Do social movements lose their effectiveness as they multiply? | Opinion


By Fletcher McClellan and Janel Myers

A beautiful fall weekend framed another flurry of protest activity across the United States, featuring widespread climate strikesthe UAW strike at General Motorsand the We the people march.

Since the 1960s and 1970s, there have not been so many large number and range of protests as happened in the 2010s.

The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, #metoo, Women’s March, March for Our Lives, Sunrise Movement and many protests for and against President Donald Trump and his policies are just the big ones.

In the first eight months of 2019 alone, several protests in Pennsylvania were staged in favor of impeachment, gun control, gun rights, carbon reduction and LGBTQ civil rights and opposed to ICE, sexual assault and violence. police brutality.

Around the world during this decade, notable movements included: the Arab Spring; Brexit, Yellow vest, and right-wing populism; pro-Europe and pro-migration demonstrations; and anti-authoritarian protests hong kong, Russiaand a large part of Central and Eastern Europe and Africa.

Globalization, the regrouping of grievances against economic injusticethe rise in identity, human rights and environmental concernsand the use of social media are among the explanations put forward for the increase in social movements over the past decade.

Although the protests are increasing, their efficiency may decrease. Social change advocates complain one-and-done protests and argue that only sustained action can produce results.

What are the effects of political protest? Does it produce change? Can it backfire on you? Under what conditions can it succeed?

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Questions about the effectiveness of protest are not new. Historians still debate whether the anti-war movement shortened US involvement in Vietnam, lengthened itWhere makes little difference.

Social movement scholars separate the direct and indirect effects of protest. Direct effects refer to changes in public policy made by government officials in direct response to movement activities.

Over the past few months, we have seen a direct impact on movements. Large-scale protests in Puerto Rico have caused the resignation of Ricardo Rossellothe governor of the island, after the publication of text messages in which he made fun of the victims of Hurricane Maria.

Now in its fourth month, the political reform movement in Hong Kong has forced withdrawal of a proposal by Chief Executive Carrie Lam to extradite those suspected of crimes to mainland China’s justice system, where there are fewer protections for defendants.

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Indirect effects occur when social movements cause a change in public opinion which in turn leads to changes in public policy. Myers’ study of #metoo movement found that the impact of the movement on public opinion paved the way for greater media attention, which in turn facilitated increased victim reporting, changes to workplace policies and accelerated legislative activity.

It is difficult to disentangle the effects of certain movements. For example, Black Lives Matter raised awareness of police violence, aided by recurring controversial episodes. Considered as one element in a larger whole, bipartisan movement for criminal justice reformBLM had direct and indirect successes.

On the other hand, the proof of backlash emerged with the start of the All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter counter-protests, as well as the The Trump administration’s stance on police reform.

Moreover, there are limits to what protest alone can accomplish. Generally, it is easier for a movement of prevent a bad thing from happening than removing a bad thing.

While the Hong Kong protesters have achieved their short-term goal of preventing extradition, it remains to be seen – in the face of opposition from Beijing – whether they will achieve their long-term goal of winning universal suffrage for elect the chief executive.

The authorities have many tools to disrupt popular movements, including the use of force, prosecutions, disinformation campaigns, doxxer, sabotage and infiltration. Media coverage can frame the movement and its objectives differently than the organizers had planned.

In other words, protesting is risky business and the chances of success are long.

However, a social movement can improve its chances insofar as his message resonates with popular feelingsand the movement itself is large, unified, disciplined, non-violent and attractive to various groups in society.

Inventive tactics such as human chains and leaderless planning can confuse authorities and attract support.

Activists and supporters need to be there for the long haul. Union efforts spanned decades before the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. Ten years passed between the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott and the enactment of civil rights and voting rights legislation.

Finally, from “This Land Is Your Land” to “We Shall Overcome” to “Alright”, every successful move must have music! Glory to Hong Kong!

Capital-Star opinion contributor Fletcher McClellan is a professor of political science at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Janel Myers holds an undergraduate degree in political science and a master’s degree in public policy from Elizabethtown College.


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