Tag Archives: anti-war activism

New Documentary Film – The Activists: War, Peace, and Politics in the Streets

Bullfrog Films has released a new educational documentary film, titled The Activists, which may be of interest to many of the readers of Mobilizing Ideas. Michael T. Heaney, author of Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11 (Cambridge 2015), is among the producers of the project, along with Melody Shemtov and Marco Roldán. The film is priced for purchase by libraries. Discounts are available for community groups or to rent the film. Heaney is available to Skype to your classroom or community group if you show the film. More information is available here: http://www.bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/acts.html


Activists and activism have long been a part of the struggle for peace and justice in American politics and society. Activists have fought battles for civil rights, voter enfranchisement, collective bargaining, and an end to wars. While these struggles have sometimes yielded significant victories, and at other times resulted in disappointing defeats, activism has always been driven by ordinary people who give freely of their time and resources to try to bring about their visions for a new world. However, activists – as well how they fit into the political process – are often overlooked or misunderstood by their fellow citizens. Continue reading

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Movement “Branding” in the Japanese Anti-War Protests

While constructing a course syllabus on “Social Movements in East and Southeast Asia,” I have been re-reading some news articles, popular analyses, and academic theorizing on the recent waves of protest in the region, including Mobilizing Ideas’ dialogue in December 2014 and January 2015. Since the turn of the decade, East and Southeast Asia has been the site of massive mobilizations, generating huge turnouts from millennials. Youth activism was crucial in the campaign for electoral reform in Malaysia, especially in the Bersih 2.0 rally of 2011. In the 2014 Hong Kong protests, the pro-democracy movement consisted predominantly of high school and college students, who were participating in street demonstrations for the first time and had no recollection of the 1989 Tiananmen protests or other contentious episodes in China’s (or Hong Kong’s) history.

In the summer and fall of 2015, Japan witnessed one of the largest protests in Tokyo in recent years, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attempts to “reinterpret” Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes involving the state. Such a movement had not emerged in Japan since the anti-war protests of the 1960s. The charter has been the basis for Japan’s 70-year neutrality and non-intervention since the end of World War II. Indeed, pacifism has shaped the nation’s brand, enhancing its leadership status in the international community.

Like the protests in Hong Kong, students were at the forefront of the movement. They were from elite private colleges, like International Christian University, Meiji Gakuin University, and Sophia University. They were first-time protesters with no memory of World War II and its immediate effects to Japanese society and collective psyche. Similar to other huge mobilizations in the last five years, technology played a central role in the development and spread of the movement.

But what is fascinating about the Japanese anti-war protests is the ways by which one of the main youth organizations—the moderate and non-partisan Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs)—has carved a recognizable identity for the movement, one that appeals to Japan’s young population and to the global network of contemporary social justice activists. Noticeable is the use of English in its calls and demands printed in flashy placards designed by students, who claim to be influenced by street culture like hip hop and skateboarding, John F. Kennedy, and The Beatles. SEALDs is deliberate in the minimalist but stylish packaging of the organization and its messages, which has facilitated name-recall and association. It also deployed slogans like “This Is What Democracy Looks Like,” “Give Peace A Chance,” and “I Can’t Believe We’re Still Protesting This S!@t,” which have been used in protests against austerity, racism, militarization etc. in North America and Western Europe.

Lastly, SEALDs has incorporated the members’ interests in fashion, music, and other forms of popular culture in its performance of protest. For instance, in one of its promotional materials, activists looked like models for the SEALDs clothing brand, declaring “War Is Over If You Want It” minus the Christmas greeting from John Lennon and Yoko Ono (Photo 1). Another one used the lyrics from “Take the Power Back,” a song released in 1991 by American political rap metal band, Rage Against the Machine (Photo 2). And in its official website, SEALDs makes protesting look in vogue with activists in urban-hip, vintage-style clothes, the opposite of raggedly-dressed anti-war militants in the 1960s who paid less attention to their looks (Photo 3). In all these, the colors are appealing and the messages are easily digestible. SEALDs as a brand signifies the modern and timeless significance of protest.


Photo 1. SEALDs promotional material (Photo credit: William Andrews, Asia Progressive, http://www.asiaprogressive.com)


Photo 2. SEALDs promotional material (Photo credit: @SEALDs_Tohoku)


Photo 3. SEALDs official website (http://sealdseng.strikingly.com)

A professor of politics observed the effectiveness of SEALDs’s hipster approach in galvanizing the largely apolitical Japanese youth, stating, “SEALDs projects the image that you can be normal and fashionable and political at the same time.” But some have criticized the group for reducing complex issues to trendy visuals and catchy sound bites and thus attracting groups and individuals with little understanding and commitment to the cause. The branding also inadvertently uncouples the movement from its origins. The peace movement in Japan is deeply rooted in the humanitarian catastrophes during World War II, especially the horrors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings—events that shaped the older generation’s activist identities. Japanese activists have been influential worldwide, especially in campaigns towards achieving global nuclear disarmament. In framing their issues, they drew from personal experiences, family narratives, and localized collective memory of the past.

Developing a brand is not new in movement politics. In her study of abortion politics, Deana Rohlinger discusses how Planned Parenthood created a brand in the 1980s to sustain media attention. From the Occupy movements to the Arab Spring, the Guy Fawkes mask has become a shared symbol among activists, facilitating solidarity and the branding of global dissent. But how can branding capture both contemporary relevance and historical continuity, especially on an issue that has defined a nation’s identity? Does movement branding for media visibility, recruitment, and global solidarity run the risk of conformity and detachment from local histories? Can branding work against a movement?



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Review of Welcome to Resisterville: American Dissidents in British Columbia

Welcome to Resisterville

Rodgers, Kathleen. 2014. Welcome to Resisterville: American Dissidents in British Columbia. UBC Press.

By Catherine Corrigall-Brown

Welcome to Resisterville: American Dissidents in British Columbia by Kathleen Rodgers opens with a vignette. In 2004, residents of the small and remote Canadian town of Nelson unveiled a plan to erect a statue celebrating the contributions of the thousands of American Vietnam War “draft-dodgers” that had made their way to, and settled in, the region between 1965 and 1973. What seemed like a small local matter garnered significant international interest, including media attention from outlets such as the New York Times and Fox News. At the height of the controversy, the public discourse echoed the divisive debate that had surrounded the actions of the war resisters since the Vietnam War itself.  While some news coverage described the monument as lunacy, shameful, or cowardice, other outlets argued that the resisters deserved recognition and respect. Continue reading

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The Identity Politics of Motherhood

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and many of my friends had Facebook posts about the radical anti-war origins of this holiday.

In 1870 feminist Julia Ward Howe penned the anti-war “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” which begins:

Arise then … women of this day!

Arise, all women who have hearts!

Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:

“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,

Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,

For caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn

All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We, the women of one country,

Will be too tender of those of another country

To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

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Review: The World Says No to War

By Jin-Wook Shin

The World Says No to War, edited by Stefaan Walgrave and Dieter Rucht (University of Minnesota Press, 2010)

Stefaan Walgrave and Dieter Rucht (eds.). The World Says No to War (University of Minnesota Press, 2010)

On February 15, 2003, when the protest against the war on Iraq took place in London, Madrid, Rome, Berlin, New York, and many other cities of the world, I was writing the last pages of my doctoral dissertation in Berlin and had the opportunity of joining the historic event. I still remember how excited was by the astonishing size, diversity, and vitality of the people who gathered around the Brandenburger Tor at the city center.

It was like a serious political version of a great festival. Parents pushing a stroller, teenagers dancing together, university students holding antiwar drawings by Käthe Kollwitz, and aged couples who seemed to be familiar with all these scenes—so diverse a range of people were saying the same words: “No War!,” “Stop the War!” Continue reading

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Military Recruitment, Casualties, and Public Opinion

International Studies Quarterly just published Yagil Levy‘s most recent work on the reshaping of military conflict due to democracy, technology, and now protest.  I have posted elsewhere about his work on casualty aversion due to the intersection of democracy and technology (and also on related work by Jonathan Caverley).  This piece, titled “How Military Recruitment Affects Collective Action and its Outcomes” [gated] explores the impact of military recruitment on a public’s willingness to “absorb” casualties among its soldiers during military conflict.  In other words, Levy wants to know the extent to which recruitment impacts the collective action opportunities of those who would (de)mobilize public opinion in democracies regarding casualties, and thereby support for the war. Continue reading


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New Documentary-THE ACTIVISTS: War, Peace, and Politics in the Streets

A new film by Melody Weinstein, Michael T. Heaney, and Marco Roldán explores what turns ordinary citizens into activists.  Through interviews and ethnographic-style coverage of the peace movement between June 2008 and March 2010, the film explores the risks, process, and joys of activism. Heaney brings his years of social movement scholarship on the peace movement, on display in an earlier Essay Dialogue, to the screen in this impressive documentary.

I was immediately drawn into the film as it opens with shots of veterans and miltiary famileis I interviewed in the peace movement, including Gold Star Father Carlos Arredondo, Retired Let. Col. Anne Wright, and Iraq veteran Geoff Millard. Although Americans with military connections get a decent share of coverage, the film covers the wide spectrum of activists invovled in the many peace movement organizations. Interspersed with the new are snipets of classic peace movement speeches from Martin Luther King, Jr. and songs such as “War!”

The film is available for a limited time streaming online from Melofilms on Vimeo.

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