KEY COMPONENTS OF SUCCESSFUL SOCIAL MOVEMENTS

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"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Monday, October 3, 2011

Wall Street Protests (continued)

Camping out for as long as it takes "to accomplish something"?  A powerful message?  to unite as one front?

Micah Philbrook, 33, who said he had been camping outside the bank for more than a week, cited the Wall Street protests, which began Sept. 17, as his motivation. “It spoke to me so much I had to do something,” Mr. Philbrook said. He acknowledged, however, that “it’s all blurring together.” Each evening at 7 p.m., he said, the number of protesters swells as people come from school or work and the group marches to Michigan Avenue.

As is true with the protests in New York and elsewhere, the participants are demonstrating for a variety of reasons. “We all have different ideas about what this means, stopping corporate greed,” said Paul Bucklaw, 45. “For me, it’s about the banks.” Sean Richards.... said he had dropped out of college on Friday and had taken a train to Chicago to demonstrate against oil companies. Mr. Richards said he did not plan to go back to school and would continue sleeping on the street for “as long as it takes.” “We’re sending corporations a powerful message that we know what they’re doing,” he said. “For people, we’re sending the message that we have to unite as one front.” 
 Central website "Occupy Together"

While I am excited about evidence (Elizabeth Warren, Wall Street protests, wall street protests) that people are fed up with the historic polarization of wealth in this country.   I worry, however,  that this energy will not be harnessed into a sustained movement.  A march or protest is not a movement, not even several protests or marches make a movement.
  • What are the specific demands being made to specific people who can grant those demands?
  • Is the point of any of the actions to get arrested? Because?  Then what?
  • Are there a variety of roles for bystanders to play who develop sympathy for the cause and want to do something besides camping out or getting arrested?
  • What are the concrete issues around which one can sustain this energy and passion over time?  What is the larger strategy?  
  • Has research been down to anticipate the police reactions to the tactics? 
  • What is the infrastructure that will support the organizers? (Adbusters and Anonymous and? )
  • Who are the local leaders?  Are they having long arguments and strategy sessions about how to escalate this momentum? Are they consulting with experienced activists who have been successful in the past?  Are they connecting with the Ella Bakers, Jim Lawsons, Bayard Rustins, and Myles Hortons of today (are there people like this today?)
  • Are coalitions being created around specific strategies?
  • Are the protesters being trained (or have beeing trained) in the discipline of nonviolent direct action?

4 comments:

Kathy Emery said...

the leaders need to start thinking about what to do with all the sympathetic people they are attracting. How to create a lot of different ways people can get involved (e.g., like in Chicago, people are dropping off food and dry clothes for the picketers). But the picketers need to be asking for a boycott of...? what would be an appropriate target? Bank of America to not charge monthly fees for ATMs? The federal reserve to start printing more money? for congress to pass Obama's Jobs for America bill? for the guy that's been appointed to the consumer protection agency to be confirmed PRONTO!! People need to do their research to find out what can be done NOW....meanwhile also looking down the road to the next step...getting people like Bernie Sanders and Barney Frank to introduce some nice corporate responsibility legislation that we can all march and protest around. MUST KEEP MOMENTUM GOING....the protesters are going to stay until what happens? capitalism falls? what will be in its place? who is sitting around hashing out not only the vision of what we want, but the concrete step by step process we can get closer to it. there will be NO REVOLUTION in the USA....americans hate violence.

WaywardPatriot said...

Like so many issues we face as the dwindling, divided left spectrum of Politics today, this movement encapsulates the chaos and discord and general anger that people feel about the failure of the current status quo to provide hope and opportunity for a better future. I agree completely that the goals of the movement are ethereal, the organization lacks structure and defined leadership, and has made no appeals to individual demands or individuals who could change those circumstances. It seems like more a petulant stance against the current zeitgeist of greed and corporatism that has overwhelmed our society of late. But other than that? I can identify none of the characteristics that we discussed that were so prevalent in Freedom Summer. Perhaps it is because of the lack or clarity or brevity of message or lack of leadership? I do not know. All I know is that things need to change in order to attract the mainstream attention of America. They need to see people in their Sunday best, marching with a clear message and an intent to overwhelm and overburden the system in order to get their message out. There needs to be clear, concise methods of communication and coordination, and there needs to be direct outreach to other progressive groups calling for support of the ideals that the protestors/occupiers can agree on. Seeing Police beating dreadlocked hippies in the street is something mainstream Americans seem to relish (unfortunately so) but there it is. We need to get people in their white-collar work clothes and their Sunday best marching in unison with a clear goal of what and who and why to change, chanted over and over and over again as peaceful people are being arrested and beaten and hit with riot control gas and water hoses. Only then, when middle america sees rich america actively oppressing them, will the tenor of the nation change to support this nascent movement.

Kathy Emery said...

@waywardpatriot: thanks for your thoughtful comment! If you watch the videos posted on occupytogether.com, there are actually people of all ages, but mostly white, it seems. the bandanas across the faces or on heads probably make middle america squeamish, but there is no doubt that these occupations are attracting a great deal of middle america. the question is what to do with all that sympathy. eg. with the nashville sit ins, the young black college students got the sympathy of the black middle class who were then recruited to picket for and participate in a boycott of downtown stores -- the demand being desegregated seating and polite service. I think one demand could be for the fed to print more money/more long term debt to stimulate the economy for more jobs. another demand would be to stop the pipeline from the tarsands of Canada to Texas. another demand would be for specific ways in which to make government more transparent...that government agencies like the State Department are not in the business of facilitating pipelines across borders but in ensuring that such pipelines don't endanger aquifiers. That federal contracts with solar panel companies (e.g. Solyndra) not be made to political cronies and in a piecemeal fashion. etc etc etc....we need to start making specific demands that begin to transform the structure of government and start holding our officials accountable ALL THE TIME, not just during elections.

Unknown said...

Today, I went to the demonstration that took place in front of Wells Fargo headquarters to see what's cooking.People in the movement things that there are hundreds of things that need to change and they are all linked to each other,these is why the movement should continue with its agenda of multiple goals.These is just the first stage of the revolution.People were saying"we are the 99%",the demonstration is social forum which the speakers talk about different issues sometime unrelated,from the Free trade agreement with Columbia to the bailout to immigration reform,they are asking for a complete clean up of the political system,and fight the multinational corporation and break the relationship between the two.I think of revolution like recipe,it might need different ingredients ,time to cook these ingredients. keeping momentum is crucial,meanwhile we should join them because it's the only buzz in town.At the end there is nothing to loose.