Category Archives: Daily Disruption

Mobilizing for academic freedom and the future of higher education

Growing student debt, rising tuition, institutional racism, and the concerns over the attacks on universities’ autonomy have triggered protests over the past decade that have opened up further analyses of young people’s political participation (Cini and Guzman-Goncha 2017, Earl, Maher and Elliott 2017, Türkoğlu 2019). As social movement scholars that study movements in the field of higher education, we usually focus on the students or the faculty as the main actors in these mobilizations. It is often harder to study the gray area where potential stakeholders might choose between the roles of bystanders and participants because of their personal ties to the hallowed halls. The alumni stand in this gray zone. When the president of Turkey appointed a former politician from his own party, who has never held an administrative role in a public university, as the rector[1] of Boğaziçi University, the infringement on academic autonomy not only mobilized the students and the faculty but also the alumni.

Government restrictions on academic autonomy and the opposition to these restrictions have become increasingly common in the past few years. In the United Kingdom, the government announced sanctions on universities to “protect free speech” which education unions interpreted as yet another government intervention to limit academic autonomy. In the United States, only a couple of years ago, President Trump signed an executive order to ensure “free speech on college campuses” which was a triumph for conservative student activists. In France, the government announced an investigation into social science research as part of their mission against what Macron and his ministers call “Islamo-leftism.” Government authorities use this label for scholars who advance “radical” and “activist” ideas such as “systemic racism” in France. Not surprisingly, academic institutions issued public statements to convey their opposition to the attacks on academic freedom. As government policies aiming to limit academic freedoms lead to mobilizations big and small in different countries, a noteworthy mobilization for the defense of academic freedom has emerged in Turkey.

Boğaziçi University campus in Istanbul has hosted faculty and student protests for two months. Student protests are quite common in Turkey and elsewhere. Faculty protests are less frequent but still not too extraordinary. However, it is quite uncommon for all faculty to protest the appointment of a university president turning their back against the rectorate -rain, shine, or snow [see the photo above, credit: Can Candan]. Furthermore, they have refused to take part in administrative duties until the newly-appointed rector resigns. To put these protests in context, I should note that the higher education system in Turkey has taken a turn towards hyper-centralization since 2016, when the government consolidated all of the decision-making powers regarding the inner workings of universities through government-appointed rectors. Boğaziçi has had a somewhat unique position because it was able to maintain a decentralized consensus-based governance structure in a public university and enforce a merit-based system that kept the university among the highest-ranking research universities in Turkey. What is also quite uncommon within the global context of mobilization for academic freedoms is to see students arrested, LGBTQ students demonized, academics targeted in delegitimization efforts, and the university gates handcuffed.

Nevertheless, these repression tactics and the attacks targeting prominent faculty seem to have backfired. The faculty of prominent public and private universities issued public statements in support of Boğaziçi university faculty and students, college students in various universities organized solidarity protests and issued public statements, even the high school alumni from different cities signed open letters. The international community including the EU raised concerns that carry political weight as 60% of the Turkish citizens still favor EU accession.  More importantly, the majority of the Turkish public favor university-held elections for rector appointments, including those who voted for the governing party.

Amidst all these developments, the alumni of Boğaziçi University also mobilized. Alumni associations issued a joint declaration to voice their disapproval of the government-appointed rector and articulated their commitment to Boğaziçi values including academic freedom. They have organized petition campaigns and coordinated protest activities online. Only a small number of alumni have been allowed on campus due to the pandemic restrictions but alumni associations have been sending representatives to stand with the protesting students and faculty in front of the rectorate. In a survey I conducted with 1,131 alumni who graduated from different departments in different decades, more than 99% favored a mechanism that involve an election within the universities (see in Turkish Türkoğlu 2021). This is an important finding because the sample included alumni who voted for different parties, left and right. While protests in the streets are a high-risk activity due to the pandemic and government restrictions, a majority (around 70 percent) participated in online protests/campaigns. Even those who did not participate in the protests approved of the opposition for the most part. These surprising results, in a country where the political culture is deeply polarized, indicate an important venue for the study of social movements that aim for higher education policy change.


[1] Rector is the highest administrative position in a university in Turkey. The position holds extensive administrative and academic powers such as faculty and staff hires, budget allocations, revisions of university regulations, and approval of academic activities including grant applications and academic conferences.

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The Crucial Role of Social Movement Scholars over the Next Four Years

BY Joshua Bloom

Scholars of social movements have a crucial role to play over the next four years. In some ways we are just like everyone else. We each have stories from the last four years about what we would like to leave behind. The day after Trump’s inauguration, a swastika was etched onto my office building at the University of Pittsburgh. And I remember Antwon Rose’s mother’s pain, so tangible at his funeral, that she ‘had not been able to protect him from the police.’ A few months later came the largest anti-Semitic massacre in U.S. history at the Tree of Life Synagogue where many friends worship three blocks from my house. Following police orders during the massacre, while it was unclear whether other shooters were at large, I pulled down the window shades, and held my Jewish/mixed-race kids close – as far away as we could from the windows and doors. Three days later, when Trump had the audacity to use our grief to advance the politics of hate, making a mid-term election campaign stop at the temple, I sat down in front of his motorcade.

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Will the Media Play Victor Frankenstein on Election Night?

BY Jennifer Earl and Jessica Maves Braithwaite

Any journalist will tell you: report the story, but don’t be a part of it. But, without a concerted effort to avoid “business as usual” on November 3rd, American journalism will be one of the most consequential characters in the story of the 2020 Election. In this election, the horserace has been weaponized.

Elections equal horse races to the media. Even if “decision desks”—the set of people who help “call” elections—have proclaimed their patience, their news desks and opinion desks, and the companies that own them, may not be so patient. For business, the more drama, the more viewers, readers, and/or likes, the better. But, the 2020 election is highly unlikely to be decided on Election Night itself.

When drama-hungry media howl for a winner on Election Night and/or dramatically cover a horserace, instead of a democracy, in the days, or weeks, after November 3rd, it will create a needless sense of urgency that those willing to subvert democratic institutions are counting on. For instance, an important justification for Supreme Court intervention in the election could come from pretending that the American people can’t wait for our votes to be counted, even while so many people (disproportionately people of color) are willing to wait for hours to vote in hopes they will be counted. A key way to legitimize state governments casting aside ballots and deciding on their own electors is to cite the media’s rush as an indicator that voters lack patience.

To be sure, we are not claiming that situation we are in is the result of the media. We are in an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine that was set in motion years ago, and everyone looks on amazed and surprised while the pieces continue to fall as researchers anticipated. But, the media’s part in this Goldberg machine is critical for the machine reaching its conclusion in a failed democracy. All that has to happen for the media to play Victor Frankenstein to our democracy on election night is for journalists and reporters to ignore the warning signs and continue with a horserace as usual, ignoring its weaponization.

What can the media do to avoid this and how can social movements help? The media-related steps are easy to identify but require significant discipline.

Step 1: The media must practice patience. Media broadly—decision desks, news desks, and opinion desks—need to commit now to practices that will facilitate patience on election night and afterwards. The decision desk’s patience must not be undermined: having one part of your organization committed to patience and the rest fanning the flames of impatience is making your media organization very much part of the story. Committing to patience isn’t going to get easier as we get closer to Election Day. The likelihood that media that don’t commit to organization-wide patience before Election Day will embrace patience afterwards is vanishingly small.

Step 2. Media should follow evidence-based guides on reporting like these from the Election Coverage and Democracy Network. Practices like “distinguish[ing] between legitimate, evidence-based challenges to vote counts and illegitimate ones that are intended to delay or call into question accepted procedures” and “don’t use social media to fill gaps in institutionally credible and reliable election information” are critical to maintaining patience and to starving the fire that may well burn on Election night, threatening to engulf our democracy.

Step 3. The media can use their reporting to help communities “Hold the Line” on defending democracy. Social movements are already trying to address key concerns about the Election. For instance, organizers are already working to preserve our democracy by protecting three basic principles: all votes must be counted; allegations of voter suppression and election irregularities must be impartially investigated and redressed; and the final result must be peacefully respected. Not only do we need media to refuse to spread chaos, we need prior reporting that helps their audience understand local voting practices and protections and evaluate how well their community is doing at ensuring that all voters are able to freely vote and have their votes counted.

Is the media up to the test? On the one hand, the willingness of journalists to be assaulted to tell the story of protests this summer says yes. But, on the other hand, media have been unwittingly weaponized before, delivering Trump $2 billion dollars in free media coverage, 2.5 times more than Clinton in 2016. Social movement organizers around the country are working right now to encourage the media, and other key actors, to ensure the integrity of the American election. In the days that follow it, it is possible that non-violent collective action will be necessary to have Election results fairly counted and/or honored. Movements need to remember during the weeks surrounding the Election that they may achieve their short-term election goals by encouraging the media to follow the steps above.

We will find out over the next 2-3 weeks whether journalists are going to be the story, pretending that normal practices in abnormal times are neutral. We hope the media will indeed rise to serve as the Fourth Estate.

 

Note: The opinions represented in this piece are our own views and do not represent the views or positions of our institutions or organizations.

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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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