As neo-confederate protesters clashed with protesters supporting the taking down of a confederate monument on campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, it felt impossible to divorce these recent protests from their historical context. During the 1913 dedication of Silent Sam, the unnamed soldier commemorating those who left college to defend the confederacy, supporters like student Julian Carr called to the historical linkage with the statue. After Dixie played in the background, Carr proudly told the audience of racial violence he himself engaged in just 100 yards from the site of the statue. The “memorial gateway to campus,” as then President Venable referred to it, stood at the entry way to one of the largest thoroughfares at UNC until last week when it was knocked down by protesters.
The statue has been the site of several waves of protest on campus since it’s erection, with increasing frequency in recent years. Thinking back to the origin story of Silent Sam calls us as social movement scholars to push further down a road that historians and economists have paved – a focus on the impacts of historical legacies of slavery. We can ask questions yet to be answered about how histories of racial violence shape activism in communities.
The years of protest around the contentious figure on campus only further demonstrate that legacies of slavery directly impact contemporary experiences. Beyond the well-documented impacts of legacies of racial violence at the city and state level, assuredly there are microcosms on campuses, in communities, and around various statues and memorials that provide opportunities to understand how history shapes modern-era events. Recent events like the one at UNC call us as scholars to develop an understanding of the mechanism by which these legacies shape mobilization.
Mass protests about civil rights and dissatisfaction with our current racialized system of mass incarceration (for a great resource see Alexander’s The New Jim Crow) are arising all over the country. Hamilton College is no exception. See here how a student sponsored protest unfolded through a series of phases.
Stage 1: The Preparation
Students confided on Tuesday they were planning a walk-out of classes on Thursday at 2:00. But they deliberately did not inform most faculty.
Stage 2: The Die-In
Students and some faculty stage a die-in on the school’s crosswalk in the center of campus.
While the Umbrella Movement may ultimately prove lacking in results, it certainly has not lacked in drama. Part of that drama comes from the attempt to locate the Hong Kong protests into a broader legacy of social movements. The image of young Hong Kong students calling for expanded democratic rights drew immediate comparisons to the 1989 Tiananmen protests and the “Occupy Central” part of the movement seemed a clear nod to the Occupy Movement in the United States. Both of these links reflect the transferable nature of protest legacies and the importance of legacy mobility for contemporary protests in China (and beyond). Yet protest legacies can mean very different things to activists and their targets, giving shape to how a movement is understood culturally and structurally, as well as how activists and state agents act. To illustrate this point, I will consider four movement legacies that serve as significant sources for the Umbrella Revolution and their implications for how the Hong Kong protests have unfolded. Continue reading
Karl Marx’s famous saying that great historical events happen twice, first as tragedy and later as farce, originated from an observation of the futile attempt of French leftwing revolutionaries of 1848 to ape their predecessors in the revolution of 1789. Marx apparently considered it a paradox that a history-making intention involved borrowing “names, battle slogans, and costumes” from the past. Thus he implied a truly successful revolution would have to proceed without the nostalgic attachment to the previous protest script. Continue reading
This guest essay is written by Dr. Doron Shultziner, an interdisciplinary scholar who studies non-violent struggles for democratic progress, and Kirby Hung, a participant in the umbrella movement in Hong Kong.
The main tent in Mong Kok that was later removed by the police.
Since late September, a historic movement is taking place in Hong Kong which became part of China in 1997. Following a long-awaited period and delays, the Chinese government announced its political reform to allow universal suffrage to Hong Kong citizens but only for 2-3 candidates who will be selected by a pro-Beijing council of 1,200 members. Angry students started a class boycott, which culminated in the storming of the main government building in downtown Hong Kong. Police use of teargas and pepper spray against students who used umbrellas to protect themselves backfired into a huge demonstration of about 100,000 citizens. Several weeks have passed since that event climax and the umbrella movement maintains its momentum.
In this context, a battle of great significance has been taking place in Monk Kok, the second largest protest site of the umbrella movement for democracy in Hong Kong. In a surprise move between 5-9am on Friday (October 17) morning, police forces cleared protesters, tents, and barricades from the busy intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street, in what seemed a major setback to the movement. Yet, since Friday evening protesters regained parts of the street in what appears to be a major watershed of the struggle. Continue reading
I cannot remember the last time the president of the U.S. praised feminist activists. Has it ever happened? Color me surprised when last week, Obama said the “inspiring wave of student led activism” motivated him to create the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Okay, so the president didn’t praise feminist activists per se, but feminists have been mobilized around this issue for decades.
Citing the figure that one in five women college students have been sexually assaulted, Obama is giving the task force ninety days to come up with suggestions and initiatives to reduce sexual assault and improve compliance with existing policies. In the last few years, several U.S. colleges have been outed as stymying sexual assault reporting. As evidence mounted about the widespread lack of reporting and mishandling of sexual assault cases by administrators, college activists pressured the federal government to respond and to comply with Title IX. Despite affecting millions of us, never has the issue of sexual assault been given such national attention. Continue reading
The Québec provincial election is a few days away and despite an ongoing conversation about holding a truce, student activists continued their use of disruptive tactics (most recently at the Université de Montréal). Student mobilization has become a central feature of the 2012 provincial election. But, who stands to benefit most from student protest?
Leaders in the student movement have sought to use the election to address grievances regarding tuition increases (although, as I have written in a previous blog and as others have noted, it is unclear whether tuition is truly driving mobilization or whether it triggered underlying discontent). The more militant organization, CLASSE, as well as other movement figures has been associated with the nationalist Parti Québécois (PQ). Indeed, Pauline Marois, leader of the PQ brought in activist leader Léo Bureau-Blouin as a PQ candidate in a district north of Montreal. Student activists presumably see a PQ electoral victory as a potential victory of their own as Marois proclaimed that the PQ will cancel any tuition increases within its first 100 days in office. It is not surprising then that student protesters have sought to mobilize particularly in districts where they believe the youth vote will make the difference in defeating the Liberal Party and Premier Jean Charest.
Summers in Montreal usually mean festivals; whether Just for Laughs or the Jazz Fest. But, with an impending election, Montrealers this summer are wondering whether student protests will influence the upcoming Québec provincial election. Protests were first activated by the threat of a tuition hike, but quickly became about something bigger (see my May 10th post). One development has been the so-called radicalization of the protests, particularly organizations like CLASSE, accused of undermining negotiations with the government and as being aligned with the current opposition party, the sovereigntist Parti Québécois. It became clear, fairly early on, that the greatest obstacle for student protesters was convincing Quebeckers that the protests were more than just about tuition, that they are symptomatic of a bigger socio-structural problem, and that disruption is necessary (see my May 25th post). Unfortunately for protesters, public opinion has not been on their side. Continue reading
Have, as Montreal Gazette reporter Karen Seidman suggests, radicals hijacked the conflict over tuition increases in Québec?
In my previous post, I suggested that recent student protests in Montreal were more than just about tuition increases, and that tuition increases served as a triggering event that activated some other latent, longstanding grievances. In a recent May 16th article in the Montreal Gazette, Peggy Curran seems to agree with that assessment and writes that “it was clear the battle against tuition hikes had been transformed into the revolutionary cry of a lost generation. Toss a little anarchist mayhem into the mix, and you get a cocktail called pandemonium.” According to Curran, student mobilization is partially explained by the broader context of social unrest and breakdown characterized by economic uncertainty and high unemployment. But in addition to social unrest, Curran suggests a certain kind of intergenerational conflict between today’s students and baby-boomers – what she calls “boomerhate.” Continue reading