Category Archives: Daily Disruption

Under Pressure

Protest against the Canal Istanbul project in Küçükçekmece, Istanbul. July 22, 2020
Banner: “During the pandemic, we seek life they seek rent

Collective action is alive during the pandemic. But in which social movement areas? One obvious category is public health: Those who demand more public health measures might take online action, and those who oppose protective measures might take to the streets. Either side might target state actors or fellow citizens. The second category that comes to mind is labor. As the pandemic disrupts life, the measures were taken against the spread of the virus (or their lack thereof) lead to economic depression and rising unemployment. We would expect labor-related protests as a result. These are the usual suspects, how about the unusual ones?

Environmental emergency, democracy, anti-racism, and women’s rights seem to trigger protests across the globe. The activists’ perception of urgency might lead them to take to the streets amidst a pandemic. Despite the restrictions.  Despite the de facto media blackout on news not related to Covid-19, especially in the first few months of the pandemic. All the while, the pandemic driven state of emergency measures and media’s focus on Covid-19 related news might lift some of the pressures policy makers face in other policy areas. In other words, social movements face more obstacles to be heard and politicians risk less punishment for ignoring the movements’ demands.

As scholars of social movements, we need to focus on the indirect impact of Covid-19 measures on collective action as well. Across the globe. Here are two strikingly similar cases of urban development and environmental policy from my comparative project: Brazil and Turkey (see here for a snapshot on collective action in Turkey). In both of the countries, during the first months of the pandemic, the national governments continued their “development” policies, which environmental groups vehemently opposed. In Brazil, the topic was the deforestation of the Amazon. In Turkey, it was the Canal İstanbul project that aims to create a second Bosphorus in İstanbul. Ricardo Salles, the  Brazilian environment minister, argued that the pandemic was a great opportunity to push for unpopular measures, which might likely get blocked in congress. For him, the pandemic was the right time for these policy changes because media focused solely on Covid. Similarly, in March, the Turkish government held a tender for the Canal İstanbul project at a time when schools were shut down and weekend curfews were introduced in Turkey. It lead to an outcry from environmentalist groups claiming that the government took advantage of a public health crisis.

These examples show just one aspect of the indirect impact of the pandemic on the ability of the social movement actors to pressure state actors. Their room to maneuver is severely restricted as it is harder to gather media’s attention, coordinate protests on the streets, or influence agenda-setting in general.

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Why Post-Election Protests Persist in Belarus

By Olena Nikolayenko

Over the past month, Belarus has been rocked by some of the largest post-election rallies since the collapse of communism. Despite state repression, anti-government protests have shown no signs of fading in the former Soviet republic, located between Poland on the one hand and Russia on the other. This surge in mass mobilization caught many observers of local politics off guard because Alyaksandar Lukashenka, a former head of a collective farm, has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994 and has never encountered such a high level of resistance to the regime. A configuration of five factors explains why protests persist in the autocracy.

First, consistent with prior research on electoral revolutions, electoral fraud was a catalyst for the onset of mass protests in August 2020. The presidential elections turned into a battle between the incumbent president and a political novice. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya registered as a presidential candidate after her spouse, a popular blogger, had been jailed and denied a chance to run for presidency. The Central Election Commission announced that Lukashenka was reelected for the sixth term in office, with 80 percent of the vote. According to the official results, Tsikhanovskaya received 10 percent of the popular vote. However, online opinion polls, independent election observation reports, and numerous eyewitness accounts clearly indicated that the overwhelming majority of the electorate voted for Tsikhanovskaya.

Public outrage over sadistic police beating of peaceful protesters and torture of citizens in detention centers further fueled civil resistance. My research on the 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine shows that the defense of human dignity was pivotal to mass mobilization against the regime. Similarly, thousands of Belarusians poured into the streets to demand the government’s respect of human dignity and the provision of political freedoms.

Second, the development of a horizontal organization structure was vital to the survival of the protest movement. In the absence of formal movement leaders, ordinary citizens relied upon informal social networks and social media to sustain protest activity. Research shows that social media can perform a variety of functions to facilitate mass mobilization. The Telegram channel Nexta assumed a critical role in overcoming the government’s shutdown of the Internet and disseminating information to over 1.5 million subscribers. Compared to Facebook and Twitter, the cloud-based instant messaging app Telegram was better positioned to bypass the state-sanctioned blockage of the Internet.

Third, commitment to nonviolent action underpins the durability of contentious collective action in Belarus. Prior research finds that nonviolent protest campaigns are more effective than violent uprisings in achieving their goals. Belarusians displayed a great deal of creativity in challenging the regime. In particular, women wearing white and holding flowers employed such attention-grabbing methods of nonviolent resistance as the formation of human chains, the performance of Belarusian-language songs, and the use of chants during peaceful marches. Notably, women compared the autocrat’s treatment of the nation to the violent behavior of a domestic abuser.

Fourth, spatial dispersion of post-election protests galvanized into action citizens across Belarusian large cities and small towns. Pockets of resistance to the authoritarian regime are no longer limited to the capital city. Furthermore, unlike the 2006 post-election protests, involving an encampment on Kastrychnitskaya Square in Minsk or the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, citizens refrained from permanently occupying a public square. Instead, protesters gathered in multiple spots throughout Minsk and spill out in bedroom communities, creating an element of surprise.

Fifth, this wave of mass mobilization was bolstered by a cross-cutting coalition of intellectuals, white-collar professionals, and the working class. A strike at the Kolubara coal mines delivered a heavy blow to Slobodan Milosevic’s standing in the wake of the 2000 post-election protests. Likewise, strikes at state-owned enterprises undermined Lukashenka’s legitimacy. In a dramatic gesture of solidarity, IT sector professionals, school teachers, sportsmen, and potash miners joined forces to press for the autocrat’s resignation.

It has yet to be seen whether the police officers and the military will defect en masse to accelerate the strongman’s downfall and reduce the likelihood of further bloodshed.

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Roundtable Discussion: The Movement for Black Lives: We Do We Go from Here?

This Thursday, 2 July (12pm-1pm), Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation will host a roundtable discussion revolving around the ongoing Black Lives Matter mass movement for racial justice. Drawing on lessons from both the ongoing mass mobilization for racial justice and the history of racial inequality in the United States, the roundtable will focus particularly on far-reaching, effective solutions to address these pervasive, systemic inequalities. The panel will feature leading scholars on these questions, including Megan Ming Francis from the University of Washington, Saida Grundy from Boston University, Elizabeth Kai Hinton from Yale University, and Kellie Carter Jackson from Wellesley College. Leah Wright Rigueur from Harvard Kennedy School will moderate the discussion.

For more information and registration, please visit: https://www.hks.harvard.edu/events/movement-black-lives-where-do-we-go-here

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Crowd sourced data collection & sharing on police brutality in Floyd protests

An effort is underway to “document examples of excessive force being used by law enforcement officers during the 2020 protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.assemble reports of police brutality occurring in the George Floyd” in order to “assist journalists, politicians, prosecutors, activists and concerned citizens.”

You can report an incident here (you’ll need to register for a GitHub account if you don’t have one).

To see/use the data already assembled or to learn more, go here (no account/login required).

This is a crowdsourced effort, so spread the word.

Questions? Contact Dan Myers (danm@american.edu).

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NEW PUBLISHING OPPORTUNITY COURTESY OF DAVID MEYER AND SUZANNE STAGGENBORG

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce the Cambridge University Press Elements series on Contentious Politics, which we are co-editing. Cambridge Elements are a new concept in academic publishing and scholarly communication, combining some of the best features of books and journal articles. They consist of original, concise, peer-reviewed scholarly research of approximately 20,000 to 30,000 words. Contributions are published digitally (with bound paper copies supplied on demand), giving authors the ability to regularly update the work and providing a dynamic reference resource for students, researchers, and practitioners. The format will allow authors to include visual elements such as video links, color pictures, and graphs as well as other innovative features.

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MEMORIALIZING COVID-19

BY Nicole Fox

This week, the death toll of Americans who have died from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000. To put that number in perspective, it is more than twenty times the number of Americans who died in hurricane Katrina, thirteen times as many who died in 9/11, and about three times the number of Americans who died from all forms of gun violence in 2019. And, this is when COVID-19 is still peaking. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that by August 2020 the death toll could triple, making the coronavirus deadlier for Americans than the Vietnam War.

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#CiteBlackWomen – Citing More Broadly

Now is a good time to take stock of our in-process writing projects and citation practices – especially if, like me, you are wrapping up the fall semester and planning for concerted writing work before the start of the spring semester. Pam Oliver has just published a fabulous “how to” on citing broadly and ensuring that your citation practices – to the extent possible – do not exacerbate gender and racial inequalities in citation. We should be asking ourselves: Who am I citing? What are the demographics of the scholars I am drawing on? What kinds of institutions do they represent? What kinds of journals? Why am I citing the pieces I have chosen? And perhaps most importantly, who am I leaving out?

If this sounds overwhelming, you are not alone. Broadening our citation practices takes effort! But luckily Dr. Oliver is here with a practical and straightforward guide just in time for the winter break. For more elaboration on this topic and invaluable “how to” tips, check out her recent blog post, “Citing More Broadly.”

While you’re at it, check out out her article “The Ethnic Dimensions of Social Movements” and the Informing Activists post on this blog about how to actively work against racism in social movements.

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The Green New Deal and the Future of Work in America Conference

Last month, the Center for Work and Democracy at Arizona State University hosted a two-day conference titled The Green New Deal and the Future of Work in America. The conference was organized by Craig Calhoun (University Professor of Social Sciences, ASU) and Benjamin Fong (Lecturer, Barrett Honors College, ASU) and included a keynote address by Frances Fox Piven (Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center). The conference gathered leading scholars on labor, the environment, and social movements to “discuss the Green New Deal and its potential to both respond to the climate crisis and plot a path forward to a more just and fair nation.”

I interviewed Dr. Todd E. Vachon, a postdoctoral associate at Rutgers University in the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations and conference attendee, about what social movement scholars can take away from the conference. Todd is currently working on a book manuscript about the emerging movement of climate activists within the U.S. labor movement. The findings in the book are based on four years of participant observation with three labor-climate movement organizations and builds upon Todd’s 20+ years of participation in the labor movement as a carpenter, organizer, and a union leader. The manuscript, which explores the collective action framing processes around the contested concept of a “just transition” for workers, is currently under review at an academic press. He has also published research examining the environmental attitudes and behaviors of U.S. workers and the political-economic predictors of greenhouse gas emissions cross nationally.

What are a few of the “big ideas” you’re taking away from the conference? 

Well, for starters, the Green New Deal (GND) has inspired a new wave of organizing and movement building to confront the climate crisis. It’s not just a plan to address climate change though. It’s also a roadmap to a democracy revival movement. The shared understanding among most attendees of the conference was that merely electing the right president, while certainly a worthy goal, is not alone going to prevent climate catastrophe. Stopping the worst of climate change is going to require collective action. And that action is going to have to demand more than just greenhouse gas emissions reductions, it’s going to have to center social and economic justice for workers, Tribal communities, and people of color if it’s going to have any chance of succeeding. Anything less will pit workers against the environment and against frontline communities—as has so often been the case in the past—rather than uniting these groups in shared purpose against their common foes, the real purveyors of social, economic and environmental injustice.

Why should sociologists, and social movement scholars in particular, be interested in the topic of the conference? 

As with the original New Deal, a major reorientation of society like that envisioned by the GND is going to involve massive amounts of civic engagement and collective action at levels not seen in decades. Such periods of widespread and continuous social action typically invite experimentation and innovation on the part of activists. These periods also create a great opportunity for social science research to address questions related to social movement formation, tactical repertoire development and deployment, movement outcomes, and more. For example: how is it that people come to realize that their individual wellbeing is wrapped up in the collective wellbeing of everyone? Under what circumstances does this realization foster concerted action? How then are movement targets selected? How and when do climate movement organizations win or lose? And what types of coalitions are able to build the broad base of support required to successfully challenge the hegemony of the fossil fuel industry and it’s supporting neoliberal governing ideology?

The youth Climate Strikes and the direct actions by groups like Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement already represent a new wave in climate activism; one that embraces many of the demands of the environmental justice movement but also some demands of the mainstream environmental movement as well as the labor movement. This new wave of climate activism is inherently cross-class in nature. Activists are targeting states, producers, and consumers alike and are making demands that are simultaneously material, non-material, and cultural in nature. These developments challenge some long-held beliefs among scholars regarding the nature of movements, their targets, and their goals, and thus warrant new streams of research. Further, these events are unfolding in real time and provide a tremendous opportunity for qualitatively rich, empirically rigorous research that not only improves our understanding of social movements but may also contribute to saving humankind from its own worst tendencies.

Is there any work you came across at the conference that you think should be “required reading”? 

I think everyone who has not already done so should take 10 minutes and read H.Res 109, the Green New Deal resolution submitted to congress by Representative Ocasio-Cortez-Cortez and Senator Markey. Unlike previous proposals to address the climate crisis, this resolution explicitly acknowledges the social and economic disruptions that will ensue as a result of decarbonizing our economy and it lays out a broad vision for some of the ways we can create a sustainable society with justice and equity for all.

Beyond that, hearing Francis Fox Piven discuss some of the ways in which the climate movement might succeed or fail in its efforts to win a GND reminded me that it is never a bad time to re-read Poor People’s Movements. The crucial role that structural crises in social and economic institutions played in the formation of the movements studied in that book can offer much insight into our contemporary climate conundrum and the resulting movement growing to address it. Other required reading will be the edited volume based upon conference participants presentation which should be available sometime in 2020 or 2021.

Finally, I would also recommend that interested readers check out the websites for two movement organizations, the Labor Network for Sustainability and the Climate Justice Alliance, if they would like to learn more. These organizations both offer lots of insights from the perspectives of activists, scholars, and practitioners into the real challenges involved with forging durable alliances and building a movement for a climate safe and just society for workers and frontline communities.

You can learn more about the conference here and also watch the archived livestream on the conference’s Facebook page, facebook.com/GNDWork/.

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Indigenous Movements and Resistance in Chile

A wave of popular uprisings has swept over Latin America in the past few months. While “taking it to the streets” is not uncommon in the region, what seems unique to these recent uprisings is both their scope and intensity. In Chile, for example, what started as discontent over an increase in the price of public transport quickly turned into the largest protests in the country since the revolts against Pinochet’s dictatorship in the 1980s.

The ongoing Chilean protests quickly came to symbolize opposition against wider injustices related to steep and rising inequality, cost of living, and lack of economic opportunity. While these large-scale protests have no central leadership or single union, group or organization behind them, the country’s indigenous populations, namely the Mapuche, have played a particularly visible role in the uprisings. In the following piece, Patricia Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Politics at Ithaca College, draws on her research with Christian Martínez Neira and David Carruthers to give an insightful account of the role that indigenous movements and resistance play in these recent popular mobilizations and the territorial, political and cultural claims they articulate.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/11/11/chilean-protesters-are-waving-mapucho-flag-whats-mapucho-flag-whos-hoisting-it/

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