Category Archives: Organizing

How Student Activists are Sparking Efforts to Take Big Private Money out of American Politics

Source: Joan D. Mandle and Jay R. Mandle, Scholars Strategy Network, Civic Engagement, November 2014

The huge amounts of private and often secret money flooding into the U.S. political system undermine trust and broad participation in American democracy. When a tiny fraction of the population provides the lion’s share of funding for election campaigns, as is now the case in the United States, public policymaking becomes heavily biased toward wealthy contributors and repeatedly falls short of serving the common good.

A number of national reform organizations have emerged to address this problem – some founded decades ago – but they have made insufficient headway. Two difficulties plague their efforts. These organizations have not done much grassroots organizing and they have neglected young people. To address these shortcomings, we joined forces in 2001 with Adonal Foyle, a thirteen-year veteran of the National Basketball Association, to launch a national organization called Democracy Matters that stresses campus-based organizing.

How U.S. Urban Unrest in the 1960s Can Help Make Sense of Ferguson, Missouri, and Other Recent Protests

Source: Ashley M. Howard, Scholars Strategy Network, Key Findings, November 2014

Recent protests in U.S. cities including Ferguson, Missouri, recall America’s “long hot summers” of decades ago – even though the protests of recent times are far from reaching the scope and scale of urban revolts back then. Between 1965 and 1968, 329 urban rebellions took place in 257 U.S. cities, resulting in nearly 300 deaths, 60,000 arrests, and hundreds of millions of dollars in property loss. For nearly fifty years this type of protest has lain largely dormant. But within the past decade, incidents of mass urban protest, sometimes including violent outbursts, are happening once again. Can we take lessons from the past to better understand roots and remedies for present unrest? I believe so. Urban rebellions must be understood as complex, deliberate mechanisms through which the desperate seek political recourse they feel they cannot get by other means. By understanding the texture of these modern rebellions, activists, elected officials, and policymakers can hope to find solutions that improve upon past failures.

Does Protest Work?

Source: Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Howard Law Journal, Vol. 56 no. 3, 2013

Her article distills the lessons that can be learned from critical moments in protest history, examines whether modern protest movements have learned and employed those lessons, and prescribes a plan for modern social engineers to use in developing today’s effective protest strategies. …

… Does protest really work? Can citizen participation in informal politics — demonstrations, boycotts and other forms of mass participatory action — help to address issues of our time? If so, how might lawyers advance the goals of such protest movements? … The most celebrated episodes of the civil rights era can crowd out these questions and obscure answers to them. In legal literature, the constitutional dimensions of Cooper v. Aaron overshadow examination of the protest movement that gave rise to the legal action. Even when scholars specifically recall the non-lawyers who animated legal changes, they often discuss change agents in hagiographic terms. The Little Rock Nine are now iconic symbols of the hardship that blacks endured in the struggle against Jim Crow. Few have analyzed the story behind the lawsuit—the ideas, planning, groundwork, and protest — that provided the context in which the great constitutional case unfolded. It is this context—rather than the landmark lawsuits—that should command more of our attention. For a truer picture of how social change can occur, scholars must study social movements in detail rather than skim the surface of history in search of icons and moments to celebrate. If civil rights-era protests are to provide useful lessons today, when economic inequality is one of the most pressing issues of our times, we must examine the movement’s evolution and its depth and breadth. …

Organizing Within Our Changing Profession

Source: Academe, Volume 100, Issue 5, September-October 2014

Articles include:
Overcoming the Challenges of Contingent Faculty Organizing
By David Kociemba
How to organize and maintain a bargaining unit representing adjunct faculty.

Organizing for Advocacy
By Miranda Merklein
Building a new chapter at a community college where all faculty jobs are contingent.

Making a Tangible Difference in Campus Culture in One Year
By Simeon Dreyfuss
Chapter building at a small Catholic university with no tenure-track faculty.

Turning Back the Tide on Contingency
By Ron Bramhall
Balancing the needs of tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty in a union contract.

The Secrets of Successful Membership Recruitment
By Christopher Vecsey
Creating an effective advocacy chapter at a private liberal arts university.

An Unsuccessful Organizing Campaign
By Sally Angel
A postmortem of a failed organizing campaign.

Three Years Later, What Has Come of Occupy Wall Street?

Source: John Wellington Ennis, Huffington Post blog, September 17, 2014

….When beholding such a zero-sum option, it might seem clear why the only option left would be to get everyone you know to go out to the streets and bring this messed up paradox to the attention of everybody. Which is why, for whatever Occupy Wall Street is remembered for at its height, it should be considered an intervention for the country — a staged disruption by those who care, trying to alert an ailing entity to the damage it is inflicting. In this case, that entity with the destructive addictions is our modern political process, where who has the most money makes the rules, at the cost of all else — if it’s a Texas fertilizer plant exploding near a school, a chemical company polluting drinking water for all of West Virginia, or gun manufacturers decrying regulations despite massacred children.

With that is mind, assessing the impact of Occupy Wall Street might be best done by considering the goals of those who camped out in Zuccotti Park. For one, this was a protest, not a political party, so comparisons to the Tea Party are like apples and oranges. While the Tea Party turned outrage at the government into electoral gains (with a lot of help and money from the Kochs), Occupy Wall Street was at the opposite end of the spectrum – the end of the spectrum that views officeholders as courtesans for the corporate class. Asking Occupy activists why they didn’t just start a political party and run for office is like asking an atheist why they didn’t just pray harder.

Another essential in gauging the importance of Occupy Wall Street is recognizing that the Occupy movement did not simply fizzle out or lose steam. The fact is, Occupy encampments were broken up in a coordinated effort led by the Department of Homeland Security working with local police departments. …

…But I think more than anything, the point of Occupy was using your voice to speak out and finding out that you are not alone, there are many who feel the same way, and you are energized by this shared recognition. And once that common reality and strength is realized, you can go back to sleeping in bed and still live in accordance to your own mission. …

Class In-Formation: The Intersection of Old and New Media in Contemporary Urban Social Movements

Source: Peter Nikolaus Funke & Todd Wolfson, Social Movement Studies: Journal of Social, Cultural and Political Protest, Volume 13, Issue 3, 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This starts out by distinguishing between communication and communication mediums when examining social movement-powered formations of collective identity and collective action. We then focus on communication mediums to examine the different ways that old and new media are utilized in urban social movements under neoliberal capitalism. Based on shifts in the political economy and correspondingly in the contemporary composition of the working class, we focus on the Media Mobilizing Project in Philadelphia to argue that contemporary urban social movements and networks utilize a multi-media platform to further class-based politics. The respective use of old or new media depends on important contextual questions, regarding technology access and geographic aspects of movement building work.

Movement Building and the United States Social Forum

Source: Jeffrey S. Juris, Erica G. Bushell, Meghan Doran, J. Matthew Judge, Amy Lubitow, Bryan Maccormack & Christopher Prener, Social Movement Studies: Journal of Social, Cultural and Political Protest, Volume 13, Issue 3, 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Despite the growing academic literature on the World Social Forum process, few scholars have attempted to systematically analyze the social, cultural, and political impact of the forums. This has to do in part with the inherent difficulties of assessing movement consequences, which is particularly complicated for an activity geared toward creating ‘open spaces.’ This article presents an analytic framework for evaluating the impact of the social forums through an analysis of the 2010 United States Social Forum (USSF) in Detroit from the perspective of a local Boston-based delegation called the Boston Freedom Rides. We then use that framework to consider the impact of the 2010 USSF, bridging the academic literature on movement outcomes with activist perspectives. We make two related claims. First, the social forums, and the USSF in particular, should be viewed and their impact assessed in light of their generativity as ‘movement-building machines’: infrastructures designed for the production of social capital, networks, solidarities, meanings, frames, identities, knowledges, strategies, skills, and repertoires. Second, with respect to the Freedom Rides, the 2010 USSF contributed to movement building on multiple levels, but more so within rather than across movement sectors. Our goal is less to make a definitive argument about the impact of the 2010 USSF than to provide a helpful way of thinking about movement building as a social movement outcome, which can be applied and refined through further comparative and longitudinal research. We thus favor breadth over depth in outlining a broad framework for future inquiry.

The CLEAN Carwash Initiative: Building Worker Power and Fighting Austerity through Community and Workplace Organizing

Source: Ana Avendaño and Charlie Fanning, Labor Sutdies Lournal, Vol. 39 no. 2, June 2014
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Since 2008, the CLEAN (Community, Labor, Environmental Action Network) Carwash Initiative, in collaboration with numerous community groups, has sought to transform Los Angeles’s expansive, low-rent carwash industry, build a sustainable, long-term presence in South LA, where most of the carwasheros live and work, and establish a self-sustaining United Steelworkers’ local to lift up both the industry and the community. This paper places the initiative within the growing transnational conversation on alternative forms of worker representation and labor’s responses to declining union density, power, and anti-worker fiscal austerity. It explores the initiative’s unique institutional structures and its efforts to preserve public services and expand health care access for carwash workers.

A Civilian’s Guide to Direct Action: What It Is, What It’s Good For, How It Works

Source: CrimethInc, accessed on: September 3, 2014

This step-by-step guide covers every stage in direct action organizing from brainstorming to post-action legal support. Whether you’re engaging in civil disobedience or participating in a mass mobilization, this can serve as a checklist from the beginning to the end. The paper also includes refutations of the clichés regularly trotted out by those who oppose direct action.

This Is What It’s Like To Sit Through An Anti-Union Meeting At Work

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, September 3, 2014

One day last fall, employees of Iron Mountain, a Boston-based records management company, were subjected to what union organizers like to call a captive audience meeting. … The spiel at an Iron Mountain facility near Atlanta, where the Teamsters were trying to organize truck drivers, wasn’t unlike the anti-union speeches commonly delivered at other companies. What made this meeting different was that a pro-union worker in attendance was surreptitiously recording it. … Ben Speight, a Teamsters organizer in Atlanta, later posted the audio to SoundCloud, and it was picked up by Gawker, Salon, Al Jazeera and The Huffington Post, among other outlets. Since then, Speight has obtained a litany of similar recordings from meetings purportedly held at more recognizable companies, including Coca-Cola, Staples and FedEx. … Those recordings are posted below, along with commentary from the workers who helped make them possible. The workers asked to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardizing their jobs. … Companies wouldn’t hold the meetings if they weren’t effective. A 2009 study authored by Cornell labor expert Kate Bronfenbrenner and published by the Economic Policy Institute found that workers were significantly more likely to vote against the union in cases where employers held captive audience meetings. …