Learning Lessons from the History of Social Change

Learning Lessons from the History of Social Change
History provides a blueprint to which you can refer as you design approaches to improve the future. Architects understand the importance of a blueprint to realizing a future vision. A blueprint, or plan, that is informed by both the successes and failures of the past strengthens your vision for social change. What mistakes can you learn from and avoid as it relates to past social change movements? It is important to identify the factors that have made other movements successful in order to organize your own social change efforts. To that end, in this discussion you identify and provide a rationale for the factors you feel contribute to the success of social change movements.
To prepare for this Discussion:
Review the Goldberg, Ling, and Gladwell articles for insight into lessons learned in social movements of the past.
Think about historical social movements that have had a direct impact on your life. Reflect on what laws or social norms have been challenged, upheld, or changed, allowing for an improved quality of life for you.
Consider your perspective on the elements of historical social movements that have particular relevance today.
Bear in mind the strategies used by historical social movements and how they have built momentum to today’s movements.
an explanation of the factors that contribute to the success of social movements. In what ways can you pattern socially responsible action today after successful movements of the past? What factors have changed over time and thus necessitate some differences in approach? Support your assertions by making at least two references, in properAPA format, to your course readings.
ARTICLE:
Title:Small Change
Author(s):Malcolm Gladwell
Source:The New Yorker. 86.30 (Oct. 4, 2010): p42.
Document Type:Viewpoint essay
Full Text:All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of The Conde Nast Publications Inc.
Full Text:
At four-thirty in the afternoon on Monday, February 1, 1960, four college students sat down at the lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. They were freshmen at North Carolina A. & T., a black college a mile or so away.
“I’d like a cup of coffee, please,” one of the four, Ezell Blair, said to the waitress.
“We don’t serve Negroes here,” she replied.
The Woolworth’s lunch counter was a long L-shaped bar that could seat sixty-six people, with a standup snack bar at one end. The seats were for whites. The snack bar was for blacks. Another employee, a black woman who worked at the steam table, approached the students and tried to warn them away. “You’re acting stupid, ignorant!” she said. They didn’t move. Around five-thirty, the front doors to the store were locked. The four still didn’t move. Finally, they left by a side door. Outside, a small crowd had gathered, including a photographer from the Greensboro Record. “I’ll be back tomorrow with A. & T. College,” one of the students said.
By next morning, the protest had grown to twenty-seven men and four women, most from the same dormitory as the original four. The men were dressed in suits and ties. The students had brought their schoolwork, and studied as they sat at the counter. On Wednesday, students from Greensboro’s “Negro” secondary school, Dudley High, joined in, and the number of protesters swelled to eighty. By Thursday, the protesters numbered three hundred, including three white women, from the Greensboro campus of the University of North Carolina. By Saturday, the sit-in had reached six hundred. People spilled out onto the street. White teen-agers waved Confederate flags. Someone threw a firecracker. At noon, the A. & T. football team arrived. “Here comes the wrecking crew,” one of the white students shouted.
By the following Monday, sit-ins had spread to Winston-Salem, twenty-five miles away, and Durham, fifty miles away. The day after that, students at Fayetteville State Teachers College and at Johnson C. Smith College, in Charlotte, joined in, followed on Wednesday by students at St. Augustine’s College and Shaw University, in Raleigh. On Thursday and Friday, the protest crossed state lines, surfacing in Hampton and Portsmouth, Virginia, in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and in Chattanooga, Tennessee. By the end of the month, there were sit-ins throughout the South, as far west as Texas. “I asked every student I met what the first day of the sitdowns had been like on his campus,” the political theorist Michael Walzer wrote in Dissent. “The answer was always the same: ‘It was like a fever. Everyone wanted to go.’ ” Some seventy thousand students eventually took part. Thousands were arrested and untold thousands more radicalized. These events in the early sixties became a civil-rights war that engulfed the South for the rest of the decade–and it happened without e-mail, texting, Facebook, or Twitter.
The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. The new tools of social media have reinvented social activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coordinate, and give voice to their concerns. When ten thousand protesters took
to the streets in Moldova in the spring of 2009 to protest against their country’s Communist government, the action was dubbed the Twitter Revolution, because of the means by which the demonstrators had been brought together. A few months after that, when student protests rocked Tehran, the State Department took the unusual step of asking Twitter to suspend scheduled maintenance of its Web site, because the Administration didn’t want such a critical organizing tool out of service at the height of the demonstrations. “Without Twitter the people of Iran would not have felt empowered and confident to stand up for freedom and democracy,” Mark Pfeifle, a former national-security adviser, later wrote, calling for Twitter to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools. Facebook warriors go online to push for change. “You are the best hope for us all,” James K. Glassman, a former senior State Department official, told a crowd of cyber activists at a recent conference sponsored by Facebook, A. T. & T., Howcast, MTV, and Google. Sites like Facebook, Glassman said, “give the U.S. a significant competitive advantage over terrorists. Some time ago, I said that Al Qaeda was ‘eating our lunch on the Internet.’ That is no longer the case. Al Qaeda is stuck in Web 1.0. The Internet is now about interactivity and conversation.”
These are strong, and puzzling, claims. Why does it matter who is eating whose lunch on the Internet? Are people who log on to their Facebook page really the best hope for us all? As for Moldova’s so-called Twitter Revolution, Evgeny Morozov, a scholar at Stanford who has been the most persistent of digital evangelism’s critics, points out that Twitter had scant internal significance in Moldova, a country where very few Twitter accounts exist. Nor does it seem to have been a revolution, not least because the protests–as Anne Applebaum suggested in the Washington Post–may well have been a bit of stagecraft cooked up by the government. (In a country paranoid about Romanian revanchism, the protesters flew a Romanian flag over the Parliament building.) In the Iranian case, meanwhile, the people tweeting about the demonstrations were almost all in the West. “It is time to get Twitter’s role in the events in Iran right,” Golnaz Esfandiari wrote, this past summer, in Foreign Policy. “Simply put: There was no Twitter Revolution inside Iran.” The cadre of prominent bloggers, like Andrew Sullivan, who championed the role of social media in Iran, Esfandiari continued, misunderstood the situation. “Western journalists who couldn’t reach–or didn’t bother reaching?–people on the ground in Iran simply scrolled through the English-language tweets post with tag #iranelection,” she wrote. “Through it all, no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi.”
Some of this grandiosity is to be expected. Innovators tend to be solipsists. They often want to cram every stray fact and experience into their new model. As the historian Robert Darnton has written, “The marvels of communication technology in the present have produced a false consciousness about the past–even a sense that communication has no history, or had nothing of importance to consider before the days of television and the Internet.” But there is something else at work here, in the outsized enthusiasm for social media. Fifty years after one of the most extraordinary episodes of social upheaval in American history, we seem to have forgotten what activism is.
Greensboro in the early nineteen-sixties was the kind of place where racial insubordination was routinely met with violence. The four students who first sat down at the lunch counter were terrified. “I suppose if anyone had come up behind me and yelled ‘Boo,’ I think I would have fallen off my seat,” one of them said later. On the first day, the store manager notified the police chief, who immediately sent two officers to the store. On the third day, a gang of white toughs showed up at the lunch counter and stood ostentatiously behind the protesters, ominously
muttering epithets such as “burr-head nigger.” A local Ku Klux Klan leader made an appearance. On Saturday, as tensions grew, someone called in a bomb threat, and the entire store had to be evacuated.
The dangers were even clearer in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964, another of the sentinel campaigns of the civil-rights movement. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee recruited hundreds of Northern, largely white unpaid volunteers to run Freedom Schools, register black voters, and raise civil-rights awareness in the Deep South. “No one should go anywhere alone, but certainly not in an automobile and certainly not at night,” they were instructed. Within days of arriving in Mississippi, three volunteers–Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman–were kidnapped and killed, and, during the rest of the summer, thirty-seven black churches were set on fire and dozens of safe houses were bombed; volunteers were beaten, shot at, arrested, and trailed by pickup trucks full of armed men. A quarter of those in the program dropped out. Activism that challenges the status quo–that attacks deeply rooted problems–is not for the faint of heart.
What makes people capable of this kind of activism? The Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam compared the Freedom Summer dropouts with the participants who stayed, and discovered that the key difference wasn’t, as might be expected, ideological fervor. “All of the applicants–participants and withdrawals alike–emerge as highly committed, articulate supporters of the goals and values of the summer program,” he concluded. What mattered more was an applicant’s degree of personal connection to the civil-rights movement. All the volunteers were required to provide a list of personal contacts–the people they wanted kept apprised of their activities–and participants were far more likely than dropouts to have close friends who were also going to Mississippi. High-risk activism, McAdam concluded, is a “strong-tie” phenomenon.
This pattern shows up again and again. One study of the Red Brigades, the Italian terrorist group of the nineteen-seventies, found that seventy per cent of recruits had at least one good friend already in the organization. The same is true of the men who joined the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Even revolutionary actions that look spontaneous, like the demonstrations in East Germany that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, are, at core, strong-tie phenomena. The opposition movement in East Germany consisted of several hundred groups, each with roughly a dozen members. Each group was in limited contact with the others: at the time, only thirteen per cent of East Germans even had a phone. All they knew was that on Monday nights, outside St. Nicholas Church in downtown Leipzig, people gathered to voice their anger at the state. And the primary determinant of who showed up was “critical friends”–the more friends you had who were critical of the regime the more likely you were to join the protest.
So one crucial fact about the four freshmen at the Greensboro lunch counter–David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, and Joseph McNeil–was their relationship with one another. McNeil was a roommate of Blair’s in A. & T.’s Scott Hall dormitory. Richmond roomed with McCain one floor up, and Blair, Richmond, and McCain had all gone to Dudley High School. The four would smuggle beer into the dorm and talk late into the night in Blair and McNeil’s room. They would all have remembered the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, the Montgomery bus boycott that same year, and the showdown in Little Rock in 1957. It was McNeil who brought up the idea of a sit-in at Woolworth’s. They’d discussed it for nearly a month. Then McNeil came into the dorm room and asked the others if they were ready. There was a pause, and McCain said, in a way that works only with people who talk late into the night with one another, “Are you guys chicken or not?” Ezell Blair worked up the courage the next day to ask for a cup of coffee because he was flanked by his roommate and two good friends from high school.
The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.
This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances–not our friends–are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.
In a new book called “The Dragonfly Effect: Quick, Effective, and Powerful Ways to Use Social Media to Drive Social Change,” the business consultant Andy Smith and the Stanford Business School professor Jennifer Aaker tell the story of Sameer Bhatia, a young Silicon Valley entrepreneur who came down with acute myelogenous leukemia. It’s a perfect illustration of social media’s strengths. Bhatia needed a bone-marrow transplant, but he could not find a match among his relatives and friends. The odds were best with a donor of his ethnicity, and there were few South Asians in the national bone-marrow database. So Bhatia’s business partner sent out an e-mail explaining Bhatia’s plight to more than four hundred of their acquaintances, who forwarded the e-mail to their personal contacts; Facebook pages and YouTube videos were devoted to the Help Sameer campaign. Eventually, nearly twenty-five thousand new people were registered in the bone-marrow database, and Bhatia found a match.
But how did the campaign get so many people to sign up? By not asking too much of them. That’s the only way you can get someone you don’t really know to do something on your behalf. You can get thousands of people to sign up for a donor registry, because doing so is pretty easy. You have to send in a cheek swab and–in the highly unlikely event that your bone marrow is a good match for someone in need–spend a few hours at the hospital. Donating bone marrow isn’t a trivial matter. But it doesn’t involve financial or personal risk; it doesn’t mean spending a summer being chased by armed men in pickup trucks. It doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.
The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960. “Social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation,” Aaker and Smith write. But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation–by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires. The Facebook page of the Save Darfur Coalition has 1,282,339 members, who have donated an average of nine cents apiece. The next biggest Darfur charity on Facebook has 22,073 members, who have donated an average of thirty-five cents. Help Save Darfur has 2,797 members, who have given, on average, fifteen cents. A spokesperson for the Save Darfur Coalition told Newsweek, “We wouldn’t necessarily gauge someone’s value to the advocacy movement based on what they’ve given. This is a powerful mechanism to engage this critical population. They inform their community, attend events, volunteer. It’s not something you can measure by looking at a ledger.” In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating
them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro.
The students who joined the sit-ins across the South during the winter of 1960 described the movement as a “fever.” But the civil-rights movement was more like a military campaign than like a contagion. In the late nineteen-fifties, there had been sixteen sit-ins in various cities throughout the South, fifteen of which were formally organized by civil-rights organizations like the N.A.A.C.P. and CORE. Possible locations for activism were scouted. Plans were drawn up. Movement activists held training sessions and retreats for would-be protesters. The Greensboro Four were a product of this groundwork: all were members of the N.A.A.C.P. Youth Council. They had close ties with the head of the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter. They had been briefed on the earlier wave of sit-ins in Durham, and had been part of a series of movement meetings in activist churches. When the sit-in movement spread from Greensboro throughout the South, it did not spread indiscriminately. It spread to those cities which had preexisting “movement centers”–a core of dedicated and trained activists ready to turn the “fever” into action.
The civil-rights movement was high-risk activism. It was also, crucially, strategic activism: a challenge to the establishment mounted with precision and discipline. The N.A.A.C.P. was a centralized organization, run from New York according to highly formalized operating procedures. At the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King, Jr., was the unquestioned authority. At the center of the movement was the black church, which had, as Aldon D. Morris points out in his superb 1984 study, “The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement,” a carefully demarcated division of labor, with various standing committees and disciplined groups. “Each group was task-oriented and coordinated its activities through authority structures,” Morris writes. “Individuals were held accountable for their assigned duties, and important conflicts were resolved by the minister, who usually exercised ultimate authority over the congregation.”
This is the second crucial distinction between traditional activism and its online variant: social media are not about this kind of hierarchical organization. Facebook and the like are tools for building networks, which are the opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies. Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures, networks aren’t controlled by a single central authority. Decisions are made through consensus, and the ties that bind people to the group are loose.
This structure makes networks enormously resilient and adaptable in low-risk situations. Wikipedia is a perfect example. It doesn’t have an editor, sitting in New York, who directs and corrects each entry. The effort of putting together each entry is self-organized. If every entry in Wikipedia were to be erased tomorrow, the content would swiftly be restored, because that’s what happens when a network of thousands spontaneously devote their time to a task.
There are many things, though, that networks don’t do well. Car companies sensibly use a network to organize their hundreds of suppliers, but not to design their cars. No one believes that the articulation of a coherent design philosophy is best handled by a sprawling, leaderless organizational system. Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say?
The Palestine Liberation Organization originated as a network, and the international-relations scholars Mette Eilstrup-Sangiovanni and Calvert Jones argue in a recent essay in International Security that this is why it ran into such trouble as it grew: “Structural features typical of networks–the absence of central authority, the unchecked autonomy of rival groups, and the
inability to arbitrate quarrels through formal mechanisms–made the P.L.O. excessively vulnerable to outside manipulation and internal strife.”
In Germany in the nineteen-seventies, they go on, “the far more unified and successful left-wing terrorists tended to organize hierarchically, with professional management and clear divisions of labor. They were concentrated geographically in universities, where they could establish central leadership, trust, and camaraderie through regular, face-to-face meetings.” They seldom betrayed their comrades in arms during police interrogations. Their counterparts on the right were organized as decentralized networks, and had no such discipline. These groups were regularly infiltrated, and members, once arrested, easily gave up their comrades. Similarly, Al Qaeda was most dangerous when it was a unified hierarchy. Now that it has dissipated into a network, it has proved far less effective.
The drawbacks of networks scarcely matter if the network isn’t interested in systemic change–if it just wants to frighten or humiliate or make a splash–or if it doesn’t need to think strategically. But if you’re taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy. The Montgomery bus boycott required the participation of tens of thousands of people who depended on public transit to get to and from work each day. It lasted a year. In order to persuade those people to stay true to the cause, the boycott’s organizers tasked each local black church with maintaining morale, and put together a free alternative private carpool service, with forty-eight dispatchers and forty-two pickup stations. Even the White Citizens Council, King later said, conceded that the carpool system moved with “military precision.” By the time King came to Birmingham, for the climactic showdown with Police Commissioner Eugene (Bull) Connor, he had a budget of a million dollars, and a hundred full-time staff members on the ground, divided into operational units. The operation itself was divided into steadily escalating phases, mapped out in advance. Support was maintained through consecutive mass meetings rotating from church to church around the city.
Boycotts and sit-ins and nonviolent confrontations–which were the weapons of choice for the civil-rights movement–are high-risk strategies. They leave little room for conflict and error. The moment even one protester deviates from the script and responds to provocation, the moral legitimacy of the entire protest is compromised. Enthusiasts for social media would no doubt have us believe that King’s task in Birmingham would have been made infinitely easier had he been able to communicate with his followers through Facebook, and contented himself with tweets from a Birmingham jail. But networks are messy: think of the ceaseless pattern of correction and revision, amendment and debate, that characterizes Wikipedia. If Martin Luther King, Jr., had tried to do a wiki-boycott in Montgomery, he would have been steamrollered by the white power structure. And of what use would a digital communication tool be in a town where ninety-eight per cent of the black community could be reached every Sunday morning at church? The things that King needed in Birmingham–discipline and strategy–were things that online social media cannot provide.
The bible of the social-media movement is Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody.” Shirky, who teaches at New York University, sets out to demonstrate the organizing power of the Internet, and he begins with the story of Evan, who worked on Wall Street, and his friend Ivanna, after she left her smart phone, an expensive Sidekick, on the back seat of a New York City taxicab. The telephone company transferred the data on Ivanna’s lost phone to a new phone, whereupon she and Evan discovered that the Sidekick was now in the hands of a teen-ager from Queens, who was using it to take photographs of herself and her friends.
When Evan e-mailed the teen-ager, Sasha, asking for the phone back, she replied that his “white ass” didn’t deserve to have it back. Miffed, he set up a Web page with her picture and a description of what had happened. He forwarded the link to his friends, and they forwarded it to their friends. Someone found the MySpace page of Sasha’s boyfriend, and a link to it found its way onto the site. Someone found her address online and took a video of her home while driving by; Evan posted the video on the site. The story was picked up by the news filter Digg. Evan was now up to ten e-mails a minute. He created a bulletin board for his readers to share their stories, but it crashed under the weight of responses. Evan and Ivanna went to the police, but the police filed the report under “lost,” rather than “stolen,” which essentially closed the case. “By this point millions of readers were watching,” Shirky writes, “and dozens of mainstream news outlets had covered the story.” Bowing to the pressure, the N.Y.P.D. reclassified the item as “stolen.” Sasha was arrested, and Evan got his friend’s Sidekick back.
Shirky’s argument is that this is the kind of thing that could never have happened in the pre-Internet age–and he’s right. Evan could never have tracked down Sasha. The story of the Sidekick would never have been publicized. An army of people could never have been assembled to wage this fight. The police wouldn’t have bowed to the pressure of a lone person who had misplaced something as trivial as a cell phone. The story, to Shirky, illustrates “the ease and speed with which a group can be mobilized for the right kind of cause” in the Internet age.
Shirky considers this model of activism an upgrade. But it is simply a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger. It shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact. The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo. If you are of the opinion that all the world needs is a little buffing around the edges, this should not trouble you. But if you think that there are still lunch counters out there that need integrating it ought to give you pause.
Shirky ends the story of the lost Sidekick by asking, portentously, “What happens next?”–no doubt imagining future waves of digital protesters. But he has already answered the question. What happens next is more of the same. A networked, weak-tie world is good at things like helping Wall Streeters get phones back from teen-age girls. Viva la revolucion.
Malcolm Gladwell
ARTICLE 2:
In a world of great crises – economic, environmental, and political – men and women usually turn to state actors for solutions. The United States government, the European Union, or the World Bank are seen as the agents of change and reform. This focus blurs the stimulus to change that comes from the bottom up via grassroots movements. The events of September 11, 2001, and more recently in Mombai, Thailand, and Greece suggest the power of social movements, non-state actors, to move history and create the crises of current events. In challenging state authority in American history, social movement activists have nurtured revolution, pressed suffrage and equal rights for women, and transformed the racial status quo, among other changes. In the process of staking a claim to influence, a social movement organizes itself as a community governed by alternative role models, values, and rituals. From this base, social movement agents raise hope of a better world and choose mobilization strategies in a quest to govern. Claims on power demand that activists grapple with authorities who stand ready to protect established institutions and practices.
The social movement perspective on governance, then, is twofold. Activists must exercise governance within the movement to firm it for the coming struggle for power. They also must protect members from authorities who seek to disrupt and disband challengers. With its base secured and resources gathered and focused, the social movement is prepared to claim a share of governance and authority from state actors. This Article outlines internal movement characteristics and factors that effect challenges to state actors. It also considers the dynamic of contention, particularly the responses of state authorities to social movement claims on governance.
When state actors deny the legitimacy of a constituency and ignore the salience of grievances, opportunities arise for social movement mobilization. A social movement is an organized group that acts with some continuity and is consciously seeking to promote or resist change. Key to social movement activism are the means of challenge. Social movements launch collective action to influence those who make decisions about the distribution of benefits in a society. Silent vigils, parades, sit-in demonstrations, cross burnings, Boston tea parties, strikes, rallies, kidnappings, boycotts, violence, and similar collective behaviors are initiated to persuade authorities to recognize challengers and to bring change. In [66] gathering numbers and offering inducements or adding disadvantages, activists warn rulers of their power and demand action. n1
Such means, however, suggest the weakness of social movements. Powerful actors, unlike social movement activists, have easy access to those who govern. They routinely apply resources – for example, through lobbying or offers of information and funding – and successfully lay claims on authorities. These actors, in fact, may rely on the state’s means of coercion to protect them from social movement challenges. In turn, in its role of preserving the status quo, government seeks support from established groups that have a stake in the system as it exists. Social movements cease to be such once they gather sufficient resources and abandon collective action for more prosaic means of influence. As contenders for influence, social movements yearn to sit on the balcony of power, but their weakness demands that they take a stand on the streets and behind the barricades. n2
Challenging the status quo is hard labor. It requires that social movements sustain their members over time to withstand assaults from within and without. It means the creation of self-contained communities, non-state entities, administered by their own leaders and codes of conduct. Particularly important in beckoning followers and holding their allegiances are movement blueprints of the good society. These ideological statements diagnose the problems being faced and fix the blame. They offer means and goals. They provide a rationale that glorifies and justifies the movement and its cause. Ideology is a bulwark against frustration, resistance, and factionalism. It is the scaffolding of a new and alternative community of believers. Also necessary to mount a viable challenge is an organizational structure that anoints leaders who set policy, assign tasks, and harness movement resources to goals. Together, ideology and hierarchy create the crucible for challenge and protest. Moreover, they shelter an alternative world, a community of activists whose loyalty is to the challenging group and a vision of a better world.
Consider in this regard, the Invisible Empire of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. This social movement was founded in Georgia in 1915. Within ten years, it was estimated to have initiated five million men and women, making it the largest movement of the right wing in American history. Despite its southern origins, the Klan claimed its greatest membership in the North and West, with Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, Colorado, and California its most powerful realms. Urban areas were especially susceptible, with Chicago counting 50,000 Klansmen and 35,000 wearing the hood and robe in Detroit. The Klan called white, native-born Americans to a crusade against the Pope and his Catholic minions, Jewish immigrants, lawbreakers of all stripes, and black Americans who attacked racial barriers to equal rights. These were the so-called enemies of One Hundred Percent [
67] Americanism and threats to the Constitution, law and order, and Protestant freedom. In response, Klansmen flooded voting booths to elect U.S. senators, governors, and hundreds of mayors and local officials. Their motto: “Put only Americans on Guard.” n3
But the Klan was more than a political machine. A ten-dollar initiation fee granted admission to an invisible and mysterious empire of exalted cyclopses, grand dragons, kleagles, and nighthawks. The Invisible Empire offered an exotic fraternal life complete with “ghostly costumes and eerie burning crosses.” Regular lodge nights were supplemented with social activities including wrestling tournaments, parades, and automobile races. Picnics were especially popular with members and sometimes drew more than 100,000 people. The Klan was a family affair, and members encouraged their wives, mothers, and sisters to form auxiliaries. Klansmen even organized their children. Misconduct – voting for a Catholic candidate, buying from a Jewish merchant, or violating the prohibition laws – could mean trial and banishment from the Empire. In small towns, shunning had a telling effect. Strict governance in the Empire ensured a combat-ready contender for power. n4
Another example is found in the Communist Party of America, which in the 1930s demanded discipline and obedience in its war against capitalism. The leadership, hand-picked and blessed by Moscow, ordered members to infiltrate unions, political organizations, and social clubs to foster a united front to battle fascism abroad and racism and poverty at home. Critical to its mobilization was the movement’s ability to cocoon its members from the outside world. Weekly meetings, often lasting three and four hours, were only a part of the regimen. Under strict supervision and under the watchful eyes of comrades, Communists were expected to attend lectures and rallies, participate in petition drives, recruit new members, and sell movement literature and newspapers. Communist membership also meant absorption in a network of social relationships. After meetings, members attended movies together, went dancing, or met at one another’s homes. Weekends brought picnics, hikes, and retreats. Members found their closest friends and marriage partners within the movement. “It was a total world,” remembers a Philadelphia Communist, “from the schools to which I sent my children to family mores to social life to the quality of our friendships to the doctor, the dentist, and the cleaner. We had community.” n5 In this world, a loss of commitment meant more than a shearing of political ties. Ostracism, said one Communist, was “worse tyranny than jail… . Far worse than anything in the world. It’s your mother and father, it’s your social base, it’s your raison d’etat [sic]… . You’ve got to be willing to wander alone in the night.” n6 Even if it was [68] able to steel them to their purpose and insulate them from detractors’ cries of un-Americanism, the closed world of communism did not shield them from federal surveillance and infiltration. n7
The emergence of social movements continued during the 1960s, when the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) waged a war against segregation in freedom rides, sit-in demonstrations, and voter registration drives. Activists saw themselves as non-violent messengers engaged in a righteous cause to make real the dream of a color-blind America. Beatings, arrests, and jail time were initiation rites, formative experiences that created the “beloved” community. Brutality strengthened the activist core by heightening mutual respect and bolstering a sense of personal power. In suffering and before bigotry, activists learned to trust and depend on one another, critical defenses against the onslaught of violence that they faced in the rural South. Yet years of combat took a toll. SNCC could not protect its members, who were engulfed in continuous waves of assaults, murders, and bombings. Nor could it govern its own community. With an ethos of participatory democracy and an animus to authority, the community fractured along fault lines of race, class, and gender. Pleas for aid to federal authorities went unheeded, and SNCC fell under the weight of enemies within and without. When members turned on each other and suspicion replaced trust, SNCC’s future became futile and the community became a shell. n8
None of this is to validate the claims of a school of theorists that saw social movements as populated by society’s misfits, maladjusted, and deviant – what Eric Hoffer called “true believers.” n9 According to scholars like Hannah Arendt, Seymour Lipset, and William Kornhauser who wrote in the shadows of Nazism and Cold War Communism, activists seek escape from the responsibilities of freedom. Eagerly, they sacrifice their wills and judgment to authoritarian leaders. In this scenario, personal grievances, fears, and anxieties – not real social and economic problems – ignite their activism. These scholars specifically delineated the unemployed, recently discharged war veterans, and the economically marginal as forming movement ranks. In their collective pain of estrangement and dispossession, activists find new meaning and community. n10
[
69] More recent scholarship takes a different approach. Research on social movements of the 1960s indicates that the atomized and irrational were noticeable by their absence from civil rights, student, anti-war, and women’s organizations. Protesters were angry and, at times, bitter, yet unconscious psychic drives offer less explanation for their motivation than real grievances enunciated in focused programs of change. Such findings even hold for movements outside the mainstream. Research on the Ku Klux Klan indicates that the hood and robe disguised a movement composed of diverse factions, often in conflict over leadership positions, tactics, and goals. When Klan officers betrayed confidence or the movement misplayed its hand, members left en masse. Similarly, Communists rarely marched in lockstep. Enclosure in the Communist cocoon quickly became confining and overwhelmed many. Inaction and failure led to defections. Reversals of the party line, for example in the wake of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in 1939, led to spotty attendance at first and then desertion. It was Lenin, himself, who ruefully warned: “When the locomotive of history takes a sharp turn only the steadfast cling to the train.” n11 Governance within movements demands skillful hands and the confidence of the governed. Such matters are fragile over time, especially when social movements are joined in the struggle with state actors for power. n12
In these struggles for governance, state authorities are neither passive nor neutral. State actors will expend the resources necessary to ensure the status quo in policy and existing power relationships. Tenaciously holding on to governance, they have a variety of weapons in their arsenal, employed singly or in combination, to confront challengers. A history of state actors’ responses to claims on governance is not possible here, but we can proceed with a survey of examples that reveals the complexities of official reaction.
As the principal masters of the means of coercion, American state actors have the power to repress activists and have exercised that authority repeatedly. In 1863, Union troops fresh from the Gettysburg battlefield leveled the muzzles of their howitzers and fired point blank into Irish mobs protesting the draft law. Later in the nineteenth century, federal soldiers commandeered railroads to break strikes and unions. Utah Mormons skirmished with federal authorities for decades over [70] the issue of polygamy, facing not only armed intervention, but also legislative censure. n13
The twentieth century offers many cases of repression of non-state actors. The opposition of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) to the First World War brought the wrath of the United States down on the radical labor union. One hundred and one IWW leaders were tried in a single courtroom on 17,500 charges relating to anti-war agitation. The jury deliberated for fifty-five minutes before returning guilty verdicts that sent thirty-five to Leavenworth Penitentiary for five years, thirty-three for ten years, and fifteen for twenty years. Methods of repression were less refined at the local level. In South Dakota, Michigan, Nebraska, and Minnesota, authorities arrested, beat, and deported Wobblies. In Arizona, during the summer of 1917, ten communities witnessed the systematic deportation of IWW members. The largest deportation occurred in the copper town of Bisbee. There, the sheriff’s office, in coordination with the Phelps-Dodge Corporation and the El Paso and Southern Railroad, deported “every suspicious looking individual,” a total of 1,186 men. n14 The IWW, wrote Bill Haywood, had been shaken “as the bull dog shakes an empty sack.” n15 More than 2,000 Wobblies, socialists, and pacifists were imprisoned in the World War I domestic offensive. n16
In the 1930s, state and federal authorities clamped down on Depression-generated protest. Police in the Midwest arrested members of the Farmers Holiday Association who had erected barriers across state highways to stop the transport of farm goods to nearby cities in hopes of depleting markets and raising prices. General Douglas MacArthur, with support from Majors Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton, routed with tanks and infantry the World War I veterans who came to Washington, D.C., to petition for their promised service bonus. n17 Although focused on his New Deal activities, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to undertake a comprehensive investigation of [
71] “subversive activities … particularly Fascism and Communism.” n18 In addition to the Communist Party, Hoover targeted the Silver Shirts, German-American Bund, Father Coughlin’s Christian Front, and other far-right groups that Roosevelt had labeled America’s “Trojan Horse.” n19 FBI agents opened mail, examined employment records, and initiated electronic surveillance, with the information gathered leading to grand jury indictments of twenty-eight rightist leaders on charges of conspiracy to commit sedition and cause insubordination in the armed forces. The case consumed two years of the activists’ time and resources only to end in a mistrial in 1944. n20
The Communist Party’s turn came after World War II during the second American Red Scare. Administration officials formulated plans for the arrest of party members in the event of war, including more than 26,000 names on the detention list. These contingency plans received formal authorization in 1950 with the passage of the McCarran Internal Security Act. Congress closed the legal circle in 1954 with the Communist Control Act, outlawing the party in the United States. Meanwhile, without evidence of an actual plot or any incidents of violence, the Justice Department prosecuted twelve members of the Communist Party’s national board for advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government. The witch-hunt continued, and 126 high-level cadre were arrested, with ninety-three ultimately convicted. n21
This was only the opening salvo against the Communist Party. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower authorized the FBI to undertake COINTELPRO, a counter intelligence program against the movement. To expose, disrupt, and neutralize the party, agents engaged in surreptitious entry, mail intercepts, telephone surveillance, infiltration, and disinformation campaigns. It is estimated that by 1962, the FBI had fifteen hundred of the party’s eighty-five hundred members on its payroll. At the same time, the Internal Revenue Service investigated 262 movement leaders for possible tax evasion and sued the party to collect past taxes. By 1971, the Communist Party had only 3,000 members, down from its Depression-era heyday of 350,000, and it had ceased to be a contender for power in the American polity. n22
[72] After the success against the Communists, and with Department of Justice approval, J. Edgar Hoover targeted COINTELPRO against other non-state actors. COINTELPRO pursued the American Nazi Party, the Minutemen, and particularly the Ku Klux Klan. Agents, between 1964 and 1971, initiated almost three hundred operations against seventeen Klan factions while the IRS investigated Klansmen’s tax returns. In addition to wiretaps, mail openings, and surreptitious entries, the FBI planted rumors of adultery and embezzlement in Klan ranks and even established a rival Invisible Empire to lure men from their Klan affiliations. The FBI also “outed” members by sending 6,000 postcards to their places of employment, declaring “KLANSMAN … Someone KNOWS who you are.” n23 In 1965, the FBI boasted that one in five Kluxers were paid informants and that it had spies in leadership circles in at least half of all Klan units. Klansmen fled under the barrage. The FBI’s anti-Klan COINTELPRO operation closed in 1971 with the Invisible Empire’s membership list counting 4,300 members, a loss of 10,000 Klansmen. Said an agent, “In five years we blew them all to hell.” n24
More publicized were COINTELPRO operations against black civil rights organizations. With a nod from Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, agents wiretapped the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Hoover hoped to intimidate and discredit the civil rights leader by finding incriminating materials and making them public. FBI agents also monitored the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress of Racial Equality, the Black Panthers, and SNCC. In regard to the Nation of Islam, agents went so far as to attempt to close a Muslim grade school by unleashing the Washington, D.C., zoning, tax, and health bureaucracies. They also opened files on all parents with children in the school. n25
The history of repression of non-state contenders for power is a long one and did not end with the 1960s. Since then, authorities have combated the Christian Identity movement, White Aryan Resistance, Branch Davidians, anti-abortion protesters, the Sanctuary Movement, anti-nuclear demonstrators, the Animal Liberation Front, ACT-UP-The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and anti-globalization activists. Fundamentalist Mormons came under attack first in the 1950s when Arizona officials raided the Short Creek community and then in 2008 at the hands of Texas state authorities. Whether delivered covertly or overtly, repression has been a weapon of choice for state actors faced with demands for [
73] influence. As the history suggests, if more extreme and unconventional groups bear the brunt of coercion, mainstream movements are not guaranteed reprieve from official reproach. n26
Repression is a blunt-edged weapon. More scalpel-like is preemption, another strategy to curb challenge and maintain authority. This strategy disarms contenders by adopting their proposals but denying them credit and influence. Both the Populist and Socialist Parties campaigned for better working conditions, an end to child labor, a graduated income tax, and women’s suffrage. Republicans and Democrats would take credit for these reforms. During the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt mastered this approach when faced with opposition and discontent. He hoped that the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 would absorb the grievances of the Farmers’ Holiday Association. Dr. Francis Townsend posed a threat with his Old-Age Revolving Pension Plan that rallied tens of thousands of Americans, young and old, behind it. The movement demobilized with the passage of the Social Security Act. When Louisiana Senator Huey Long created the Share Our Wealth Society and chartered clubs of believers across the United States, Roosevelt answered with his “soak the rich” tax bill. Here was a war against the economic royalists and for the people. This piece of class legislation played a key role in defusing Long’s more vigorous demands for the redistribution of wealth. n27
Preemption may be so subtle that it escapes the notice of all but its perpetrators and victims. San Antonio, Texas, proudly proclaims itself as the first southern city to desegregate its lunch counters and as “the most liberal city in the region.” It housed a branch of the NAACP that vowed to bring racial progress to the Alamo city. Yet black mobilization in the 1960s ran up against a coalition of white government, religious, and business leaders who decided to control change from above. These issue-poaching authorities wanted to spare their city the strife that enveloped the rest of the South. City fathers excluded NAACP representatives from discussions to plot a strategy. White decision makers then reached a consensus and preempted civil rights activists by opening lunch counters to blacks without the pressure of demonstrations. Business and civic authorities then negotiated the voluntary desegregation of movie theaters and hotels and began the process of restaurant desegregation. Municipal facilities and public transportation were also integrated. When the desegregation effort lagged, the NAACP attempted to press the city to pass an ordinance opening all municipal public accommodations. City fathers responded by appointing a committee to study the [74] matter and make recommendations. The result was a call against legislation and for an accelerated voluntary desegregation plan conducted under city government auspices. In a last push and under fear of a federal backlash that would declare segregated establishments “off limits” to the large number of military personnel in San Antonio, many of the remaining reluctant business owners relented. By July 4, 1963, nearly two-thirds of all hotels, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation had agreed to desegregate voluntarily. “These businesses accounted for nearly 95 percent of all hotel rooms, 90 percent of all motel rooms, and 90 percent of all restaurant meals served in San Antonio … . Three months later, only twenty-six restaurants and five motels had refused to participate in the voluntary program.” n28
Black activists were more observers than participants in these happenings. Civic leaders had made peace and prosperity their goals, not racial justice. Civil rights had been granted, not won. According to the Reverend Claude Black, the strategy was
“to give it to you and not give it to you. It is a pattern that has made it most difficult to develop the kind of unity that you need in the black community in order to develop the opposition. Any time you give people in desperate conditions a glimmer of hope, you defuse them.” n29
How many southern communities outside the media glare experienced similar histories and still feel the burden of that past?
In the hothouse of conspiracy thinking that was the 1990s, the federal government also experimented with information release as a preemption strategy. Authorities hoped to chill the challenges of conspiracy theorists who posed as public defenders and demanded the release of official secrets. Here was a quest by non-state actors for influence and a determination to control history. Two conspiracy theories, in particular, drew official attention and response – the assassination of John Kennedy and the military’s alleged recovery of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. To lay John Kennedy’s body to rest and undercut charges of state involvement, the congressionally mandated Assassination Review Board declassified sixty thousand documents accumulating to more than four million pages from the files of the Warren Commission, the CIA, the FBI, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. It also sought to quiet conspiracists by deposing the Parkland and Bethesda hospitals’ physicians, sponsoring new ballistics tests, and authenticating and making available the Zapruder film of the assassination. At the same time, the board’s final report issued in 1998, confirmed the Warren Commission’s finding of a lone gunman. Yet the assassination’s hold was so strong that the case did not [
75] close. Sustained by a culture of conspiracy and insulated within a closed circle of belief, theorists continued to search for Kennedy’s killer. Polls at the end of the twentieth century showed little change in public opinion, with 75 percent of Americans convinced that President John Kennedy was gunned down in a conspiracy. Conspiracist groups remained viable, fed by a loss of public faith in authorities. n30
The alleged crash of an alien craft and the recovery of extraterrestrials near Roswell received much play in the media as the fiftieth anniversary of the happening approached in 1997. The United States Air Force could not let the event pass without comment. It issued a lengthy report just a week before the occasion, insisting that Roswell witnesses had not seen spacemen, but injured test pilots, casualties from an airplane accident, or crash-test dummies. A manned balloon mishap, the report declared, had caused a pilot’s head to swell to alien proportions. Witnesses could easily have mistaken the dummies for aliens because they had no ears, hair, or eyebrows. Prosecutorial in tone, the report also dripped of self-righteousness and arrogance. UFO conspiracy theorists easily deflected the Air Force’s preemptive strike and chalked it up to another attempt to hide the truth from the American people. The story still gets high market shares on television as Americans continue to watch the skies. n31
When state actors practice a cooptation strategy against challenging groups, they absorb leading activists into government with significant effect on the chances of non-state contenders. If not as harsh as the legal decapitation of the IWW and Communist Party, cooptation robs a social movement of its most experienced and valuable members. In turning allegiance, authorities not only temper challenge, but also gain important information about their opponents. The value of this strategy is readily apparent. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Barak Obama have created “teams of rivals” by incorporating powerful adversaries into their cabinets. The War on Poverty, during the 1960s, recruited program managers from the ranks of civil rights organizations. Universities institutionalized protest by initially staffing [76] ethnic and gender studies programs with individuals with social movement credentials. President Ronald Reagan tempered conservative protest about his inaction on social issues when he invited evangelical ministers to prayer breakfasts and meetings in the Oval Office. The politics of inclusion through appointments, negotiation, and symbolic actions shackles activism while enhancing the authority of state actors. n32
Not every official response is designed to frustrate non-state actors’ influence and deflect mobilization success. In 1961, President John Kennedy and Attorney General Bobby Kennedy grew concerned about escalating racial violence in the South sparked by a wave of sit-in demonstrations and freedom rides. Federal intervention to curb bloodshed and in support of civil rights ran the risk of provoking southern Democrats and fueling opposition to the New Frontier. The violence also exposed the ugliness of American racism to a world enmeshed in Cold War competition. To resolve the administration’s dilemma, Bobby Kennedy attempted to redirect the civil rights movement. He approached representatives from SNCC, CORE, SCLC, and the NAACP and offered to arrange private funding through the philanthropic Taconic and Field Foundations for activists in the Deep South if they ceased direct action campaigns and instead focused their activities on a coordinated drive to register African Americans to vote. Kennedy gave black leaders the impression that the Justice Department and FBI field agents would protect civil rights workers and enforce the law. In 1962, President Kennedy bolstered this belief when he proclaimed: “I commend those who are making the effort to register every citizen. They deserve the protection of the U.S. government, the protection of the states, the protection of the local communities. And if it requires extra legislation and extra force, we shall do that.” Tax exemptions for movement organizations and draft deferments for activists were added inducements to accept the government’s proposal. n33
[
77] Support of a voter registration campaign offered the Kennedy administration escape from a difficult position and the means to build reserves for the future. John and Bobby Kennedy, looking back to the rise of the Irish to power in Boston and Massachusetts, saw the vote as the key to full citizenship for African Americans. With large numbers voting as a bloc, blacks could elect their own while forcing southern white politicians to bow before a new electoral reality. Quiet voter registration drives, they believed, would not spawn the confrontations with whites that fed Soviet propaganda. Devoid of social and sexual overtones, the integration of the voting booth meant less resistance than had greeted efforts to achieve equality of access to schools and public accommodations. Moreover, successful registration would dampen the demand for new civil rights legislation that might provoke a southern filibuster and endanger other New Frontier requests. At the same time, the growing black electorate, aware of its benefactors, would reward Kennedy and the Democratic Party. The registration drive, then, promised gradual, directed change. Low profile Justice Department litigation in support of voting rights would complement this strategy and arouse little controversy. n34
If the Kennedy attempt to redirect the movement smacked of paternalism, it still offered civil rights workers important resources. Weighing their options, activists forged a compromise that established two campaigns – one of direct action and the other of voter registration. Yet the distinction was soon moot, for segregationists found any civil rights actions provocative and reacted with a vengeance. They would not yield power willingly, and all civil rights workers and blacks seeking change became targets of reprisal. This example demonstrates the complicated nature of a state actor’s response: While aid and comfort were forthcoming from the attorney general’s office, the FBI, also an agency of the Department of Justice, was engaged in counter-intelligence and disruptive operations against the same non-state actors. n35
Non-state actors’ quests to govern can also result in recognition that brings influence and reform. Social movements, in fact, may not only win concessions, but also take the reins of government. Keys to successful mobilization are activists’ efforts to win the support of opinion makers, shape alliances with established actors, maintain organizational focus and momentum, and keep authorities neutral or make them assets. In this process of gathering power, the Democratic and Republican parties play essential mediating roles.
A few examples will suffice. The Anti-Saloon League built a political machine in the first decades of the twentieth century. Its endorsement of both Republicans and Democrats led to the election of prohibitionists who voted to establish saloon-free zones around churches and schools, enforce Sunday closing [78] laws, and tighten the licensing of liquor dealers. Local option laws made possible elections to ban saloons from city and county. State prohibition laws followed and expanded dry territory. In the process, activists had added the enforcement machinery of the state to their arsenal. With the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the victory was national. The drunk had been transformed from a sinner into a criminal. A non-state actor had pressed its agenda politically and made accomplices of the authorities. n36
Adroitly aligning with either the Democratic or the Republican parties, the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s fashioned electoral alliances that captured power on the local, state, and federal levels. For many white native-born Americans, the Klan was a legitimate response to a breakdown in law and order and challenges from restive minorities seeking to remove religious, ethnic, and racial barriers to full citizenship. Governing Klansmen answered the call and declared war on crime and selectively enforced measures to discriminate against Catholics, Jews, and blacks. In Denver, Colorado, Klan justice was ensured because voters elected Kluxers to the district court bench and their clerks fed the order’s membership lists into the jury wheel. n37
Long struggling to better conditions for working men and women, the labor movement achieved major breakthroughs in the 1930s and became a key Democratic Party constituency. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal recognized the unions’ right to bargain collectively and appointed sympathetic officials to handle labor disputes. Congress, meanwhile, enacted laws banning child labor, setting safety standards, and establishing maximum hours and a minimum wage. A grateful union movement enlisted in the Democratic cause and became the political machine of the party, educating, registering, and gathering voters for the polls. n38
During the 1960s and after, a variety of social movements mobilized successfully to influence governance. The actions of civil rights activists prodded the Democratic Party and federal authorities into legislation desegregating public accommodations and the voting booth. Anti-war demonstrations pressured American decision makers and helped shape policy toward Vietnam. At the University of California, Berkeley, protesters, with the support of the faculty, forced campus administrators to hear student voices and make concessions about free speech rights. Authorities also yielded ground to women’s, Native American, Chicano, environmental, and gay rights movements. Over time, members of these groups have won office or appointment, escaped cooptation, and continued to agitate for change. With the return of the Republican Party to power in the 1980s, conservative activists pushed back, laying claim to government influence and position. Anti-abortion activism, a slowing of equal opportunities actions, the [
79] expansion of the security state, and tax policy have been measures of their success in setting the national agenda. n39
The march to influence is a long one with many contenders succumbing along the way. As these illustrations suggest, governing elites resist claims on their power in creative ways and with diverse means. Repression, preemption, cooptation, and redirection subvert challenge and either deny it completely or transform it into something managed and controlled. Successful activists avoid the extremes of change and beat a path to power through the major political parties. When victorious, contenders lay down with authorities; non-state actors may even become governors. On occasion, this rising from the grassroots results in the legitimization of new constituencies and yields important cultural changes.
As non-state actors, social movements approach governance from two distinct, but entwined, perspectives. Activist leaders make themselves ready to contend for power by attracting members, rousing them to sacrifice time and energy, and efficiently marshalling and expending their resources. Ideology and organization firm governance within and act to deny weariness and factionalism. With base secure, the movement is ready to compete for power and make claims on state actors. This involves not only employing resources, but also finding influential friends, appealing to the wider community for support, and nimbly avoiding actions that antagonize movement-breaking authorities. State actors meet claims on governance by bargaining, reforming, repressing, or subverting challengers. Such contention is hardly static. Electoral shifts and economic disruption offer new opportunities to challengers by upsetting the existing balance of power and sparking the emergence of identities relevant to changing times. Building on these opportunities and taking advantage of evolving power arrangements are the successful contenders for governance, who generate the changes vital to the health of a free people.
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