This month, we’ve celebrated the birth and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who has become the face of African American civil rights in the United States and human rights worldwide. While there is much of King’s legacy that remains under appreciated, particularly his post-1963 “I Have a Dream” speech critiques of capitalism and worker’s rights protests, there is also room to explore the influence of lesser-known Civil Rights advocates and activists. Continue reading
Tag Archives: grassroots
“ ‘Walk Together Children!’ The Charismatic Leadership and Race-Conscious Politics of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.”
by Jolan Hsieh
The media has portrayed current Asian demonstrations, such as the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong and the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, as unsuccessful because the protesters’ requests have not been met. By another measurement, the awareness of issues and recognition of the power possible by targeted and collective peaceful action, they have been very effective.
The long-term residual effectiveness of the Asian movements and other protests across the globe authentically can be measured only in small increments with some of the most significant and basic results at this point not always visible but rather felt at a deeper level of understanding. Protests are influencing people to change their beliefs, mindsets, and attitudes which are psychologically the most difficult elements to modify, but which ultimately are the most potent factors in creating authentic social change. The evidence is that more and more people in increasing numbers of nations are expressing dissenting opinions and demonstrating their right to be heard regarding issues affecting their lives.
An activist who follows Mobilizing Ideas recently brought to our attention a TEDx talk by the social and environmental activist, Eran Ben-Yemini. Eran Ben-Yemini is a well-known figure in the Israeli environmental movement. During the 1990s, he played an important role in the Israeli student movement, helping to found Green Course, a national student environmental organization and the largest volunteer environmental organization in Israel. In the 2008, Ben-Yemini entered the Israeli political scene by working with Alon Tal to establish the Green Movement, a political party that gained some notice in the 2009 elections.
In this TEDx talk, Ben-Yemini shares insights from his work as a grassroots organizer and presents a strategy for mobilizing for social change. The central message is that it is possible to build a movement and make a change with a relatively simple formula: Story + Way + Setting = Change. Come with a story, discuss the way together, set an organization, and change will follow.
Social movement scholars may find it interesting to consider Ben-Yemini’s formula in relation to what we know from research and theory in our field. For example, he suggests that a story based on “big” ideas will attract and inspire people. Developing a way forward involves research, strategy, tools, and milestones. It is necessary to research the problem, offer solutions, and know the political environment (e.g., who is friend or foe). Strategy involves focusing on specific issues and creating the right message. Movements should draw upon many different tools, such as educating the public, legal actions, and civil disobedience. Finally, it is necessary to have milestones that measure progress and highlight successes.
Some of what Ben-Yemini presents relates to ideas found in social movement theories of framing and political opportunities. He offers an approach for diagnostic, prognostic and motivational framing and hints at the role of political allies and opportunities. Do his ideas mesh with what we know from research on social movements?
For example, resources are noticeably absent from the discussion. Yet, we know that resources are necessary to maintain large-scale mobilizations for social change. What kinds of resources are needed? How do activists get them? A 2011 survey of Israeli environmental organizations shows that Green Course received 96% of its funding from foundations. Ben-Yemini’s talk is instructive, inspirational, and perhaps revealing. Is the failure to discuss resources an oversight? Or does it indicate a potential conflict between the norms and effective practice of grassroots organizing?
Social movement scholars have often struggled with operationalizing movement success and/or failure, and rightfully so. What may be considered a failure to scholars may be perceived as success to activists. In addition, movements are not monoliths and therefore success for some activists or for some groups, may not be relevant to other aspects of a movement. Finally, talking about success and failure also rests on the assumption that we know about the intentions of movement actors – that there are clearly stated and known objectives and that the decisions actors make are in reference to achieving those goals and objectives. Often, we can only speculate about motivations and intent; presumably success can also come about unintentionally. I have written about how the Occupy movement has shifted the spotlight to scholars’ understanding of movement outcomes, but I suggest that the Tea Party also requires us to think about how we define movement success and failure. Continue reading
In 2008, the process that led to Barack Obama’s election was often described as more than a campaign. Many pundits saw it as a movement (here’s a good example) as did many of the folks who participated in it (and, apparently, as did their record labels; see the subtitle). Then what? As Marshall Ganz has argued, President Obama lost his “transformational” orientation–and demobilized much of the organizational structure that had built up the movement, got out the votes, and engaged a new set of political participants. The result was a series of bruising policy battles, midterm election losses for Democrats, and an enlivened conservative movement in place of what was supposed to be the continued flowering of new progressive policies carried through by a wave of continued grassroots organizing. Continue reading
Rasmus Klies Nielsen’s Ground Wars brings refreshing focus to the role interpersonal communication can play in even the most high-tech, high dollar, high-profile 2012 electoral campaign. This is an important reality check for those who think it’s all simply a matter of who can buy the best ads.
There is, however, another aspect to this question that I’d like to highlight: the difference in whether one employs interpersonal communication as yet another marketing technique or whether it is used to engage people in organizing to become active participants in the political process. This distinction is of particular significance for Democrats who cannot rely on the network of gun clubs, evangelical churches, right to life groups, and tea party chapters that so successfully provided the grassroots base for an ascendant conservative movement over the course of the last 30 years. Continue reading
The latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly has a thought-provoking article on Srdja Popovic, “the secret architect of the Arab Spring.” After participating in the movement to oust Slobodan Milošević in 2000, Popovic did a brief stint in Parliament and then started the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), which trains activists who are interested in generating grassroots change in their home countries. Trainees have included the Egyptians who engineered the uprising in Cairo in early 2011, helping to kick off the wave of protests known as the Arab Spring.
CANVAS encourages tactical innovation and promotes the power of bottom-up change. The quote below suggests that these emphases aren’t shared by incumbents of other institutions — including academia:
… [F]or all his method’s success, Popovic feels that those who should be paying the most attention—academics, politicians, journalists—instead continue to view politics largely as a game played by governments and decided by war. “Nobody, from very prominent political analysts to the world’s intelligence services, could find their own nose when the Arab Spring started. It is always this same old narrative: ‘It happened in Serbia by accident. It happened in Georgia by accident. It happened in Tunisia by accident. But it will never happen in Egypt.’ And this is the mantra we keep hearing—until it happens.” Continue reading
On GPS (Jan 22nd episode), Fareed Zakaria asked “what happened to the Tea Party?” suggesting that it may have disappeared. While posing the question to his guests, “The end of the Tea Party?” appeared at the bottom of the television screen. His guest, David Frum, said that the “Tea Party failed to provide an alternative to Romney,” while his other guest, Steven Rattner, proclaimed that “the Tea Party lost its mojo.” Has the Tea Party run out of steam?
To answer this question, it is important to ask, “Whose Tea Party is it?” Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson’s recent book on the Tea Party highlights the dynamic relationship between local grassroots Tea Partiers and the movement’s elite actors and organizations. The relationship is symbiotic, as Skocpol and Williamson discuss in their chapter titled “Mobilized Grassroots and Roving Billionaires.” The mobilization of discontent at the grassroots served as an opportunity for existing ultra-conservative elite organizations to advance their cause. At the same time, local Tea Party groups benefited from the resources of these organizations and the media attention they received. Nonetheless, there are tensions between grassroots activists and national organizations particularly since some local Tea Partiers are suspicious of larger national elite groups and worry about losing local autonomy. Continue reading