Populist Mobilization and the Election

With the recent support garnered by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, as well as right wing populist candidates in Europe, the next Mobilizing Ideas dialogue asks contributors to use a social movements lens to analyze populist mobilization and elections. As observers have noted, the primary campaigns in the US have defied conventional logic about the political process, providing an excellent opportunity to think about how social movement theory can help us understand this latest resurgence of populism. Our contributors are encouraged to consider aspects of populism such as demagogy, the role of charisma, the role of the media, the power of collective action, and other related topics.

Many thanks to our contributors.

Noam Gidron, Harvard University  (essay)
Martin Eiermann, University of California – Berkeley (essay)
Rob Barr, University of Mary Washington (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 yap.arizona@gmail.com. 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

Populism and the Paradox of Welfare Chauvinists

By Noam Gidron

Populism has become a defining feature of the 2016 electoral presidential campaign in the United States. Within this electoral cycle, the allure of populism on the left and the resonance of Bernie Sanders’ anti-Wall-Street rhetoric have been duly noticed by political observers. Yet probably most attention with regard to populism has been devoted to the Trump phenomenon and its potential long-term implications for the Republican Party and its base of support. Continue reading

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“In the Land of Uncle Sam”: Populism and Race in the United States

By Martin Eiermann

The easy critique of Donald Trump’s campaign – easy, because it only requires a casual vilification of the working class – places blame squarely at the feet of poor white voters. In the words of Max Weber and Joseph Schumpeter, they are too “inarticulate”, “unintelligent”, “irresponsible”, and “infantile” to determine the course of politics. Weber and Schumpeter wrote in the context of social discontent in the 1900s and fascist fervor in the 1940s, but the same argument has long been raised against populist politics more generally. According to its logic, rational governance appears to require an elite that has partially insulated itself against the whims of public opinion, and has channeled demands for accountability and legitimacy into regular elections and irregular press conferences. Continue reading

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Has Latin American Populism Spread to the US?

By Rob Barr

With a socialist and a political novice seeking the Democratic and Republican nominations, the 2016 US presidential election is one for the books. It seems to be an all-bets-are-off race with more in common with Latin American contests than prior US ones. Is the US catching the populist bug of its neighbors to the south? The answer, in a sense, is not quite. More than the manifestation of a populist wave, the race may signal deep problems in the American party system. Continue reading

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Movement “Branding” in the Japanese Anti-War Protests

While constructing a course syllabus on “Social Movements in East and Southeast Asia,” I have been re-reading some news articles, popular analyses, and academic theorizing on the recent waves of protest in the region, including Mobilizing Ideas’ dialogue in December 2014 and January 2015. Since the turn of the decade, East and Southeast Asia has been the site of massive mobilizations, generating huge turnouts from millennials. Youth activism was crucial in the campaign for electoral reform in Malaysia, especially in the Bersih 2.0 rally of 2011. In the 2014 Hong Kong protests, the pro-democracy movement consisted predominantly of high school and college students, who were participating in street demonstrations for the first time and had no recollection of the 1989 Tiananmen protests or other contentious episodes in China’s (or Hong Kong’s) history.

In the summer and fall of 2015, Japan witnessed one of the largest protests in Tokyo in recent years, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attempts to “reinterpret” Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes involving the state. Such a movement had not emerged in Japan since the anti-war protests of the 1960s. The charter has been the basis for Japan’s 70-year neutrality and non-intervention since the end of World War II. Indeed, pacifism has shaped the nation’s brand, enhancing its leadership status in the international community.

Like the protests in Hong Kong, students were at the forefront of the movement. They were from elite private colleges, like International Christian University, Meiji Gakuin University, and Sophia University. They were first-time protesters with no memory of World War II and its immediate effects to Japanese society and collective psyche. Similar to other huge mobilizations in the last five years, technology played a central role in the development and spread of the movement.

But what is fascinating about the Japanese anti-war protests is the ways by which one of the main youth organizations—the moderate and non-partisan Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs)—has carved a recognizable identity for the movement, one that appeals to Japan’s young population and to the global network of contemporary social justice activists. Noticeable is the use of English in its calls and demands printed in flashy placards designed by students, who claim to be influenced by street culture like hip hop and skateboarding, John F. Kennedy, and The Beatles. SEALDs is deliberate in the minimalist but stylish packaging of the organization and its messages, which has facilitated name-recall and association. It also deployed slogans like “This Is What Democracy Looks Like,” “Give Peace A Chance,” and “I Can’t Believe We’re Still Protesting This S!@t,” which have been used in protests against austerity, racism, militarization etc. in North America and Western Europe.

Lastly, SEALDs has incorporated the members’ interests in fashion, music, and other forms of popular culture in its performance of protest. For instance, in one of its promotional materials, activists looked like models for the SEALDs clothing brand, declaring “War Is Over If You Want It” minus the Christmas greeting from John Lennon and Yoko Ono (Photo 1). Another one used the lyrics from “Take the Power Back,” a song released in 1991 by American political rap metal band, Rage Against the Machine (Photo 2). And in its official website, SEALDs makes protesting look in vogue with activists in urban-hip, vintage-style clothes, the opposite of raggedly-dressed anti-war militants in the 1960s who paid less attention to their looks (Photo 3). In all these, the colors are appealing and the messages are easily digestible. SEALDs as a brand signifies the modern and timeless significance of protest.


Photo 1. SEALDs promotional material (Photo credit: William Andrews, Asia Progressive, http://www.asiaprogressive.com)


Photo 2. SEALDs promotional material (Photo credit: @SEALDs_Tohoku)


Photo 3. SEALDs official website (http://sealdseng.strikingly.com)

A professor of politics observed the effectiveness of SEALDs’s hipster approach in galvanizing the largely apolitical Japanese youth, stating, “SEALDs projects the image that you can be normal and fashionable and political at the same time.” But some have criticized the group for reducing complex issues to trendy visuals and catchy sound bites and thus attracting groups and individuals with little understanding and commitment to the cause. The branding also inadvertently uncouples the movement from its origins. The peace movement in Japan is deeply rooted in the humanitarian catastrophes during World War II, especially the horrors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings—events that shaped the older generation’s activist identities. Japanese activists have been influential worldwide, especially in campaigns towards achieving global nuclear disarmament. In framing their issues, they drew from personal experiences, family narratives, and localized collective memory of the past.

Developing a brand is not new in movement politics. In her study of abortion politics, Deana Rohlinger discusses how Planned Parenthood created a brand in the 1980s to sustain media attention. From the Occupy movements to the Arab Spring, the Guy Fawkes mask has become a shared symbol among activists, facilitating solidarity and the branding of global dissent. But how can branding capture both contemporary relevance and historical continuity, especially on an issue that has defined a nation’s identity? Does movement branding for media visibility, recruitment, and global solidarity run the risk of conformity and detachment from local histories? Can branding work against a movement?


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Civil Wars and Contentious Politics II

In a 2007 review piece for Perspective in Politics, Sid Tarrow identified the need for studies of civil wars to consider the broader context of political contention, and indeed social movements. We have asked our contributors to consider this intersection of topics. While civil wars may be a special case of political conflict, players often have a multitude of relations or connections to non-violent movements and groups. One primary example of this is the civil war in Syria, and the emergence of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Mobilizing Ideas has asked contributors to consider the gap between studies on civil wars and terrorism, and that of contentious politics and social movements. Focal topics include terrorism, the onset and cessation of violence, political and ethnic violence, repression, and rebellion.

Many thanks to our fantastic group of contributors.

Ziad Munson, Lehigh University (essay)
Susan Olzak, Stanford University (essay)
Cem Emrence, University of Massachusetts – Amherst (essay)
Eva Herschinger, University of Aberdeen (essay)
Mehmet Gurses, Florida Atlantic University (essay)

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

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The Fetish of Ideology in Studies of Terrorism

By Ziad Munson

When studying terrorist organizations, scholars focus primarily on organizational ideology. Ideology remains the central way in which scholars organize their understanding of many different questions about such groups. We use ideology to explain why people join terrorist organizations; how such groups form and develop; and how to classify terrorist groups in the spectrum of organizations. It is no surprise that social scientists use ideas as the basis for study. However, other variables – discussed below – are of equal, and often neglected, importance. Continue reading

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