Category Archives: Essay Dialogues

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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Filed under Daily Disruption, Social Movements and Elections

Generational Divides, Student Activism, and the Youth Vote

As the 2020 presidential election heats up, so does discussion about the political behavior of young people. Students in particular – their votes and their activism – are often depicted as necessary to democracy, but challenging to mobilize. On the other hand, older Americans are more likely to vote, and their voting patterns, as well as their leadership in many activist organizations, can give them an outsized voice in American politics. Furthermore, the political concerns of young and older people, as well as the strategies and tactics that they prefer, often diverge. How might generational divides influence activism, and with what consequences for politics in the U.S. and elsewhere? How might generational divides inhibit coalition-building that could effectively mobilize the youth vote?

This month, we have five outstanding contributors. Many thanks for their contributions on this topic:

 

Editors in Chief,

Rory McVeigh, David Ortiz, Guillermo Trejo, and Grace Yukich

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Bridging Generational Divides in the Pursuit of Political Change

BY Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur

Generational divides are not new, though perhaps every generation thinks it is the first to experience one. In the 1960s, the saying was “Don’t trust anybody over 30;” today, the generation that did not trust even the middle aged recoils when younger folks say “OK, Boomer.” These divides reflect both cohort effects and age effects: older people have had years to refine their perspectives on activism and politics, perspectives forged through experiences in movements ranging from anti-War to second-wave feminism, from gay rights to anti-nuclear power, while younger people are filled with energy and enthusiasm and sometimes have little perspective on how their vital work fits into the histories of activism they encounter. So how do these divides matter for the work of political activism today? And what might activists do to bridge them? My answers to these questions draw on both my scholarship in the sociology of social movements and my experience as part of coalitional work in activism and local politics.

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Generational Divides, Student Activism, and the Youth Vote

BY David S. Meyer

Emma Gonzalez tweeted out a picture of herself after she voted in Florida’s primary election. Along with 1.5 million other followers, I saw Emma smiling, displaying the “I voted” sticker that came with her first in-person vote. Emma started on Twitter when she and some of her classmates organized March for Our Lives in response to the horrific mass shooting at their high school. The Parkland kids brought a new energy and visibility to a growing movement for gun safety regulation, running through a full range of social movement tactics: a local demonstration where Emma gave a stirring “We Call BS” speech; a bus trip to lobby Florida legislators in Tallahassee; a national demonstration in Washington, DC, that drew more than one million people — and featured no speaker over the age of 19; a coordinated series of school walk-outs across the country; and a speaking tour in the summer of 2018 to encourage young people to vote.

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Chile’s post-transition generation: mastering the streets and distrusting the ballot box

BY Nicolás M. Somma

Contemporary Chile provides a fascinating setting for studying youth politics. As I write these lines on a Friday evening, hundreds of young people are protesting around metro stations in Santiago – Chile’s capital – and all across the country. This is just one snapshot of the so-called “Chilean Spring” (Somma et al. 2020), the gravest sociopolitical crisis in Chile in the last four decades. Since its start last October, this contentious episode combines massive peaceful protests, violent riots, police repression, and states of siege. Add to this an erratic government with the lowest presidential approval in decades (6%) and a widely delegitimated political class – from right to left – which is routinely intimidated by angry mobs and pontifying twitterers.

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What kinds of repression should I anticipate when I am active in a democratic country?

Paul Chang

What kinds of repression should I anticipate when I am active in a democratic country?

Recent work by the author:

Chang, Paul. 2015. Protest Dialectics: State Repression and South Korea’s Democracy Movement, 1970-1979. Stanford University Press

Classic:

Koopmans, Ruud. “Dynamics of repression and mobilization: The German extreme right in the 1990s.” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 2.2 (1997): 149-164.

Review:

Earl, Jennifer. 2011. “Political repression: Iron fists, velvet gloves, and diffuse control.” Annual Review of Sociology 37: 261-284.

Contemporary:

Suh, Chan S., Ion Bogdan Vasi, and Paul Y. Chang. “How social media matter: Repression and the diffusion of the Occupy Wall Street movement.” Social Science Research 65 (2017): 282-293.

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Filed under Informing Activists, Uncategorized

What A Good Idea: Mobilization and Culture

BY Francesca Polletta

Is Moby only 25 years old? It so quickly established itself as the house organ for social movement research and theorizing that one might be forgiven for thinking that it had been around for much longer.  As a newly-minted PhD in 1995, I certainly was under that impression. Nor did I realize at the time how influential Mobilization was in bringing the study of ideas, beliefs, values—culture—firmly into the study of social movements. I lucked out, though, since that was exactly what I was interested in. 

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Key Findings in Youth Political Participation

BY Jennifer Earl

I recently participated in a closing event for an exciting European project examining youth participation in politics, with a special focus on inequalities. My involvement in that project as an External Advisor built on prior participation in a MacArthur Foundation funded research network, Youth and Participatory Politics. At the closing event, I was asked to assemble a list of a handful of findings from research on youth political engagement that I considered important. I decided to share those notes here. In the interest of getting this posted quickly, I have not (yet) embedded citations for the points below, but if you want citations to any specific point, feel free to reach out and as people do, I will amend the post by adding citations.

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One of the Most Interesting Articles You’ve (Probably) Never Read

BY  Jeff Goodwin

I’d like to take this occasion to celebrate one of the most interesting and, it turns out, unusual articles published in Mobilization over the past quarter century. It is not, alas, one of the more highly cited articles published in Mobilization. But I think that says more about us readers of Mobilization than about the article. And what it says about us is not very flattering.

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Mobilization and Contentious Politics Scholarship on the Middle East

BY Helen Mary Rizzo

It is an honor to be asked to reflect on Celebrating 25 Years of Mobilization. As a scholar of gender and social movements in the Middle East, I appreciate that Mobilization is not only one of the top journals for publishing in this field but that its goal “…is to provide a forum for global, scholarly dialogue”. In particular, Mobilization has been instrumental in bringing scholarship on social movements and uprisings in the Middle East to the attention of the global social science community. I am grateful to Mobilization for not only publishing our co-authored article on anti-harassment activism in Egypt (Rizzo, Price, and Meyer 2012) but for adding our article to the 2012 special issue on “Understanding The Middle East Uprisings” with Charles Kurzman as guest editor.  Mobilization was one of the first to have a special issue focusing on the uprisings in the Middle East.  It included several articles on Egypt looking at the interplay of structure and agency through the Tahrir protests (Holmes 2012), the Ultra soccer fans (Dorsey 2012), and our article on the anti-sexual harassment campaign (Rizzo et al. 2012) as well as an article on the onset of Syria’s popular uprising (Leenders 2012) and Iran’s 2009 Green Movement (Harris 2012).

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