#Activism

In class on Thursday, we discussed Jim Morone’s The Democratic Wish, and we discussed if this age old, 25 year old book, was too disconnected from today’s society. When it came to, it was undoubtedly yes due to the effect of the internet. The second stage of the Democratic Wish has changed since the publication of this work. We were able to reproduce the four stages and they are as follows:

  • Liberal institutions are not working
    • There is a threat to rights
    • Heightened fear of government and frustration
  • Call from the people
    • Mobilization
    • Empowering the people
      • “People out of doors”
    • Unite the people
  • New Political Institutions are created
    • Fragmentation of the people
    • Power dynamics change
  • Expansion of boundaries of government power
    • Large but weak government

We found that the second stage, the call from the people, was different today than when Morone wrote his book. Grassroots movements have changed and due to social media, political participation was different in 1990. Overall, the class had been divided on whether the social movements were benefiting society by allowing more individuals to learn about the movement or if society was more politically engaged when the spread of activist knowledge was primarily done between face to face interaction. We came to the consensus that the online social movements thrive when face to face interaction occurs concurrently.

I found this conversation very riveting, especially because I have been following the measure of influence the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has had on the Equal Rights Movement. The HRC has been the leading advocacy group for LGBT Rights. Their reach grew exponentially after the Supreme Court started reviewing the case United States v. Windsor. They started a social media campaign that sparked 2.7 million profile picture changes in support of Same Sex Marriage according to a Facebook data analysis.

The Human Rights Campaign was able to engage a large portion of Facebook users with a very minimalist approach. The group used a very easily accessible call to action. They played upon the first two stages of the Democratic Wish, and they did this through social media.

  1. Marriage, a liberal institution, was not working. It was only allowed for a certain group of individuals, and those excluded had their rights infringed upon by the government.
  2. By changing your profile picture, you are showing your support for those who the government is threatening. This empowers others, and builds a collective identity.

Unfortunately, after the profile picture change, there was little physical demonstration in support of Same Sex Marriage. The movement stays strongly centralized on social media. Though successful, they are focussing their attention in the passive approach and working to bring these issues to the Supreme Court. In the article Identity in Flux: Social Media and Social Movements, Apryl Williams discusses why individuals use social media, why this aids in social movements, and how these social movements garner popular attention. The issue with these movements, is that, “The sentiments that are projected on social media don’t always translate to meaningful action.”  There seems to have been a lot of action taken on social media in regards to the Equal Rights movements, but as we discussed in class, it is the physical action of protest that creates change, not simply the week of a socialized profile picture.

Morone states that “the preoccupation with limiting government remains a vivid feature of American political life.” This liberal ideal stands true for many organizations, and through the growth of social media, this is also true for social movements. In Bringing the Organization Back In: Social Media and Social Movements, Jen Schradie discusses the horizontal and leaderless movements that have come into fruition post Facebook. Due to social media, we gravitate towards leaderless movements because of their lack of hierarchy within them. Contrary to what we believe however, these movements often have leaders within them, but they are hidden in the background. This individualization of participation is why the last two stages of the Democratic Wish occur, and especially why there is a fragmentation of individuals at the end of their minimal participation. As Schradie states, “The assumption is that we are all untethered individual Internet users instead of organizational members of political movements.”

All of this data simply strengthens the conclusion we came up with in class, that social movements that begin in social media do not flourish unless action and participation occur outside of the screens and in the physical realm of the world.

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5 Responses to #Activism

  1. Interesting post, and I agree that technology is not the lone answer to creating a movement. Capitalizing on the opportunity to utilize technology, as a tool, is necessary. We live in a time where people are hooked to the internet, phones, video games, television, etc. and those that wish to create change can view our reality as a positive or a negative. The fact that we can connect to each other with a click of a button is unprecedented. Multiple movements have seen progress due to these products, but this did not create a movement. The movement begins with the individual. It starts with one person not feeling the same worth as another. This develops many emotions since they feel as if someone views them as being less than another. I have felt the same way before, and whether it may be granting rights for women, abolishing slavery, separating from a monarchy, or demanding the inalienable rights to the LGBT community, they all share a common factor. They all recognize that others can not and will not deny them certain rights that they deserve! We all born equal and this should not change even if society or governments deny us equality. Passion and inspiration drives people to begin to develop movements. Hope and desire for progress starts a movement. Being able to use technology to stimulate others emotions or create awareness is key, but technology is not the only tool to destroy the master’s house.

  2. nicksalute says:

    Wow – this was a truly captivating and well-written post, and it definitely addresses the essential components of our class discussion. Let me begin by exhibiting my agreement with your viewpoint on the matter. Last week, I crafted a similar blog post that displayed a more optimistic outlook on the ever-changing influence of the web and the possibilities that come with it. Though the development and mass use of the internet does indeed bear positive and beneficial capacities, I too am intrigued with its lack of impact in the American political sphere.
    I have a theory as to why this inability to carry out with online political action in the US occurs – and it begins with the current state of affairs.
    We have witnessed the powerful capabilities of the internet in evoking change on a few occasions. For example, the Arab Spring was largely impacted by the presence of social media and its ability to serve as a central platform for the ideas of millions of individuals. But what causes the change in activism from the Arab countries to the United States? It is clear that the living conditions of the average citizen in an oppressed middle-eastern nation are significantly worse than the living conditions of an average American citizen, thus giving them a much more realistic motive to transfer their “clicktivism” to actual activism.
    I feel that while internet-motivated change is a real possibility, the conditions in the United States are simply not harsh enough to motivate citizens to gather in the streets and make a change. It is unfortunate that this inability for authentic action exists, but it does exist nonetheless.
    Great job on the post!

  3. I really enjoyed this post, especially because I remember when this study was done on facebook. However, I did not know that it was for a study at the time. While I was in high school, I had a bunch of friends change their profile pictures in support of gay marriage, and I remember wondering what the point was. While I saw many people support it online, I did not see any of them going out to do anything about it. It is very sad to see that no one wants to stand up for what they believe in anymore. While I know a lot of people who are in favor of gay marriage, I do not see enough of them forcing a movement to change anything about it. I feel like most of American society seems to be too content in life or just distracted from the important issues our country faces. I certainly cannot say that I am much different right now though either. I do not feel like I do enough in our society, but I certainly want to. One of the reasons I am interested in going into politics is to change things that other people do not try to. The real problem is how can we as American citizens try to bring more people together into groups that will stand up for something. This is one of the first problems that must be solved before we can try to solve the rest of them.

  4. mbstanton says:

    I found your response to the relevance of The Democratic Wish just as engaging as the class discussion that we were able to have. I am glad you were able to use this form to provide a more in depth and evidence supported analysis of the element of technology that we collectively felt was not adequately acknowledged by Morone. Granted this piece is aged to a date where the author probably couldn’t accurately anticipate the technological growth, but the argument still feels valid. I appreciate the references you utilized to support your claims and the conclusions we arrived to in class.

  5. pizza says:

    Superb post and what a great way to sum up the class conversation we had on that swell night. Again, your claims, I feel are spot on. As others had brought up as well, the “rally around the flag” effect does not occur until something truly impacts the individual directly or even occasionally indirectly. The internet is a great tool to have to start movements, however, it is not the final and only solution, its merely the bones of it. I believe that the only time people will actually get up and demand change is when they are angry or feel that their rights are being taken away or at risk. Until then, these premature movements will not make the change that is being demanded because it is just another post or information overload.

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