Tag Archives: Occupy Movement

Protesting Inequality

Wall Street Protests Fort LauderdaleIn a recent (March 23, 2015) article in The Nation, Robert L. Borosage proclaimed that “the populist movement has finally arrived” and that “we live in an Occupy movement.” Borosage alludes to several key issues about the recent mobilization around inequality. First, new political opportunities have emerged where political elites in both parties have discussed inequality as one of the most significant problems facing the country today. Of course, their stance on inequality is in part a success of the Occupy movement which raised the salience of the issue, but also reflects potentially new opportunities for legislative change (although neither party has really proposed a systematic policy solution to the problem).

Second, despite the more recent focus on the Occupy movement, inequality has actually been on the rise for decades. This point reminds me of an activity developed by William Gamson for the participants of the 2011 Young Scholars in Social Movements Conference (I was one of those participants). He distributed a prompt that read something like: “Until recently, there has been no popular surge of moral indignation at the unfairness of it all, and no social movement to demand to stop and reverse the trend. People may be aware of this fact and angry about it, but their attention and anger doesn’t seem to get channeled into organized collective action.” Note that the conference was in May of 2011, months before the beginning of the Occupy movement.

Third, unlike the inequalities and disadvantages that are the product of so-called modern progress, globalization and other broad social forces, the “new inequality isn’t an act of nature,” Borosage writes. This suggests that people have increasingly come to see inequality as a manmade injustice. Fourth, social movements matter! They matter precisely because neither party has provided the public with choice when it comes to solving the problem of inequality. Borosage argues that like the civil rights movement, women’s movement and gay liberation movement, the Occupy movement is a “civilizing movement” that fights against these injustices.

Belgians-protestFinally, it is not enough for movements to increase awareness about unjust inequality. They must also persuade activists and the public that they – their participants – have the ability to affect change. As Borosage writes, “As awareness grows, movements must offer a real hope that things can change. Joining a movement often entails facing mockery, scorn and ostracism as well as taking great risks. Few people are ready to make pointless sacrifices, to beat their heads against unmoving walls. Movements must offer more than solidarity; they must offer the hope that the time for change has come.”

My colleagues, Katie Corcoran, Jacob Young, and I, sought to investigate some of these issues (especially the last two points) in a recently (March 2015) published paper in Sociological Inquiry. Using cross-national, individual-level data from 29 countries, we investigate whether and how feelings of efficacy, perceptions of injustice, and the interaction between the two, shape the likelihood of individuals to participate in low, medium and high-cost forms of political action. We treat signing a petition or joining a boycott as low cost action, participating in a lawful demonstration as medium cost, and unofficial strikes or occupying buildings/factories as high-cost forms of collective action. We used the classical definition of efficacy which refers to how much freedom of choice and control individuals have in their lives. Respondents were also asked why people in their country live in need. Individuals were asked to select from four different reasons. We treated “modern progress” and “injustice in society” as measures of structural explanations of disadvantage (the former as legitimate disadvantage and the latter as unjust disadvantage) and “unlucky” and “laziness/lack of willpower” as individual-level explanations.

alg-union-square-protest-jpgIn sum, we found that individuals with perceptions of both legitimate structural disadvantage and perceptions of unjust structural disadvantage have higher chances of participating in all types of collective action. However, while we also found that efficacy is not associated with participating in high-cost forms of action, efficacy does explain participation in high-cost forms of action when individuals also perceive inequality as rooted in structural injustice. In other words, our key finding suggests that in order for individuals to turn to higher cost, more disruptive forms of action, such as unlawful demonstrations and occupying a building, they must both perceive structural disadvantage as being unjust and also believe that their participation can affect change.

Returning to Borosage’s point about the role of social movements in mobilizing individuals around unjust inequality, our findings suggest that social movements play an important role in helping individuals overcome the costs of political participation. Social movement organizations and leaders do so not only by raising awareness about inequality but also by changing perceptions among potential activists about the value of their participation in affecting change. Borosage’s article also alludes to the issue of timing – what is about inequality today that has mobilized the people? Our findings shed some light on this question. In addition to current events and new political opportunities, there is a growing view among the publics of many nations that inequality is unjust and that there is something they can do about it through disruptive action rather than more institutionalized means like voting.

 

 

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Occupy, The Civil Rights Movement, and Decentralization

Over at orgtheory.net, Fabio Rojas recently asked a good question: why has Occupy not followed the tactical and organizational choices made by the Civil Rights Movement. As Fabio points out, they share ideological similarities, yet Occupy has largely been a decentralized movement while the Civil Rights Movement favored large organizations and clearly defined goals. It’s a post that’s worth reading and mulling over in its entirety, and it’s generated some interesting conversation. I did, however, want to raise one point with regard to this question, though, that hasn’t been brought up (at least at the time I’m writing this) on the thread, which is that Francesca Polletta covered some of this in her piece “How Participatory Democracy Became White.Continue reading

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Learning from Shortcomings and Other Movements

By Eric Stoner

The 10-year anniversary for the movement that sprung up against the war in Iraq is on the horizon, and it presents an opportune time to reflect on its progress, and more importantly, the lessons that can be learned from its shortcomings.

While activists were busy organizing in the fall of 2002, the dramatic debut of the movement’s true size and global dimensions took place on February 15, 2003. On that historic date, millions took to the streets around the world in the largest antiwar protest in history. Two days later, Patrick Tyler wrote in The New York Times that there were now perhaps “two superpowers on the planet—the United States, and worldwide public opinion.” Continue reading

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Reflections Ten Years Later

By William A. Gamson

It would be an exaggeration to claim that there has been a significant and visible mobilization against the war in Iraq for the past several years.  The misinformation used to justify the war and the failure of any workable formula for the governance of Iraq after the removal of Saddam Hussein rather quickly caused a broad segment of the public to adopt a quagmire frame.  With the election of a President who was critical of the war and who promised to end it in an orderly fashion, the opportunity to mobilize any significant constituency to take collective action to end this war was essentially closed.

Nevertheless, there are some lessons to be drawn from this experience. Continue reading

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The Iraq War 10 Years Later: Are Formal Coalitions Needed for Mass Mobilization?

By  Catherine Corrigall-Brown

On February 15th, 2003, millions of people from around the world took part in a series of coordinated protests against the impending war in Iraq. Although estimates of the number of participants ranged from six to thirty million, it was, without a doubt, the single largest protest event in human history to that date (BBC News 2003). Many scholars commented that the unprecedented level of successful global coordination against the war was made possible by the work of institutional leaders cooperating in large scale coalitions (Boekkooi, Klandermans, and van Stekelenburg 2011; Corrigall-Brown and Meyer 2010).  These types of coalitions seemed indispensable for this level of mobilization.  However, the recent success of the intentionally unorganized Occupy movement challenges us to reassess the necessity of formal coalitions between organizations and ask: in what contexts are formal coalitions needed for mass mobilization and how do formal organizational coalitions shape the nature of campaigns? Continue reading

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The Longest War: Overcoming Lies and Indifference

By Kathy Kelly

In April of 2003, I returned from Iraq after having lived there during the U.S. Shock and Awe bombing and the initial weeks of the invasion.  Before the bombing I had traveled to Iraq about two dozen times and had helped organize 70 trips to Iraq, aiming to cast light on a brutal sanctions regime, with the “Voices in the Wilderness” campaign.  As the bombing had approached, we had given our all to helping organize a remarkable worldwide peace movement effort, one which may have come closer than any before it to stopping a war before it started.  But, just as we’d failed to lift the vicious and lethally punitive economic sanctions against Iraq before the war, we also failed to stop the war and the devastating civil war it created.   Continue reading

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Recall Elections: The (Con)tested Grievance Tactic

Kathleen C. Oberlin

Journalists and pundits alike clamored to interpret the recall election that took place in Wisconsin last week on June 5th. As Republicans beam with pride over Governor Scott Walker’s steadfast hold onto his seat, the Democrats are left to reevaluate among many issues whether or not the recall election is a tactic to continue to use in the current political climate. For those unfamiliar with what exactly a recall entails or where and when it can be done (presumably many of us), check out the national center for state legislators’ overview. Until recently state level (e.g., assembly members, governors) recall efforts were quite rare. It remains to be seen if this will continue in the future as a viable means to channel grievances. Continue reading

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