A year ago, I wrote a couple of posts about the growing tensions between environmental activists and the Conservative government in Canada, particularly with regards to the Gateway and Keystone oil pipelines. The Conservative government portrayed environmental activists and organizations as radical and in many ways, depicted campaigns against the pipeline as coming from outside of Canada backed by foreign interests. But over the course of 2012, environmental issues became less salient with the public and garnered less attention from the media. Then, in a November 2012 Globe and Mail article, it was suggested that a recent Natural Resources Canada study finding that the chemical in the oil sands is not more corrosive than other oil, is a “major strike against a key argument made by opponents of pipelines.” With a lack of interest, apparently damning evidence against environmental activists, and determination on the part of the government to continue resource development (including the oil sands project), things were not looking good for environmental activists. The Conservative government has continued to champion the pipeline and has called for more proposals for future natural resource development.
Tag Archives: activism
Social movement scholars have often struggled with operationalizing movement success and/or failure, and rightfully so. What may be considered a failure to scholars may be perceived as success to activists. In addition, movements are not monoliths and therefore success for some activists or for some groups, may not be relevant to other aspects of a movement. Finally, talking about success and failure also rests on the assumption that we know about the intentions of movement actors – that there are clearly stated and known objectives and that the decisions actors make are in reference to achieving those goals and objectives. Often, we can only speculate about motivations and intent; presumably success can also come about unintentionally. I have written about how the Occupy movement has shifted the spotlight to scholars’ understanding of movement outcomes, but I suggest that the Tea Party also requires us to think about how we define movement success and failure. Continue reading
The year 2012 is a special one in Massachusetts: the centennial of the 1912 Lawrence textile strike has been celebrated with literally dozens of events, with more still planned. The gatherings I’ve attended have given me glimpses into the cultures of different wings of today’s progressive movements. My conclusion is that participatory singing as a political act is becoming an outmoded relic of former movements.
At the big Labor Day event, the crowd included UNITE-HERE members and other Lawrence-area union members, mostly Latinos younger than 50. Union members wore union t-shirts to signify their affiliations; and they marched in contingents; but they didn’t sing as they marched. Some of the musical performers that day sang in Spanish, and young and/or Latino festival-goers either sat and listened or they danced along – but they never sang along.
A number of white and black singers at the Labor Day festival encouraged sing-alongs, and I watched to see who sang and who didn’t sing. In particular, because Bread and Puppet Theater, with its giant puppets and stilt-walkers, is so inherently interesting to all ages and races, I was able to watch their big diverse audience respond to calls to sing along. Perhaps Mobilizing Ideas readers won’t be surprised to learn that those who sang along were old and white. Many of them were seasoned leftists whose experience stretched back to the ‘60s or earlier.
At other Lawrence centennial events I saw the same singing demographic: old and white. The only middle-aged exceptions were approximately four of us hard-core political folkies, those who knew by heart all four verses of the “Bread and Roses” song about the 1912 strike. But except for us, everyone else who sang “Solidarity Forever” had white hair and weathered faces. Ditto with “Union Maid.” And twice, when “The Internationale” was sung, everyone else who stood up and raised their right fist appeared to be 75 or older; this old socialist tradition seems not to have been passed down.
During the anti-globalization movement of the late 1990s I realized that young activists in that movement did not sing during protests. And the music of the Occupy movement seemed to be either performance or participatory drumming, not participatory singing (see this collection). But during those two mobilizations I thought that the singing/not-singing breakpoint was about age 35. At this year’s Lawrence events, I realized that the age divide is much older, and that political singing seems to have virtually died out even among middle-aged activists.
For those of us raised on Civil Rights freedom songs, anti-war songs, wimmin’s music, De Colores and anti-apartheid music, a movement that doesn’t sing seems strange and culturally impoverished. Media jamming and crowd-sourced creativity through Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are the new mode of activist participatory creativity; activists now have protest tools unimagined in the 1960s.
But when I think of some of the situations in which the anti-apartheid movement sang their freedom songs – between jail cells on death row, in the poverty of exile, and while marching under violent repression – I worry about how future activists will keep their spirits up and build solidarity when all their electronic devices are unavailable to them.
The Québec provincial election is a few days away and despite an ongoing conversation about holding a truce, student activists continued their use of disruptive tactics (most recently at the Université de Montréal). Student mobilization has become a central feature of the 2012 provincial election. But, who stands to benefit most from student protest?
Leaders in the student movement have sought to use the election to address grievances regarding tuition increases (although, as I have written in a previous blog and as others have noted, it is unclear whether tuition is truly driving mobilization or whether it triggered underlying discontent). The more militant organization, CLASSE, as well as other movement figures has been associated with the nationalist Parti Québécois (PQ). Indeed, Pauline Marois, leader of the PQ brought in activist leader Léo Bureau-Blouin as a PQ candidate in a district north of Montreal. Student activists presumably see a PQ electoral victory as a potential victory of their own as Marois proclaimed that the PQ will cancel any tuition increases within its first 100 days in office. It is not surprising then that student protesters have sought to mobilize particularly in districts where they believe the youth vote will make the difference in defeating the Liberal Party and Premier Jean Charest.
Summers in Montreal usually mean festivals; whether Just for Laughs or the Jazz Fest. But, with an impending election, Montrealers this summer are wondering whether student protests will influence the upcoming Québec provincial election. Protests were first activated by the threat of a tuition hike, but quickly became about something bigger (see my May 10th post). One development has been the so-called radicalization of the protests, particularly organizations like CLASSE, accused of undermining negotiations with the government and as being aligned with the current opposition party, the sovereigntist Parti Québécois. It became clear, fairly early on, that the greatest obstacle for student protesters was convincing Quebeckers that the protests were more than just about tuition, that they are symptomatic of a bigger socio-structural problem, and that disruption is necessary (see my May 25th post). Unfortunately for protesters, public opinion has not been on their side. Continue reading
The U.S. military is on to something. For recruitment and training purposes it has created video arcades, advertisements embedded in video games, combat simulators, and its own popular series of first-person shooter game, America’s Army. Your 13 year-old could join the Allied forces in Call of Duty, NATO’s counterterrorism unit in Rainbow Six, or U.S. Navy SEALs in SOCOM. The list goes on. Of course video games can be used to recruit and train. So why aren’t activists doing it?
Thankfully, they are. Brought to you by the makers of A Force More Powerful (the book and the movie), People Power: The Game of Civil Resistance puts you in control of your own social movement. For ten bucks you could be playing in five minutes. The games creators describe it this way: Continue reading
And unlike most things I’ve read about kids disengaged from school, which focus on their deficits and fret about their life chances, Jensen, a counseling psychologist who has long worked with such kids, celebrates the working-class cultural strengths that motivate some of them, even as she is realistic about their struggles.
Reading this wise and evocative book through my own lens of wanting to organize progressive social movements, I saw that the working-class cultural traits she describes are some of the essentials of movement-building.
“If there’s no rebel energy, there’s no movement,” the late working-class activist Bill Moyer wrote in Doing Democracy. He didn’t mean violent rebellion or randomly scattered rage, but strategically targeted rebellion against unjust power-holders. Tame tactics would never make social change. Looking around at the devastation in the U.S. economy and environment, it’s clear that too many of us are taking terrible injustices sitting down. We have a society-wide shortage of rebel energy, as Bruce Levine. Continue reading
Have, as Montreal Gazette reporter Karen Seidman suggests, radicals hijacked the conflict over tuition increases in Québec?
In my previous post, I suggested that recent student protests in Montreal were more than just about tuition increases, and that tuition increases served as a triggering event that activated some other latent, longstanding grievances. In a recent May 16th article in the Montreal Gazette, Peggy Curran seems to agree with that assessment and writes that “it was clear the battle against tuition hikes had been transformed into the revolutionary cry of a lost generation. Toss a little anarchist mayhem into the mix, and you get a cocktail called pandemonium.” According to Curran, student mobilization is partially explained by the broader context of social unrest and breakdown characterized by economic uncertainty and high unemployment. But in addition to social unrest, Curran suggests a certain kind of intergenerational conflict between today’s students and baby-boomers – what she calls “boomerhate.” Continue reading
A few weeks ago, students in Montreal protested against the tuition increase proposed by the Québec government. But might there me more to this student mobilization than simply a protest against a fairly small (particularly by US standards) increase in tuition? A series of recent newspaper articles allude to this possibility by calling into question “the real” nature of, or motivation for, student mobilization.
Although the government and student leaders called a truce, protest, which included vandalism, continued. An April 26th Globe and Mail article by Alexander Panetta claims that “the latest events prompted questions about whether the student leaders actually control the movement they spearheaded.” CLASSE, which is considered a hard-line student group, was excluded from negotiations with the government because they continued to promote protest despite the education minister’s ultimatum. CLASSE’s spokesperson claims that the government really had no intention of negotiating which is why they have continued to promote the use of disruptive tactics. Continue reading