I’ll be honest with you, I’ve got a copy of LeBon’s The Crowd that I keep meaning to read. Of course I’ve internalized what we all now think he was saying—protestors are crazy!—because social movement scholars have spent the last thirty years insisting that protestors are rational actors behaving in politically salient ways. But I’ve got this nagging curiosity that I keep meaning to do something about: Maybe LeBon was writing about a fundamentally different time. Maybe protests and protestors were different. That’s not what this post is about, because I’ve not pulled LeBon back down from the shelf.
Anyway, it was with this general line of curiosity that an article from the Times of India struck me broadside: Protestors against a proposed nuclear power station were made to undergo psychological counseling. What’s this now? Seriously? The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy has been protesting for some time, but as best I can tell from a quick perusal of the web, this is the first time there’s been an attempt to brainwash them. Maybe it’s not brainwashing, maybe it’s less sinister. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has demanded an explanation from the Indian government. No other details seems to be publically available at this point. Also noteworthy: this psychological intervention follows on the heels of a government investigation of the possibility that PMANE’s work is supported by “foreign funds.” The investigation led to the detainment and deportation of a German national.
There’s no need to belabor the analysis here. India is truly a social movement society. I’ve never been to India when there wasn’t a bandt or strike or sit in or walkout or protest that effected trains, taxis, rickshaws, airplanes, government workers, women carrying water, men breaking stones, and a thousand other activities and sectors. So a protest against a new reactor is nothing new. But at a time when western security forces are developing more and more refined responses to large-scale protests, it seems that the Indian government is moving LeBon-ward. Diagnosing the protestor as patient and administering the cure.
Which brings us back to The Crowd. I wonder if LeBon got some things right about the world he lived in. Maybe, like the Fantastic Mr. Fox tells Rat, “certainly she lived, we all did. But it was a different time; let’s not use a double standard.” But then when I see the Indian government treating protest like a disorder I settle back into the conventional wisdom: LeBon was crazy. I guess I really should read his book.
It would be an exaggeration to claim that there has been a significant and visible mobilization against the war in Iraq for the past several years. The misinformation used to justify the war and the failure of any workable formula for the governance of Iraq after the removal of Saddam Hussein rather quickly caused a broad segment of the public to adopt a quagmire frame. With the election of a President who was critical of the war and who promised to end it in an orderly fashion, the opportunity to mobilize any significant constituency to take collective action to end this war was essentially closed.
Nevertheless, there are some lessons to be drawn from this experience. Continue reading
It is widely recognized that police and protesters compete for the moral high ground, as the iconic image from the US civil rights reminds us.
Christian Davenport and I have begun a Civil Society and Democratic Expression research initiative that we hope will serve as a model for how we should collect data so that we can better study the street politics of social movements. Matt Baggetta kindly posted about the “within the protest” street portion of the project, and we will post soon about our effort to also document the police deployment “behind the scenes” during large events such as the recent march and rally in Chicago organized by the Coalition Against NATO/G8 War & Poverty Agenda.
Because the street politics of protest can be understood as a competition between protesters and police to earn the moral high ground we believe it is vital to study not only the interactions of protesters and police on the street, but also the resulting press coverage and public opinion. Continue reading
While at the anti-NATO protest I became especially intrigued by the clothes/costumes worn by the different activists – particularly those associated with the “Black Block”/Anarchists. Clearly, there are important elements of “dressing to impress” and identity formation at work. They do not all appear to be consistent but they likely never are.
Below are some of the interesting things we observed:
Below one sees that the NFL (National Football League) and MLB (Major League Baseball) are proud “sponsors” of anarchists, an essential component of any radical wardrobe. I wonder about the teams. There are also some uses of head scarves found in the Middle East (does anyone know what the light green one represents?)
This will be the first of a few posts on the interesting things Will Moore and I observed in Chicago this past weekend while conducting an observational study of the G8/NATO protests that builds on, and extends, Clark McPhail’s approach. Our goal was to systematically evaluate the variation and escalatory dynamics present within contentious state-dissident interactions. For a description of the project, see Matt Baggetta’s post or visit our site: http://tinyurl.com/protpol. We will update that site later with additional information regarding this project.
Last year I ran some embedded survey experiments with Rose McDermott and Dave Armstrong regarding protest-protest policing. At one point, we sought to determine if responses would vary according to the race/ethnicity of the protestors and police. One dyad concerned black police and white protestors. To this, several readers questioned whether black cops “policed” white protesters.
While there were a large number of white officers and protestors at the event, there were also specific moments when the police force was almost exclusively African American with a predominately white protestor presence.
Below are some of the images that I shot.
Black police on both sides of the predominately white protest.
A friend recently posted a link to this photo in the Jakarta Post.
The caption reads, “Female police officers dance to diffuse the tension at a fuel price hike rally in Surabaya, East Java [Indonesia], on Thursday. The police later fired tear gas into the crowd to disperse the rally.”
It’s unclear whether the dancing was a spontaneous action, or a planned tactic. It seems to have been somewhat coordinated, though — the two women in the middle, and to a lesser extent the one on the right, appear to be making the same movement.
During a protest, the police are the representatives of the state, the actor against whom protesters are directing their grievances. I’ve never heard of police employing lighthearted strategies to address the threat of violence in a protest setting. Have you? Of course, the fact that these dancing police officers are female makes their choice of tactic that much more interesting.
Living in Tampa and working in a criminology department I’ve been in a position to hear quite a bit about the preparations for the upcoming Republican National Convention in downtown Tampa this August. Over the past few months there have been several reports on the large budget, especially the possibility for long term public surveillance expenditures, and of the disappointment by the city council and police over the denial of airborne drones for the event. Lost in the discussions over how much, and what new toys local and federal agencies will have has been the ability of the protestors to actually protest in a meaningful way during this event. It almost seems as though it’s an afterthought, with local law enforcement I spoke to saying the intention is to keep the protesters as far away from the convention as possible. Continue reading
On her CNN Newsroom morning show (Feb 7), Kyra Phillips set up a segment about college courses on OWS saying that OWS “is not just in the streets but in the classrooms” and that “kids are writing papers about it.” She interviews Roosevelt University professor of political science, Jeff Edwards and a graduate student in his course, Ameshia Cross. Edwards, who is a social movement scholar, says it is worth having a course about the Occupy movement because it has changed the discourse of American politics and has “staying power.” It also appeals to students because it is “youth led.” Cross, his student, is reminded of a comment a professor once made when she was an undergraduate – that the new generation is not interested in social movements. The discussion then moved to a comparison of OWS with “classic” social movements. All agreed that the Occupy movement is comparable to the civil rights movement and women’s movement. As Cross says, the Occupy movement “lives up” to that kind of comparison. Phillips then asks Edwards whether a course on the OWS movement would be taught in 5 years. Edwards says yes. He suggests that effective movements last a long time, and presumably, the goals of the Occupy movement– no matter how loosely defined – will not be met any time soon and thus will have to play out over an extended period of time (see also The Occupy Movement Is Now Being Offered As A Political Science Course). Continue reading