Category Archives: Coalition Building

Organizing for Community Health: The Potential for Community Health Centers to Foster Cross-Movement Coalitions

By Laura Senier and Boris Templeton

Since the founding of our discipline, sociologists have decried the urban living conditions that produce poor health. Friedrich Engels described in heartbreaking detail how the working poor suffered in Manchester, England, and W.E.B. DuBois used statistics to paint a vivid picture of the burden on African-American communities in the Philadelphia Negro. Urban health inequalities have persisted, and over the past decade, policymakers, community health advocates, and private philanthropies have begun to demand multilayered interventions to address health inequalities comprehensively. Community health partnerships have sprung up in neighborhoods around the country, and healthcare providers, business leaders, charities, and community nonprofits are working redefine a healthy community as one where residents can not only access health care, but also purchase nutritious foods, exercise in safe and attractive recreational spaces, and work in family-supporting jobs. Because these partnerships bring together diverse stakeholders, they resemble cross-movement coalitions—an understudied phenomenon in the social movements literature. Continue reading

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Coalition Building

Our dialogue in October and November will focus on coalition building in a variety of social movement settings, as well as how movements include a variety of constituents and allies. For instance, the #BlackLivesMatter campaign has developed into a broad coalition of organizations that entails a diverse membership. This varied coalition brings with it new benefits as well as organizational challenges. Contributors are invited to consider the following questions and more: How can organizations diversify their memberships and include different stakeholders? How do movement targets act to preempt or disrupt coalition building? Is there room to bridge the insider/outsider divide in coalitions and member recruitment? When are coalitions likely to succeed or fail? What effects do coalition members have on each other? What difficulties and advantages does a diverse membership bring?

Thank you to all of our contributors, their essays are below.

Michelle I. Gawerc, Loyola University Maryland (essay)
Jerome Hendricks, University of Illinois at Chicago (essay)
Matthew Friesen, Bluffton University (essay)
Laura Senier, Northeastern University (essay)
Brian Obach, State University of New York at New Paltz (essay)

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

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Birds of a Feather Flock Together …but not how you might think

By Matthew Friesen

Fall migration is in full swing here in Ohio. Glances into the evening sky reveal geese in their customary V-formation as warblers and thrushes busily chirp their way though backyard brush-piles. Gatherings of similar birds traveling together appear so typical that they frequently pass unnoticed. Meanwhile, the appearance of a kettle of raptors (yes, I understand that is what a group of hawks is called) among a gaggle of geese would probably be noticed by even the most amateur birders. Fall migration once again appears to prove that birds of a feather do seem to flock together.

Homophily, the sharing of ideological or value positions among organizations that frequently results in increased interaction or information sharing is a well established theoretical and empirical cornerstone of coalition analysis in social movements. Like geese and warblers, organizations who share similar attributes appear to more frequently connect with others of similar qualities and visa versa. My research into social movement networks asks if there are nuanced ways to understand this principle. Continue reading

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Movement Coalitions: Big Challenges and Big Rewards

By Brian Obach

Coalition building has always been a core tactic among movement organizations. By definition, aggrieved groups feel that they lack the power to have their interests represented via conventional means, thus it makes sense that they would seek to build power by joining with others.

Movement coalitions are common, yet what such collaboration entails varies dramatically. In many instances this cooperation amounts to little more than adding an organization’s name to a long list of event or campaign endorsers. A few may actually engage in coordinated action, but similar to individual “paper membership” in advocacy groups, at the organization level, many coalitions are primarily composed of inactive members who are only nominally affiliated. This should not come as a surprise. While coalition building is appealing and may have significant advantages when undertaken in earnest, there are many practical barriers to actually carrying out this kind of work. Continue reading

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Working Across Difference and Inequality

By Michelle I. Gawerc

This month the Mobilizing Ideas dialogue tasks us with considering how social movements and social movement organizations can work across difference and power asymmetry.

Even though movement organizations in the United States and elsewhere have long faced these challenges in terms of race, class, and gender, (Breines 1982, 2006; Kurtz 2002; Piatelli 2009) and these issues are becoming increasingly relevant as more groups organize transnationally (Nepstad 2001; Smith 2007; Kay 2010), there has been limited research focused on how to effectively work across difference and inequality (for notable exceptions see: Bystydzienski and Schacht 2001; Smith 2002; Bandy and Smith 2004). The lack of attention to these issues is all the more remarkable given that many social movement organizations—particularly, in the peace movement, the environmental movement, and the women’s movement—have long expressed a desire to diversify their memberships and/or have faced conflict and tension due to their inability to effectively work across difference (Bystydzienski and Schacht 2001; Reger, Myers, and Einwohner 2008). Continue reading


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Inter-Coalition Collaboration as the Impetus for a National Record Store Day

By Jerome Hendricks

My interest in coalitions draws heavily on works at the nexus of organizational and social movements literatures (Carroll and Swaminatham 2000, McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2001, Rao et al. 2003, Davis et al. 2005, Fligstein and McAdam 2012, Soule 2012, McInerney 2014) where the fundamental role of challengers can be more clearly recognized in critical moments of change. The stories I offer below come from a larger study on the role that independent record stores have played in reconfiguring the contemporary music retail market. Where the first paper from this study focuses on establishing the nature of market change empirically, these excerpts are from a working paper that details the advent of Record Store Day; a national celebration of “the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities.” Contrary to the popularized origin story, without the collaborative efforts of three independent record store coalitions, Record Store Day would not have developed the way that it has. Continue reading

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