, nurses and hospitals preventing them from doing their jobs and hand that money to wall st. investors.
- Racial and gender equal rights amendment.
Answer: BLM – 2, 5; BP – 1, 3, 4. Trick question: 6 & 7 are actually from a list of Occupy Wall Street demands. If you got some wrong, don’t worry. A lot of these demands are interchangeable and all three groups have promoted some version of most of them.
The purpose of the quiz is to illustrate how the recent Black Lives Matter platform draws heavily from Black cultural nationalism and progressivism. It also shows that the Black Lives Matter movement is now evolving in a direction very similar to these groups. Like the Panthers in 1966, Black Lives was founded specifically in response to police repression. But it framed itself in Marxist terms and soon expanded to offer social programs. Similarly, Black Lives Matter started in response to police shootings and has now offered a fairly comprehensive list of demands rooted in the Left.
There are differences of course, but I think we can now articulate a framework, or baseline, for thinking about BLM. It is a progressive, community oriented movement, not a movement that primarily focuses on police reform. It is also a movement that will have wide appeal on the Left, but less appeal to the middle and the Right.
Since we’ve had a number of movements like this, we can look at their history. We’ve had the Panthers in the 1960s, the anti-globalization movement of the 1990s, and the Occupy movement of 2010s. These movements tend to be brief, but intense. They have wide cultural impact, but limited policy or electoral impact. The impact of BLM will be very concentrated in a few places and otherwise widespread and diffuse. Time will tell if the comparison with BLMs ancestry is an adequate guide to their future.
Over at the Washington Post/Monkey Cage, Michael T. Heaney has an article about what he learned about DNC protesters. A few big points. First, Berners dominated the protest:
We went to demonstrations on many issues, including clean energy, police mistreatment of African Americans, immigration, poverty and peace. Our surveys on the first day of protests, July 24, found that 95 percent of the protesters who said they voted in the 2016 presidential primaries said they voted for Sanders, with only 4 percent voting for Clinton and 1 percent for other candidates. That’s quite a jump from what my collaborators (Seth Masket, Dara Strolovitch and Joanne Miller) and I found at the 2008 Democratic conventions, where protesters had supported then-Sen. Barack Obama (58 percent), Clinton (22 percent), Dennis Kucinich (6 percent), Mitt Romney (4 percent), Ron Paul (3 percent), Ralph Nader (3 percent) and others (4 percent).
Second, they feel Berned:
Of course, people who protest outside national party conventions are hardly representative of any candidate’s supporters; they’re a small, unusual group of highly motivated activists. But from this group, of those who voted for Sanders in the primary, only 9 percent said they were inclined to vote for Clinton in November. The vast majority (72 percent) said they would write in Sanders or vote for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. Less than 1 percent planned to vote for Trump, about 5 percent were looking at other candidates, and 13 percent were undecided. By contrast, just over half (51 percent) of the 2008 Democratic convention protesters who hadn’t supported Obama in the primary planned to vote for him in the general election.
Third, they’re coming back:
There aren’t enough of these activists to make a dent in votes in the fall. Their discontent will probably influence events by how they channel their organizing energy.
Where will that be? Consider that 74 percent strongly agreed that the Sanders campaign had a positive effect on the Democratic Party, while another 16 percent agreed somewhat. These activists feel powerful. They may be frustrated that their candidate lost the nomination battle, but they still see their efforts paying off by, for instance, making the 2016 Democratic Party platform the “most progressive” in the party’s history. Such “small wins” keep people engaged and organized because they think their efforts were valuable.
Commentary: First, kudos to Michael for getting this data and digging deeper into the phenomena of convention protest. Second, this gives us some insight into the current state of the Democratic party. Tactically, the DNC convention was successful in presenting Clinton 2 in a strong light. However, these protesters show that there is a long term game that is unfolding. The Clinton network (Clinton 1 &2, Gore) has dominated at least five presidential contests. Clinton 2 is probably the last major politician from this network, which means that there will be a structural opening in the party. If they play their cards right, these fringe protesters may end up starting the upcoming progressive explosion in the Democratic party.
I just spent the last six weeks teaching the Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar. The topic was “The Black Struggle for Freedom: an Interdisciplinary Approach.” Along with my co-teacher, Maria Hamilton Abegunde, we spent a month and a half reviewing abolitionism, civil rights, black power and “post-racial” America from a number of perspectives. In this post, I want to summarize a few thoughts I had on on how people perceive black power and civil rights today.
So here is what we did. We had students work with various written, visual, and audio materials. For civil rights, we spent time reading famous court decisions (e.g., Plessy or Brown), read historical summaries, and watch videos. For Black power, we did the same. Read the Panther’s 10 point program, watch videos on Black power activism, and read academic treatments of various Black power initiatives, such as Scot Brown’s book on the Us Organization or my book on Black studies.
We then had a discussion and got to the issue of what people took away from the readings. A few things jumped out at me. First, while most students clearly understood the importance of civil rights, the highly legalistic approach to social change meant that people didn’t appreciate much of what the movement was about. For example, a constant theme in civil rights activism is enforcement, which came up in Plessy, in Thurgood Marshall’s speech to the NAACP, in Brown and its aftermath, and in the text of the 1964 civil rights act. “Racism is bad” is something everyone can appreciate but “we are trying to create state and civil mechanisms for rights enforcement” is something that does not grab the attention of people. It is easily lost in collective memory.
Second, the SCLC/Kingian approach to social change is easily misinterpreted by modern readers, much as it was back then. Basically, a lot of people equate non-violence with passivity. This is clearly not the case as King’s actions were highly disruptive and extraordinarily confrontational. There is also the mistaken view that King did not believe in self-defense. Rather, King is very clear that non-violence is a tactic that makes sense in a specific context. Like most non-violence proponents of his era, he supported use of violence against exterminationist regimes such as the Third Reich.
Third, there is an aesthetic and interactional aspect of nationalism that has more appeal than civil rights activism. For starters, there is something sensational and breath taking about the best images from the Panthers. It’s really inspiring and uplifting to see people stand up for themselves. Second, as one student put it, King talks at you “from above” while Stokley talks “with you.” This isn’t to say that the Panthers, or other Black Power figures weren’t theoretical. Indeed, they could be, as the careers of Angela Davis and Huey Newton show, but the *average* person is more likely to be affected by the rhetoric and iconology of the Black power when it was direct.
So, to summarize, here are three reasons that Black Power has an edge when appealing to people in the present:
- Civil rights was articulated as legalistic and process oriented form of social change, instead of direct intervention. Civil rights is presented as a fairly abstract argument about law, equality, and segregation. Black power is remembered as a dynamic movement that empowered people directly.
- Civil rights and non-violence is seen as passive strategies that do nothing when applied to instances of violence, such as police shooting.
- Black power is more enjoyable in that it depicts direct action, not non-violence. Black power writings are more direct and speak to experience.
In the coming weeks, I’ll use my teaching experience to delve more into Black social movement politics, American history, and teaching.