Social Movements and Elections

Although social movements may engage in extra-institutional politics, their activities often overlap substantially with electoral politics. For September and October, Mobilizing Ideas invites contributors to look at how political campaigns strategically use and interact with social movements. Current examples would be how the political campaigns in the US have related to Black Lives Matter or Occupy. We ask our contributors to consider how political actors use movements to advance their own goals, with or without the consent of those movements. Contributors also consider how movements respond to these efforts.

Many thanks to our fantastic group of contributors.

Steffen Blings, Cornell University (essay)
Michael T. Heaney, University of Michigan (essay)
Rodolfo Disi Pavlic, University of Texas at Austin (essay)
Deana Rohlinger, Florida State University (essay)
Fabio Rojas, Indiana University (essay)

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo


Filed under Social Movements and Elections, Uncategorized

Activism in Latin America

Political protesters in Rio de Janiero have used the global spotlight of the Olympics to highlight social issues in their cities and countries, notably extinguishing the Olympic torch at one point in time to bring attention to the high cost of hosting the games while other problems are ignored. Mobilizing Ideas would like to take this time to focus on activism in the broader region of Latin America. We invite contributors to consider particular topics that may include the relationship of activists to organized crime, state impunity and societal accountability, legacies of authoritarian governments, land rights and indigenous movements, and more.

Many thanks to our contributors.

Daniel Burridge, University of Pittsburgh (essay)
Nicholas Barnes, University of Wisconsin-Madison (essay)
Lucas ChristelDaniel Torunczyk, National University of San Martín & CONICET (essay)
Stefanie Israel, University of Notre Dame  (essay)
Angela Lederach, University of Notre Dame  (essay)
Marcos Perez, Colby College (essay)
Adam Talbot, University of Brighton (essay)

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Guillermo Trejo

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Informing Activists

Mobilizing Ideas is excited to announce the publication of a special series this month called “Informing Activists.” Coordinated by Jennifer Earl and Thomas Elliott (both at the University of Arizona), and in in partnership with the Youth Activism Project, this series includes videos from some of the top scholars in social movements, recommended readings, and other resources on topics ranging from framing to social movement consequences, all tailored to young activists, potential organizers, and/or potential protest participants. We hope you will share this series widely, especially with young people in your communities interested in working for social change.

Editors in Chief,
Grace Yukich, David Ortiz, Rory McVeigh, Dan Myers

The Youth Activism Project, which is sponsored by the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, has joined with Mobilizing Ideas to produce a video series designed to translate academic research on social movements into actionable information and questions that can be of use to young activists, potential organizers, and/or potential protest participants.

The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) is a network of ten scholars from various disciplines that have come together to understand how youth are getting involved civically and politically, including through sharing and producing civic and political content online. We are also interested in understanding the risks and opportunities that the use of digital media may play in these engagements. While the network invests in, and members conduct, basic research on these topics, YPP is also dedicated to translating relevant research findings into actionable information for young people, activists, educators, and/or policy-makers.

This video series comes out of that desire to connect young people with critical research on activism. We’ve invited some of the top scholars in the field of social movements to talk about what their research has to say about how to be effective activists. For example, David Snow discusses what advice his pioneering work in framing has for activists looking to improve their messaging. Holly McCammon discusses how her work in strategic adaptation helps guide activists in modifying their strategies to changing contexts. Our goal is that these videos can help current and future activists better plan their campaigns to achieve success.

Each page contains at least one video that we hope will help young activists make informed decisions about their engagements, a bio about the presented, and some suggested readings if someone is interested in a deeper dive into the topic area.

We hope you find these to be helpful, and welcome suggestions about new videos. You can email us at Good luck on making the change you envision!

Table of Contents

In what ways do social movements make a difference? – Thomas Elliott

How/When do movements make a political difference? – Katrin Uba

How/When do movements affect culture? – Jenn Earl

When do movements shape public opinion? – Neal Caren

How does movement participation affect people’s lives? – Marco Giugni

Who Participates in Movements and Why? – Bert Klandermans and Ziad Munson

What can be done about activist burnout? – Sharon Nepstad

How do I build identity and solidarity in a movement? – Rachel Einwohner

How much does the political environment affect my cause? – David Meyer

What are the best tactics for my cause? – Catherine Corrigall-Brown

How do I use online tools to help my cause? – Lissa Soep

What are the best targets for my cause? – Tom Maher

How do I adapt my tactics to the political environment? – Holly McCammon

When do I need an organization? – Jenn Earl

How do I work with existing organizations? – Grace Yukich

How can I build coalitions and increase diversity? – Rich Wood

What are some considerations for youth in organizations? – Sarah Gaby

How do I talk about my cause? – David Snow

What do I need to know about the media environment? – Deana Rohlinger

What are the risks of activism and can I reduce those risks? – Heidi Reynolds-Stenson

How Might These Topics Apply to a Specific Campaign? – Elizabeth Armstrong


Filed under Essay Dialogues, Informing Activists

Pressuring Parties: How European Social Movements Use Elections to Influence Parties

By Steffen Blings

During electoral campaigns the focus both in the media and social science is on voters, political parties, and the candidates they run. Candidates appear in the media, horse race polls dominate the headlines, and ads and campaigns messages saturate the airwaves. Other actors, like social movements, only receive attention when they are directly linked to political parties. For instance in the context of the recent string of electoral successes of Germany’s right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the party’ links to anti-Muslim movement activity have received both media and scientific attention. Yet in the same state election that gave the AfD one of its biggest electoral victories, far-right activists were by no means the only relevant movement actors. A group of seven organizations originating in social movement activity concerned about information-related issues, like the state of copyright law and the protection of privacy, founded the “Coalition Free Knowledge” (Koalition Freies Wissen). This coalition sent surveys to the parties competing in the state election to elicit the parties’ positions on issues like free software and access to the digital space and evaluated the parties’ answers. In their evaluation, which was distributed to the media, the organizations come to clear conclusions, calling the positions of Social, as well as Christian Democrats unsatisfactory and highlighting the Greens as the party with the most progressive position regarding changes in increasingly digital societies. Continue reading

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Whither the Student Movement? Reform and Demobilization in Chile

By Rodolfo Disi Pavlic

What can movements expect from engaging in electoral politics? The relationship between the current government of President Michelle Bachelet and the Chilean college student movement suggests that supporting a candidate and her platform can come at a price. The reforms advanced by Bachelet have left students dissatisfied, and the movement itself has lost leverage. Continue reading

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Dysfunctional Politics in the Digital Age

By Deana Rohlinger

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From Pinterest                                                                         From Propcott

Something has changed in American politics. The chasm between progressives and conservatives has grown and, according to research by Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, Americans have become more tribal in their politics. Americans feel a deep commitment to their ideological positions and a great deal of hostility toward their political opponents. This is bad news for social movements. Progressive and conservative causes, as well as the movements that organize around them, are caught up in this antagonism, making it more difficult than ever to capture the hearts and minds of the citizenry. Political consensus seems to be a thing of the past and reasoned conversations about important political issues virtually extinct. Continue reading

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Where are the Social Movements in the 2016 Election?

By Fabio Rojas

If a social movement were a person and you asked that person to describe their relationship with elections, the social movement would say “it’s complicated.” Sometimes, social movements really love elections. They help bring people to the rally and force candidates to pay attention to them. At other times, politicians and the public drift away from movements. Even when you win, involvement in an election can be a mixed blessing. The demands of power often mean that a movement might have to curtail its goals. As one activist told me, “the issue isn’t what we’ll do in the election, the issue is how to avoid being damaged by elections.” You can’t live with elections, you can’t live without them. Continue reading

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Bernie Sanders and the Occupy Wall Street Wing of the Democratic Party


Philadelphia, PA, July 27, 2016.  Photo by Michael T. Heaney

By Michael T. Heaney

The 2016 presidential election has been unusual in the extent to which it has generated mobilization from social movements across the ideological spectrum that objected to the basic fairness and legitimacy of the nomination process as it was managed by both major parties. Movements such as Black Lives Matter, the prolife movement, and the Tea Party have openly challenged Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and others. An important question to consider is, what are the potential long-term political consequences likely to result from this short-term spike in mobilization? Continue reading

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A Turning Tide? Grassroots Movements and a New Political Context in South America

By Marcos Perez

For the last decade and a half, the influence of grassroots movements in South America has expanded substantially. Organizations that emerged as localized reactions to neoliberal policies in the 1980s and 90s managed to force changes of government, accumulate resources, and access strategic positions within the state bureaucracy at the local, provincial, and national level. Continue reading

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