Tag Archives: policy change

“Hillary Clinton sees me:” The primaries, “identity politics,” and disability

anastasia_somozaAt the Democratic National Convention, disability activist Anastasia Somoza told enthusiastic audience members that “in a country where 56 million people so often feel invisible, Hillary Clinton sees me. She sees me as a strong woman, a young professional, a hard worker, and the proud daughter of immigrants.”

Media personalities, political insiders, and the candidates themselves have talked about the 2016 presidential primaries as a departure from what we normally expect from presidential primaries. The difference is often attributed to how Donald Trump “doesn’t play by the rules” – something we are frequently reminded of by pundits on both the left and right. Continue reading


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“Activists are on this. Let’s all be on this:” Is Gun Control on the “Gay Agenda?”


“Dear NRA, we made it through Stonewall, AIDS, DADT, and through Marriage Equality. You’re next.” This was among the many comments Jennifer Carlson and I received following the online publication of our recent op-ed in the Washington Post.

For many gun control advocates and activists, when meaningful policy change did not occur after Sandy Hook where a dozen elementary school children were murdered, it signaled their impotence in going up against the powerful gun lobby. To many, the failure of Congress to enact any of the four “gun control” bills this week is a replay of past efforts following those mass shootings.

In our op-ed, we argued that the Orlando massacre might represent new political opportunities for policy reform. Continue reading

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Legal Mobilization and Policy Enforcement: A Tale of Two Policies and Two Movements?

Scholars have long debated the role of social movements in changing policy outcomes – whether and how do they matter. Policies can also create political opportunities for social movements. Policies empower historically disadvantaged groups and provide them with the tools and resources to mobilize their rights. Indeed, as David Meyer put it, scholars often grapple with the “chicken-and-egg” problem of policy and mobilization; that is, which comes first? Thinking about this alleged paradox raises questions about the role of social movements following legislative “victories.”

cloud_discrimination_MobilizingIdeas Continue reading

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The ADA at 25: Why Movements Matter Following Legislative “Victories”


The Disability Pride Parade in New York City, July 2015

Movement scholars have become increasingly interested in the ways in which social movements directly shape the policy agenda; that is, what role they play in how issues gain prominence in the government and how these issues get framed. Much of the focus has been on the relationship between increasing movement activity, such as organizational expansion, protest and lobbying, and increasing resources government allocates to an issue.

However, less is known about the link between movement mobilization and actual legislative promises once policies are enacted, especially in light of subsequent demobilization and issue decline. It’s important to draw attention to this less developed area of study given the renewed interest in defining successful social change and whether movements are themselves successful in influencing these (policy) outcomes.

Take for instance, the case of disability employment anti-discrimination legislation. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was proclaimed the “emancipation proclamation” for people with disabilities and the most significant civil rights law since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Not surprisingly, it was seen as an important victory for disability advocates in the government and for the disability rights movement. But, in a recent op-ed for USA Today, I argued that when it comes to employment and earnings outcomes, the ADA has failed to deliver. Continue reading

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Social Movements, Institutions and Policy Outcomes

In light of the recent proliferation of mass mobilization events like Occupy/99%, immigrant rights, the Arab Spring, and the Ukrainian protests, many interested in social movements have turned their attention to protest participation. No doubt, this new wave of protest research has provided important theoretical insights on mobilization as well as methodological advancements.

However, scholars have also recently pointed to important organizational and institutional aspects of social movements and social change that should not be overlooked. In fact, the two recent Charles Tilly Book Award winners, Drew Halfmann and Kathleen Blee, address these very aspects of mobilization.

When I began studying the disability rights movement, it became apparent that understanding mobilization, social change and policy outcomes required looking beyond grassroots protest and other forms of direct action to understand America’s disability rights revolution. Indeed, the disability rights movement shines light on several important themes in political sociology, which my work seeks to address, including a current book project I am developing. Continue reading


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The tortoise and the hare: institutions, policy and social change

I have been working on a project about policy innovation in the U.S. (even though it’s often considered “reluctant” or a “laggard” especially in social policy).  The case I focus on is disability rights. The idea that the U.S. is a policy leader has become difficult to sell in light of the countless articles and media reports about the 113th Congress being the most unproductive in decades and the partisan conflicts and gridlock characterizing Congress.  Not to mention the fact that about a year ago, the Senate failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (see my December 2012 post “Is anyone really against persons with disabilities?”). Ironically, the language of the Convention was based on the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act – thought of by many as the most important piece of civil rights legislation enacted since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The rights language of the ADA also subsequently informed similar laws in Australia and the U.K.


But it is not the only policy area in which the U.S. is a leader rather than a laggard. I’d like to thank Maureen Eger for pointing me to a recent New York Times article by economics professor Tyler Cowen (Dec 21, 2013). Cowen argues that despite the emphasis on congressional gridlock which either leads to policies nobody wants or no policies at all, the U.S. is better characterized as having periods of “creative ferment” followed by periods of controversy, conflict and retrenchment more akin to a lunging and lurching than political immobility or gridlock. When it comes to handling the financial crisis, environmental policy, intellectual property, and national security/defense, the U.S. has acted rather swiftly. Conflict that may prohibit effective policy implementation typically occurs after bursts of attention and initial legislative output. Continue reading

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Q&A with Academics Stand Against Poverty

I recently had the opportunity to communicate with Rachel Payne who is the project manager of the group Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP). I asked about their work, what they hope to achieve, and how they straddle the world(s) of academia and policy-making. I continue to wonder about how these groups fit into the many discussions among those affiliated with universities concerning how to collaborate, reach, or otherwise influence broader audiences. Below are my questions and her responses on behalf of ASAP. Check it out.

(1)What, as organized academics specifically, does ASAP stand to bring to the table as opposed to joining other efforts simply as individual activists?
As a global network of poverty-focused researchers, ASAP stands to offer academics opportunities for collaboration that they wouldn’t have otherwise. ASAP has chapters in Canada, Germany, India, Oceania, Spain, the UK, and the US, with individual members working at universities, research centers, and NGOs around the world. By expanding and maintaining that network, we hope to offer scholars opportunities to carry out collaborative research with outstanding potential to positively impact the lives of people living in poverty—research that cuts across disciplinary boundaries and political borders. In particular, we are working to use the ASAP network to provide more and better opportunities to poverty-focused scholars based in developing countries to participate in international academic initiatives and debates.

The ASAP network can also serve as a venue for mentorship. Academics with experience working with civil society organizations and policy makers can share their skills and insights with younger academics looking to enhance their social impact. These experienced academic activists can also serve as role models for younger scholars making important decisions about career trajectory.

Another motivation for building and maintaining this network is the possibility of enhancing the public influence of poverty-focused scholars. When weighing in on an important policy debate—for example, on levels of overseas development assistance amid continuing domestic economic hardship—a coalition of academics is likely to be more influential than individual academics. Partnerships with civil society organizations would only enhance that influence.

(2) What is the relationship between ASAP and non-academic (currently unaffiliated) poverty researchers and activists? What is the envisioned nature of this collaboration?

We regularly collaborate with poverty-focused researchers who are not currently affiliated with any academic institution, particularly those who work at policy-oriented research centers and civil society organizations. We also seek out opportunities to collaborate with students, including undergraduates. Tying these groups together are commitment to academic inquiry and technical training that enables them to effectively propose and critique solutions to the problem of poverty.

(3) In reading through the history and current board membership, there appears to be some strong ties to particular disciplinary approaches e.g., philosophy. What is the goal in terms of multidisciplinarity? Are there efforts to engage more of the social sciences? Life and physical sciences? If so, may you provide some concrete examples?

ASAP’s founding board members are a group of philosophers and political theorists, but the ASAP network includes many academics disciplines, and we aim to make it even more diverse. Some of our leading projects are grounded in social and behavior sciences. For example, Moral Psychology and Poverty Alleviation is an effort to bring together academics who work in areas such as cognitive science, moral philosophy, and political science to discover more effective means of motivating individuals to act on their obligations to alleviate global poverty. The Global Poverty Consensus Report project involves identifying and developing consensus amongst academics—mostly economists and political scientists—about priorities for global development efforts after the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. In advocating for the Health Impact Fund, ASAP frequently partners with experts in the health sciences. We are excited to see projects emerge from other disciplines, as well.

(4) Are there any more specifics regarding US chapters? Currently on the website the page is unavailable.

With three ASAP board members affiliated with Yale University, we’ve made New Haven our base of operations in the United States. This October, ASAP will be co-sponsoring a major conference at Yale called Human Rights and Economic Justice: Essential Elements of the Post-MDG Agenda? If you’d like to attend this conference or get involved with ASAP’s work in New Haven, contact me, Rachel Payne, at rachel@academicsstand.org.

(5) Are there other affiliations with professional associations?

No, right now ASAP is not affiliated with any professional associations.

(6) How are research projects funded?

Thus far, ASAP’s research funding has come from academic grants and private donations. We’ve also just received a gift from the Frederick Mulder Charitable Trust to cover our core operational expenses. We also recently completed a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to benefit advocacy on the issue of illicit financial flows.

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Cross-national gay marriage politics, the courts, and the context of activism

Mobilizing Idea’s recent Essay Dialogue on movements and the courts was inspired in part by the DOMA case on the U.S. Supreme Court docket. In her essay, Martinez discusses the role of the Supreme Court in light of a changing political and cultural context regarding gay marriage. While U.S. states have become increasingly polarized on same-sex marriage (SSM), public opinion appears to have shifted in favor of marriage equality. These environmental shifts may be important for legal mobilization. Drawing from classic sociological theory, Martinez writes that “When activists turn to law and demand legal change, it only works when the cultural conditions and political conditions are out of alignment with law. The law changes to match social beliefs and practices.” As Bua of the Huffington Post claims, “the times they are a ‘changin.’” Continue reading


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“Is anyone really against persons with disabilities?”

On Wednesday, Dec. 5th, I defended my dissertation which asked the following question: “Why is the U.S. an innovator in disability rights?” Although I could not help but rethink my answer to this question in light of the Senate voting against ratifying the U.N. disability treaty the day before, I still posit that the U.S. was an innovator on disability rights compared to other western industrialized countries.

Without getting into the history of disability and disability rights in America, it is important to note that political entrepreneurs played a critical role in the late 1960s and early 1970s in reframing disability as a minority group entitled to rights. Continue reading


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A Social Movement President?


President Obama speaks to supporters on election night, 2012. (Photo Credit: Christopher Dilts for Obama for America)

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


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