Category Archives: Social Movements and Elections

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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Informing Activists: How do movements influence elections?

Fabio Rojas

How do movements influence elections?

Recommended Readings

CLASSIC:

Meyer, David S., and Sidney G. Tarrow. 1998. The social movement society: Contentious politics for a new century. Rowman & Littlefield,

CONTEMPORARY:

Heaney, Michael, and Fabio Rojas. 2011. “The partisan dynamics of contention: demobilization of the antiwar movement in the United States, 2007-2009.” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 16, no. 1: 45-64.

REVIEW:

Schwartz, Mildred A. 2010. “Interactions between social movements and US political parties.” Party Politics 16(5):587-607.

 

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Social Movements and Elections

Although social movements may engage in extra-institutional politics, their activities often overlap substantially with electoral politics. For the second month, Mobilizing Ideas invites contributors to look at how political campaigns strategically use and interact with social movements. Current examples would be how the political campaigns in the US have related to Black Lives Matter or Occupy. We ask our contributors to consider how political actors use movements to advance their own goals, with or without the consent of those movements. Contributors also consider how movements respond to these efforts.

Many thanks to our fantastic group of contributors.

Catherine Kane, University of Maryland-College Park (essay)
Paul Burstein,University of Washington-Seattle (essay)

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

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Party or Movement? American Minor Parties and Political Campaigns

By Catherine Kane

K.B.: “What is the value of parties?”

Dr. Stein: “Those of us who do not have [wealthy backers], and that is most American people…we need to work together, and we need to build. Parties are how we work together across multiple issues, across time, and build from election to election. That is the only way we are going to change things.”

2012 Independent Political Report Interview of Green Party Presidential Nominee Jill Stein.

Conversations about American political campaigns focus on the major parties, their candidates, and increasingly on the social movements that ally with or protest them. Discussions of social movements in electoral politics highlight the dichotomy between these two forms of organization. Political parties compete in the election while movements take action through alignment with parties (e.g. endorsements, issue advocacy, mobilization), protest against parties (e.g. contesting platforms, disrupting events, or raising awareness of alternatives), or some combination of the two. Meanwhile, minor parties and their candidates enter the debate, only figuratively, through discussions of their capacity to spoil the election or to expand the representativeness of the American party system. This addresses only the electoral behavior of minor parties during political campaigns. In reality, minor parties take on the behaviors of both party and social movement organizations (SMOs). They run for office while also aligning with and protesting major party actions. Minor parties in America present an interesting form of movement and party interaction through their incorporation of both into one hybrid organization form. Continue reading

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Political Parties, Social Movements, and Presidential Elections, 1896 and 2012

By Paul Burstein

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Presidential election results, 1896 and 2012 (source: http://www.270towin.com)

Anyone who looks at maps portraying presidential voting by state for 1896 and 2012 can easily reach two conclusions. First, American politics is amazingly static. The country remained divided into the same two blocs of states: the South and much of the North Central Midwest and Mountain states on one side, and on the other side New England, the Middle Atlantic and midwestern industrial states, and the west coast. Continue reading

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Social Movements and Elections

Although social movements may engage in extra-institutional politics, their activities often overlap substantially with electoral politics. For September and October, Mobilizing Ideas invites contributors to look at how political campaigns strategically use and interact with social movements. Current examples would be how the political campaigns in the US have related to Black Lives Matter or Occupy. We ask our contributors to consider how political actors use movements to advance their own goals, with or without the consent of those movements. Contributors also consider how movements respond to these efforts.

Many thanks to our fantastic group of contributors.

Steffen Blings, Cornell University (essay)
Michael T. Heaney, University of Michigan (essay)
Rodolfo Disi Pavlic, University of Texas at Austin (essay)
Deana Rohlinger, Florida State University (essay)
Fabio Rojas, Indiana University (essay)

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

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Pressuring Parties: How European Social Movements Use Elections to Influence Parties

By Steffen Blings

During electoral campaigns the focus both in the media and social science is on voters, political parties, and the candidates they run. Candidates appear in the media, horse race polls dominate the headlines, and ads and campaigns messages saturate the airwaves. Other actors, like social movements, only receive attention when they are directly linked to political parties. For instance in the context of the recent string of electoral successes of Germany’s right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the party’ links to anti-Muslim movement activity have received both media and scientific attention. Yet in the same state election that gave the AfD one of its biggest electoral victories, far-right activists were by no means the only relevant movement actors. A group of seven organizations originating in social movement activity concerned about information-related issues, like the state of copyright law and the protection of privacy, founded the “Coalition Free Knowledge” (Koalition Freies Wissen). This coalition sent surveys to the parties competing in the state election to elicit the parties’ positions on issues like free software and access to the digital space and evaluated the parties’ answers. In their evaluation, which was distributed to the media, the organizations come to clear conclusions, calling the positions of Social, as well as Christian Democrats unsatisfactory and highlighting the Greens as the party with the most progressive position regarding changes in increasingly digital societies. Continue reading

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Whither the Student Movement? Reform and Demobilization in Chile

By Rodolfo Disi Pavlic

What can movements expect from engaging in electoral politics? The relationship between the current government of President Michelle Bachelet and the Chilean college student movement suggests that supporting a candidate and her platform can come at a price. The reforms advanced by Bachelet have left students dissatisfied, and the movement itself has lost leverage. Continue reading

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Dysfunctional Politics in the Digital Age

By Deana Rohlinger

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From Pinterest                                                                         From Propcott

Something has changed in American politics. The chasm between progressives and conservatives has grown and, according to research by Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, Americans have become more tribal in their politics. Americans feel a deep commitment to their ideological positions and a great deal of hostility toward their political opponents. This is bad news for social movements. Progressive and conservative causes, as well as the movements that organize around them, are caught up in this antagonism, making it more difficult than ever to capture the hearts and minds of the citizenry. Political consensus seems to be a thing of the past and reasoned conversations about important political issues virtually extinct. Continue reading

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Where are the Social Movements in the 2016 Election?

By Fabio Rojas

If a social movement were a person and you asked that person to describe their relationship with elections, the social movement would say “it’s complicated.” Sometimes, social movements really love elections. They help bring people to the rally and force candidates to pay attention to them. At other times, politicians and the public drift away from movements. Even when you win, involvement in an election can be a mixed blessing. The demands of power often mean that a movement might have to curtail its goals. As one activist told me, “the issue isn’t what we’ll do in the election, the issue is how to avoid being damaged by elections.” You can’t live with elections, you can’t live without them. Continue reading

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