Many television news segments, newspaper articles and blog posts have, of late, asked what’s next for the Occupy movement. With spring in the air, apparently much of the Occupy movement’s strategizing has gone into claiming Labor Day as a way to express contemporary discontent and possibly mobilize new participants particularly in smaller cities. According to Alan Farnham of ABC News, “It’s shaping up to be a busy spring for Occupy.” Because of its cultural significance, or that it presents a perennial opportunity to raise awareness and promote Occupy goals, May Day might get a makeover in becoming the day for the 99%.
For those who study and teach about social movements and collective action, the last year has provided us with numerous cases. From OWS, environmental activism, the Arab Spring, and the Tea Party, we have compared and contrasted these cases, often seeking to find common themes across these, using existing theoretical frameworks to shed light on contemporary cases, or alternatively, use what’s going on out there as a way to reevaluate existing theories of social movements and collective action.
One important and emerging theme is the way in which people – from the public, to the media, to political elites – react to social movements. Scholars have shown how positive and negative reactions, especially by elites, have important consequences for subsequent mobilization. Of course, elite responses to protesters vary; by no means is government surveillance (as is the case with environmental groups in Canada) equivalent to the brutality faced by activists and bystanders in Syria. Yet, there is a common theme when it comes to elite framing of challenges as illegitimate and depicting challengers as radicals and terrorists. Continue reading
On her CNN Newsroom morning show (Feb 7), Kyra Phillips set up a segment about college courses on OWS saying that OWS “is not just in the streets but in the classrooms” and that “kids are writing papers about it.” She interviews Roosevelt University professor of political science, Jeff Edwards and a graduate student in his course, Ameshia Cross. Edwards, who is a social movement scholar, says it is worth having a course about the Occupy movement because it has changed the discourse of American politics and has “staying power.” It also appeals to students because it is “youth led.” Cross, his student, is reminded of a comment a professor once made when she was an undergraduate – that the new generation is not interested in social movements. The discussion then moved to a comparison of OWS with “classic” social movements. All agreed that the Occupy movement is comparable to the civil rights movement and women’s movement. As Cross says, the Occupy movement “lives up” to that kind of comparison. Phillips then asks Edwards whether a course on the OWS movement would be taught in 5 years. Edwards says yes. He suggests that effective movements last a long time, and presumably, the goals of the Occupy movement– no matter how loosely defined – will not be met any time soon and thus will have to play out over an extended period of time (see also The Occupy Movement Is Now Being Offered As A Political Science Course). Continue reading
Map of locations of sit-ins in southern US cities, from Kenneth Andrews and Michael Biggs' 2006 American Sociological Review article "The Dynamics of Protest Diffusion."
Recent efforts to add a geo-spatial dimension to studies of protest have given social movement scholars the chance to draw some really interesting conclusions. Dan Myers and Beth Caniglia found how close your protest needed to be to New York City to have a hope of appearing in the New York Times. Kenneth Andrews and Michael Biggs determined how sit-ins rapidly diffused from city to city in the south in 1960. And Robert Sampson, Doug McAdam, Heather MacIndoe, and Simon Weffer-Elizondo established what neighborhood characteristics really mattered in where collective action occurred over 30 years in Chicago. While these studies asked different questions and focused on different places, they had one major component in common: they hinged on the painstaking collection of data from a variety of sources to identify the location and characteristics of large numbers of protest events. Continue reading