the New Social Movements of the seventies, eighties, and today

(Oxford, OH) By the 1980s, a large literature distinguished the “New Social Movements” from older strands of politics. Jürgen Habermas chose to list the following New Social Movements then active in Germany: “the anti-nuclear and environmental movements,” “the peace movement”; “the citizens’ action movement”; the “alternative” movement that included urban squatters and new rural communities; movements of “minorities (the elderly, homosexuals, disabled people, etc)”; support groups and youth sects; “religious fundamentalism”; the “tax protest movement”; “school protests” by parent associations; “resistance to modernist reforms”; and “the women’s movement” (1981, p. 34).

Some of these might be classified with the left, and others (notably, tax protests and religious fundamentalism), with the right. In retrospect, it is debatable whether they formed a meaningful category or could be distinguished sharply from the “Old” social movements, such as labor unionism and civil rights in the USA.

My view is that these movements did represent a new stage of politics in the wealthy democracies. That stage has passed, however, as new problems have come to the fore and as the social movements of ca. 1968-1985 have become institutionalized in the nonprofit sector, thus losing their emancipatory role. These changes mean that it’s important to compare our time with the 1970s and early 1980s and to envision productive combinations of the Old and New Social Movement forms.

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the European country that spoke Esperanto

Did you know that there used to be a quasi-autonomous European jurisdiction with a land area of 3.5 km and a population as large as 3,500 that used Esperanto as its official language?

Moresnet (Esperanto: Amikejo, or “friendship place”) lay among Belgium, Prussia/Germany and the Netherlands in roughly the location shown on this Google Map. It was established in 1816 and absorbed into Belgium in 1920. I exaggerate by calling it a “country,” but it was an international condominium with sovereignty shared by Prussia (later, Germany) and Belgium, official neutrality, its own tricolor flag, and a high degree of self-rule. In 1918, a project began to make it Esperanto-speaking; many residents learned the language, and the World Congress of Esperanto named it the capital of the global Esperanto community.

I learned this after reading about Alexander Dubcek, the face of Socialism with a Human Face and a Czechoslovak leader during both the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution. Dubcek was conceived in Chicago but born in what’s now Slovakia. He and his family moved to what’s now Kyrgyzstan at age 3. There he and his family lived in an experimental co-op called Interhelpo, where first Esperanto and then Ido (Esperanto for “offspring,” meaning a kind of Esperanto 2.0) was spoken as the main language. In 1943, Stalin liquidated Interhelpo and shot many of its crunchy residents, but by then Dubcek was back in Czechoslovakia, flighting the Nazis. He survived to be a thorn in the side of totalitarian communism, but not–as far as I know–a dedicated Esperantist.

Any dreams of uniting Moresnet and Interhelpo into a confederation of Esperanto states proved (shall we say) utopian.

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three views of the Democratic Party when democracy is at risk

View #1: The same two parties have alternated power since 1854 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Today, the most serious threat to small-d democratic norms and institutions comes from the Trump Administration, and the Democratic opposition is an essential counterweight. A Democratic House in 2018 could begin serious investigations; a Democratic president in 2010 2020 would end the Trump era. You may or may not agree with the platform of the Party, but it’s a big tent, and you have your choice of intraparty factions to back, from Sen. Manchin to Sen. Warren. Moreover, any Democrat would endorse positions on some issues that are preferable to those of the Trump Administration. The Party is accountable to communities most threatened by Trump: for instance, half the voting delegates at the Democratic National Convention were people of color. That fact pushes the Party to defend basic rights for all. The Democratic Party is a bulwark of democracy; it must win the elections of 2018 and 2020.

View #2: At the root of our problems is partisanship. Most of us (including me) use partisan labels as heuristics for assessing policies, candidates, news sources, and opinions. As a result, we are prone to misunderstanding the situation and demonizing half of our fellow Americans. “Partisanship is a helluva drug.” What we need is less reliance on party labels and more cross-partisan or non-partisan dialogue. Maybe it would be better if more Democrats won elections, but that is up to the Party apparatus and should not be our focus as concerned citizens.

View #3: The party duopoly stands in the way of progress, for reasons specific to our moment. Once industrial unions declined and working-class whites migrated to the GOP, we were left with two parties controlled by economic elites. Main Street business interests and extractive industries like coal and oil control the GOP, drawing votes from working-class whites who are not likely to see their interests served. Highly educated coastal elites control the Democratic Party, with votes from people of color who have no better choice. The result is hard-wired neoliberalism, with modest distinctions between the parties on civil rights and environmental regulation. Democracy (in the sense of government that responds to mass economic needs) requires a major reorientation of the whole duopoly. Trump actually enables that in a way that Hillary Clinton could not, in part because of his potential to blow up his own party.

For those keeping score, these three views are most consistent with the first, sixth, and second boxes in my flowchart (below). They can be posed as stark alternatives, demanding a debate. But it’s possible that they all contain truths and that we need people working on all three.

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we are hiring: Tufts CTSI Director of Stakeholder and Community Engagement / Tisch College Director of Civic Learning for the Health Professions

Tufts CTSI Director of Stakeholder and Community Engagement / Tisch College Director of Civic Learning for the Health Professions

The Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) (, one of 64 organizations supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA), was established in 2008 to transform the biomedical research process through education, promoting collaboration, and the provision of research infrastructure and support services. Tufts CTSI accelerates the translation of laboratory research into clinical use, medical practice, and health policy. In addition to its work with Tufts University, Tufts Medical Center, and other partner organizations, Tufts CTSI contributes to the national CTSA Consortium.

Tufts CTSI is a leader nationally in the development of frameworks and methods for stakeholder and community engagement in translational research. Most recently, Tufts CTSI enlisted experts from the fields of civic engagement, stakeholder engagement, and participatory research to establish a broad set of resources and training programs to help researchers, communities and partnerships improve the relevance and transparency of research.

The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life ( prepares Tufts University students to become active citizens and community leaders. The only university-wide college of its kind, Tisch engages Tufts students in meaningful community building, public service experiences, and transformational learning. It also conducts and supports groundbreaking research on civic and political participation and forges innovative community partnerships.

Tufts CTSI and Tisch College of Civic Life seek a faculty member to split his or her time between leading the Stakeholder and Community Engagement (SCE) Program [Tufts CTSI] and directing Civic Learning for the Health Professions at Tufts [Tisch College]:

More details:

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what is a social movement?

Social movements are at the heart of politics right now. Drawing loosely on work by Charles Tilly, Doug McAdam, Sidney Tarrow, Frencesca Polletta, Jennifer Earl, and others, I would define a social movement using five criteria (listed below). Note that this is a value-neutral definition. It could fit a fascist movement as well as a progressive one, and it doesn’t imply that social movements are preferable to other phenomena, such as political parties. It is merely intended to categorize a set of phenomena so that we can study them.

1. A social movement consists of many autonomous groups and individuals

Movements are polycentric rather than hierarchical or centralized. A single organization can adopt the feel and spirit of a movement by empowering separate groups internally, but it is only an actual movement if those groups are autonomous and collaborate voluntarily.

2. It persists over numerous episodes and campaigns

The marches over the Edmund Pettus Bridge were episodes. The struggle for the Voting Rights Act was a campaign. The Civil Rights Movement consisted of thousands of episodes and several campaigns.

3. It makes demands on holders of power

The power-holders may be governments, firms, media entities, universities, or any other institutions. If people make no demands on any institutions, I wouldn’t define them as participants in a social movement. They might form an important grouping, such as a spiritual revival or a self-help network, but it would not be a social movement.

Just as important, a social movement makes demands on holders of power rather than trying to supplant them. A political party seeks offices. A revolutionary cadre strives to overthrow and replace the state. An established labor union negotiates contracts with a firm. None of these meet the definition of a social movement, which stands apart from the institution and makes demands on it. I acknowledge that a broad-based social movement can encompass elements that act like parties, revolutionary cadres, or collective bargainers. The Civil Rights Movement encompassed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), the Black Panther Party, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; but it was a movement because it wasn’t defined by any of those groups.

4. It supports its demands by displaying WUNC

Tilly observes that social movements don’t just express demands; they back them up with four assets that command attention: worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment. For example, the women’s marches after Trump’s Inauguration demonstrated that millions of people cared (numbers), that they were willing to travel to Washington or stand outside in the streets of their hometowns (commitment), that they were unified (pink pussycat hats, marching on the same day), and that they were worthy. Worthiness can mean respectability: for instance, “We are middle-class women (with some men) who are pillars of our communities, not the kinds of people who usually make trouble.” But worthiness need not mean respectability. Sometimes, highly oppressed groups claim the worthiness that comes from suffering.

WUNC serves as a standard for evaluating the credibility of would-be movements. For example, does holding a sign on the Boston Common demonstrate enough commitment?

5. It imposes limits on itself

Social movements often adopt and attempt to enforce limits on themselves: “We will not run for office or endorse any parties.” “We will negotiate with companies but not form our own businesses.” “We denounce terrorism.” “We call for a new nation but will not commit treason against the existing state.”

No particular form of self-limitation is definitive of social movements. For instance, there are violent and even terroristic social movements; thus nonviolence is not a condition. But it is highly characteristic–perhaps even definitive–of social movements that they choose some limitations that they enforce on their own members. I would propose a functional explanation of this tendency. Coordinating the behavior of many autonomous groups and individuals is extraordinarily difficult. Movements are easily destroyed by internal disagreements or by escalation to a point where they lose their support. Successful movements avoid escalation by choosing limits and economize on the topics that are open to discussion. For instance, if the movement eschews electoral politics, then it needn’t decide who should run for which office. If it renounces violence, it needn’t debate which targets to hit with which weapons.

Thus a social movement can say: “We are [a set of groups] who want [demands] from [institutions], who demonstrate WUNC [in particular ways] and who eschew [certain tactics or ends.]”

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would Americans be better off if they used ideology as a heuristic?

(Washington DC) News stories abound these days about Trump voters who are surprised that the president and his party may cut their benefits. For instance, Mae Bilodeau says she voted for Trump “precisely because she thought he would help the poor people of America who need services like [the local Legal Advice and Referral Center]. ‘He seems to be taking away from them more than helping them at this point,’ Bilodeau said.”

A good number of Trump voters even spontaneously announce a preference for a Canadian-style single payer system.

I learned a long time ago to think of US politics on a left/right continuum: pro-state on the left, anti-state on the right. Using that framework, I regarded Obamacare as a modest shift leftward. I assumed that President Obama would wish to move further left but had compromised (wisely, I think; others would say unnecessarily) by enacting the ACA. If I were enrolled in an Obamacare exchange, I would expect a Democrat to reduce my premiums or increase my benefits, simply by spending more money on the program. I would expect a Republican president to do the opposite: defund or repeal the law. My opinion of their positions would depend on my view of the government and the market.

But the Trump supporters quoted in these recent news reports do not use the left/right continuum as a heuristic. And that shouldn’t surprise us.  “Despite the centrality of philosophical concepts like liberalism and conservatism to mainstream political discourse, modern public opinion research has generally concluded that most citizens are unable to effectively use these concepts when making political judgments” (Frederico & Hunt 2013). Instead, at least some of Trump’s voters simply see him as standing on their side, and liberals as their enemies. I overheard two working-class white New England guys recently. One said, “The problem with liberals is they just hate people.” The other laughed. Many seem to have assumed that Trump would lower their premiums or improve their benefits. If Obama wasn’t doing either, that showed that he was a people-hating liberal, or perhaps just less competent than business-wizard Donald J. Trump would be.

This post could end with me tsk-tsking my fellow citizens for not using the ideological heuristic that I learned long ago to decide for whom to vote. And in fact, I believe Americans would be better off (overall) if they at least understood how to think in pro-state versus pro-market terms. That would certainly be far preferable to using race as a heuristic, as some may do.

Yet they may also be right to downplay the left/right spectrum. Consider the Kentuckian whom Sarak Kliff interviewed last December. She is reliant on the ACA, yet she had voted for Trump. She explained, “I guess I thought that, you know, he would not do this, he would not take health insurance away knowing it would affect so many peoples lives. … I mean, what are you to do then if you cannot pay for insurance?”

At the time, I tsk-tsked. But, to my surprise, it now looks fairly unlikely that the Republicans will repeal the ACA. This voter was right, and I was wrong. She saw herself as part of a coalition that won the election and would serve her interests. Ultimately, I believe that heuristic misled her, because she threw her support to anti-government conservatives who want to cut her benefits for ideological reasons, and she joined a coalition dominated by wealthy people who mainly want their taxes cut. But again, I am the one who was surprised to see ACA repeal in such trouble; her prediction was more accurate than mine.

Republicans tend to think that they have an anti-government or pro-market movement behind them. They are likely wrong. (CIRCLE’s research reveals a substantial shift of young white men who define themselves as “moderates,” not “conservatives,” to Trump in 2016.) The Alt-Right believes there’s a majority that is pro-welfare and also white-supremacist. I doubt that constituency is huge. But liberals should also doubt that they can win votes mainly by finding the right point on the left/right spectrum. Their main challenge is trust. As for voters, they may use a range of heuristics to assess candidates, but they would be wise not to ignore left/right ideology completely, because it explains why the GOP is trying to cut their benefits.

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how Millennials split on some key issues

Here are some tidbits from CIRCLE’s analysis of its Millennial youth survey, the second wave of which was conducted in January. A substantial proportion of all Millennials believe that “political correctness” prevents people from saying things that are true, but that opinion is much more common among young people who voted for Trump. Three quarters of pro-Trump Millennials (who were 37% of all the youth who voted) want to protect traditional American values against influences from the outside, compared to one in four of those who voted for Clinton. Clinton voters are much more likely to be ready to participate in demonstrations and protests, and seriously lack confidence in US democracy. Much more at the link.

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Millennial women in the 2016 election

A new paper by CIRCLE Director Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg investigates Millennial women’s participation in the 2016 election, their views of democracy, and their own political engagement in the Trump era. It was published as part of a symposium on gender and Millennials convened by the Council on Contemporary Families and is cited today in a New York Times op-ed.

According to the paper, 50 percent of young white women voted for Clinton; 41 percent, for Trump. Young women of color preferred Clinton by wider margins. Only 25% of Millennial women identified as feminists, and less than 15% say that the possibility of electing the first woman president informed their vote choice. Young women were more likely than young men to be inspired by Clinton, but only 23 percent reported that feeling. After the election, they are more concerned about the future of democracy than their male peers are, but not more likely than Millennial men to be interested in political engagement.

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to whom it may concern

It has come to my attention that the level of my age
Is now set to fifty, with more movement on the gauge.
Who authorized this increase? Who consented to the change?
The alternative is worse, you say, but we’ve breached my chosen range.
I’ve searched my files for decades past and found most data gone.
Records labeled thirties, forties seem to be withdrawn.
Those phases passed much faster than I’d been led to understand;
I can’t recall what happened then or whether it was planned.
I’m writing to request a reset, please: thirty-five and hold it there.
Oh, and reset all my family, too; just me would be unfair.
Once I see the options back, and the meter’s restored to high,
I’ll retract the review I’ve given you–but I await your prompt reply.

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Simon Denny: turning the NSA into art

(Waterville, ME) Last week I saw a display that is exemplary of Simon Denny’s work. Inside a case made of server racks and glass panes are three-dimensional versions of the NSA graphics displayed in the PowerPoint presentations that Edward Snowden leaked. For instance, a slide depicting military vehicles crossing barriers has been turned into a diorama made in part of hobbyist models. A slide showing “The 5 Team Dysfunctions” has been turned into a three-dimensional pyramid with levels labeled with phrases like “Lack of Accountability” and “Lack of Results.” For another installation that I didn’t see, Denny actually used a stuffed eagle that he bought from a taxidermist to illustrate the eagle on the NSA’s shield. Lights flicker on the servers. The whole object is neat, shiny, hermetic, and strange.

For the Venice Biennale, Denny’s NSA displays were exhibited in the Renaissance Library of St. Mark (the Biblioteca Marciana), which was originally a storehouse of global knowledge and information for what was then a great mercantile power. The Marciana has held–although not currently–the finest medieval world-map, the Fra Mauro Map (ca. 1450) which compiled intelligence from such emissaries as Marco Polo. Venice sent these feelers into the world and compiled their data for the benefit of her navy and traders.

Here is Denny’s work as displayed in Venice–one empire echoing another across the centuries. Those are portraits of philosophers on the walls, sources of wisdom that might be compared to the gnomic utterances in the NSA slides, such as “Role of the Team Member: Focusing on Collective Impact.”

I, however, saw the same display at MOMA, the high-rise museum in the heart of Manhattan’s Midtown that Rockefellers founded to collect the best art of the world for the most powerful commercial city of its time.

Like much conceptual art, this display poses questions. I value that function, although I also think the appropriate response to a question is an answer. So, standing before Denny’s display and thinking about my own responses, I believe I’d say: As an organization, the NSA resembles a large bureaucratic for-profit firm, at least in its internal rhetoric. Its rhetoric is banal. A highly self-conscious, polished, ironic representation of that banality is art.

ThE NSA collects lots of information without people’s permission. It is part of the United States government, which is owned by the American people. The Agency also affects people around the world. The people who own it and the people whom it affects have a right to understand how it works. Understanding it includes having some kind of grasp of its internal culture, including its banality.

Then again, it is probably both necessary and even valuable for a nation to spy, so long as its foreign policy is reasonably just. To spy in the modern world is going to require an organization that resembles a large bureaucratic for-profit firm, and running such an operation reasonably efficiently may require banal slogans. (I’m not sure about that.)

By the way, the original artist who created many of the NSA’s graphics is David Darchicourt. He gets an odd sort of billing in Denny’s subversive Art-World response. Fortunately, Darchicourt seems good-humored about the whole thing. Ryan Gallagher reports:

Now he is the unwitting central character in a new exhibition that puts the spotlight on the spy agency’s imagery. … He admits he finds it interesting to see his designs in the Renaissance setting. “It’s kind of flattering, but it’s also kind of creepy,” Darchicourt says, adding that he’s now considering deleting some pictures from his online portfolios to prevent them from being used by anyone else in the future. “Anything that has to do with the NSA will be removed; it’s old and I don’t really identify with that organization anymore.”

See also: on the moral peril of cliche; cultural mixing and power; on the deep state

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