Tag: social movements

Transforming Markets and Social Movements

Why do some transnational advocacy movements have more success transforming global markets than others? Can we look to look to differences in market structure for a preliminary account? Why were AIDS advocates able to achieve extended access to antiretroviral medications for millions of people while climate campaigners have struggled to achieve comparable gains?

This week, International Studies Quarterly published an early access and ungated version of my article with Ethan Kapstein where we examine how the structure of markets shaped the differential scope for climate and AIDS advocacy. (This is an extension of our 2013 book AIDS Drugs for All which had a broader focus on movement organization and agency.)

In brief, we argue that four factors of the industry opportunity structure facilitate market transformation: (1) the number of product markets, (2) the degree of global integration (3) market concentration and (4) the source of rents. In this post, I thought I’d walk through the logic we develop in the article and some of the issues that I think merit further research. (I developed some of these themes in my remarks at last fall’s APSA pre-conference workshop on markets and politics).  Continue reading


Remembering Mandela and the Movement Against Apartheid

In 1987, I was a high school sophomore and somehow, no doubt through rock music, became aware of the anti-apartheid struggle. As it was for President Obama, the movement to end apartheid was my political baptism. It’s what got me engaged and interested in global politics. I remember going to the Texas A&M campus and participating in meetings of Students Against Apartheid. I joined rallies to encourage the university to divest from any investments in U.S. companies doing business in South Africa.

Hearing of Nelson Mandela’s death today brought all those memories back and prompted me to look through my closet for some mementos of that time (pictured above). Far more eloquent words have been said and written elsewhere about what Mandela meant to South Africa and the world. Like most people, I simply admired his tenacity and willingness to sacrifice his private life for a cause bigger than himself. His passing also led me to wonder about what role, if any, that external movement had in bringing about apartheid’s end, a question for which there are ought to be a social science answer. Continue reading


APSA Special: Social Movements and the Politics of Markets

So, in the interests of shameless self-promotion, I just wanted to mention that if you are attending APSA and stop by the Cambridge U Press booth, there should be copies of my new book with Ethan Kapstein entitled AIDS Drugs for All: Social Movements and Market Transformations. Pick up a copy, or order a hard or softback version here for a 20% discount (an e-version should be out soon). Below the fold, I’ll describe the book and unpack the argument, but I wanted to raise the question here: who is doing good work in the discipline on the politics of transnational social movements and markets? Most of the relevant newer cites seem to come from sociologists such as Tim Bartley, Brayden King, and Sarah Soule. IR folks, help me out. Continue reading


Could the Youth Protests of the EU, Middle East, Turkey, and Brazil Spread to Asia’s Corrupt Democracies?


Jay Ulfelder and I had a Twitter conversation on this question in the last few days (here and here). But Twitter has such limited space, I thought I would break out our discussion on the blog and ask what others thought.

Watching all these riots – driven heavily by youth dissatisfaction, it seems – is making me wonder if this might spread to Asia’s democracies.

A lot of the problems these protests are identifying exist in spades in Asia: high-handed, out-of-touch governments; election-proof pseudo-technocracies that act as unaccountable oligarchies; shallow, clique-ish political parties that provide no meaningful transmission belt of citizen preferences; massive government and business corruption; wasteful white-elephant spending to capture global ‘prestige’ while everyday services like health care and education are underfunded; closed political opportunity structures that regularly reward insiders and large corporations with crony connections to the state; wealthy, de-linking elites with 1% lifestyles wildly at variance with the rest of the population… That’s Asia too; there’s more than enough sleaze to go around.

Continue reading


The “Fear” Factor in “Killer Robot” Campaigning

robotlogoOne of the more specious criticisms of the “stopkillerrobots” campaign is that it is using sensationalist language and imagery to whip up a climate of fear around autonomous weapons. So the argument goes, by referring to autonomous weapons as “killer robots” and treating them as a threat to “human” security, campaigners manipulate an unwitting public with robo-apocalyptic metaphors ill-suited to a rational debate about the pace and ethical limitations of emerging technologies.

For example, in the run-up to the campaign launch last spring  Gregory McNeal at Forbes opined:

HRW’s approach to this issue is premised on using scare tactics to simplify and amplify messages when the “legal, moral, and technological issues at stake are highly complex.” The killer robots meme is central to their campaign and their expert analysis.

McNeal is right that the issues are complex, and of course it’s true that in press releases and sound-bytes campaigners articulate this complexity in ways designed to resonate outside of legal and military circles (like all good campaigns do), saving more detailed and nuanced arguments for in-depth reporting. But McNeal’s argument about this being a “scare tactic” only makes sense if people are likelier to feel afraid of autonomous weapons when they are referred to as “killer robots.”

Is that true? Continue reading


Can IR Theory Free this Student?

IMG_2294-1Omid Kokabee is a University of Texas PhD student from the Department of Physics who was arrested in 2011 when he returned home to Iran over the winter break to visit his family.

Though he is by all accounts apolitical, Omid was sentenced to 10 years for conspiring with foreign governments and given additional time in jail after he earned some money teaching other prisoners foreign languages and physics. His fellow students in the UT Physics Department have launched a campaign to try to free him. They asked my wife, also a political scientist, about what they should do.  Can we learn anything from international relations about how to free Omid? What do you think?  Continue reading


A Short (and Hasty) Note on the Current Wave of Attacks

Tunisia Protests, AP

Readers probably already know that anti-western attacks are spreading beyond Egypt and Libya, and to non-US facilities. In Sudan, the German embassy is “in flames.”And so on.

How would someone committed to relational social analysis understand what’s happening? Here’s an ‘analytical snap judgment’:

  • We have an event — the emergence of the anti-Muslim film — that fits a particular pre-existing script concerning identity relations: “Americans/Westerners hate/disrespect Islam/Muslims.”
  • We have a script about what happens next: ‘Believers protest.’
  • We have pre-existing scripts and repertoires for how to engage in protest at various levels of specificity ‘attack institutions representing and/or affiliated with Americans/westerners,’ ‘set them ablaze,’ ‘raise Islam-oriented flags,’ etc.
  • Actors attempt to mobilize/channel/co-opt/suppress responses to the event by issuing proclamations, directing core supporters to act our those scripts/repertoires, deploying the infrastructure of the state, and so forth. 
  • Demonstration effects operate at the level of regimes, entrepreneurs, and ordinary people.
  • In this case, the trigger has the potential to activate and polarize specific identity boundaries: Islam/West, Muslim/Christian, Radicals/Moderates, Religious/Secular, and so forth.” The dynamics at stake involve broader wars of position and maneuver within specific countries, in transnational religious politics, and in interstate relations.

Fragile regimes worry about becoming included in the “affiliated with American/westerners” category; moderate and establishment Islamists worry about being outbid — losing their positions of leadership and cross-boundary brokers to more radical elements — and also about irreparably harming their relations with the United States and Europe; radicals hope to make such a balancing act impossible. Transnational jihadist hope to expand their core supporters, sway the opinions of fence-sitters, and cow their opponents. Action-reaction dynamics in one country impact those in others.

That being said, I expect that the immediate effect of the protests, attacks, and riots to be relatively small. We’ve seen this story before — albeit with two major differences: after the Arab Awakening (1) the stability of many Middle Eastern regimes is much more precarious and (2) Islamist parties have a stake — sometimes a dominant one — in a number of governments. Still, my gut instinct is that these differences won’t change the underlying trajectory: one of an ephemeral trigger for mobilization in the context of movements that lack sufficiently broad networks or support to sustain mass protest and large-scale violent action. If that diagnoses is correct, then what we’re looking at is another series of episodes in a much longer-term struggle — one in which the local, regional, and international stakes are very high indeed. [ed note: I should note that these two differences are rather significant… and that they raise serious questions about my ‘snap’ prognosis. I also don’t want to sound like I am minimizing the ongoing violence, loss of life, and property damage. This is serious stuff.]

*Note that these dynamics also operate outside of the Muslim and Arab worlds: consider the partisan political dimensions of the debate in the United States over these attacks, as well as the aims of specific right-wing groups in the United States and Europe.


Is Occupy Wall Street a Flash in the Pan?

Occupy Austin
Source: Austin American Statesman

With New York City police and cities around the country cracking down on Occupy Wall Street encampments, it seems like the nascent movement might dissipate even before winter sets in. While a full assessment is obviously premature, it is fair to ask whether or not OWS possesses characteristics that have made past movements successful. At this point, will OWS’ legacy be more significant than getting Bank of America to waive its $5 fee on its debit card?
One of the main criticisms of OWS that emerged quickly, perhaps too quickly, is that it was unclear what the movement wanted. End capitalism? Higher taxes on the wealthy? Ending corporate privilege?

One of the emergent lessons of social movement theory is that campaigns that lack an overarching goal are likely to fail. My work with Ethan Kapstein suggests that the AIDS advocacy movement was largely successful because it coalesced around treatment. Jeremy Shiffman, now at American University, has argued that advocates for addressing maternal mortality lacked such consensus. A similar analysis has been offered by UVA’s Jeff Legro with respect to grand strategy in foreign policy. While crisis, he argued, may delegitimate an old grand strategy, for a new grand strategy to take root, there must be a single dominant idea to replace the old one.

Others have critiqued the movement for its non-hierarchical organizational structure, which seems like it would work okay for small groups but likely to become cumbersome the more people get involved. Almost two weeks ago, The New York Times provided ample anecdotal evidence of the creaky mechanics of such horizontal consensus-based decision-making.

In that piece, the Times interviewed a number of scholars of social movements who offered similar criticisms. Marshall L. Ganz, a senior lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School at Harvard, whether a similar question to the title of this blog post: “Is it a moment or is it a movement?” Jeff Goodwin, a sociology professor at New York University, sees the NYC movement’s park-based focus as a distraction. Ultimately, he says, OWS has to focus on political change to make a difference: It’s inconceivable that the movement can get what it wants without engaging legislatures.”

Another scholar, David S. Meyer, a professor of sociology and political science at the University of California at Irvine, is also quoted in the piece, his emphasis on the absence of leadership. Thinking about past U.S. movements like the Students for a Democratic Society, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he said it either “falls apart, or it gets seized by disciplined factions from within.”

It is relatively early days in the movement, and other scholars of social movements are more sanguine about the prospects for OWS to succeed, based on past campaigns. Doug McAdam, a sociologist at Stanford University, had a more positive view of leaderless campaigns. While Mayor Bloomberg may be able to snuff out NYC OWS, the movement may live on elsewhere. As McAdam said, “Successful movements start out as expressions of anger, and then quickly move beyond that. It’s very difficult for opponents to control or repress a movement that has many heads.”

Zuccotti Park being cleaned 11/15/11
Source: New York Times

I want to be sympathetic to the movement and am willing to put aside my snarkiness about drum circles and the like. I understand the source of OWS anger. I am angry too, both by deepening inequality and an unwillingness by some politicians in this country, particularly on the right, to ask the privileged to pay their fair share.

I credit OWS for changing the conversation, for agenda-setting and creating political space so that Republicans are having to countenance new revenue sources as part of any broader deficit reduction package. However, when I think about successful advocacy movements, like the Jubilee 2000 campaign for developing country debt relief or the AIDS treatment advocacy campaign, they had clear targets for advocacy and a clear “ask.” As William Galston of the Brookings Institution said this week, “What do you do for an encore when you’ve gotten people’s attention?”

If the movement does nothing else, it may create space for President Obama’s deficit agenda to succeed, which may look more moderate by comparison. However, the movement itself could play a role in making that happen, not by explicitly endorsing that plan but getting the disparate pieces of OWS to coalesce around a common platform rooted in the possible. The non-hierarchical nature of the Occupy Wall Street movement allowed it to go viral and spread to many cities, but lacking central direction or a common platform, OWS can become a chapter or footnote.


The Occupation

Photo: Protester at Zucotti Park, 9/28/11;
Credit: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons

I support the on-going Occupy Wall Street protests.  I do not share the common complaint that the protesters need to formulate a clear list of demands – which is itself a rather odd demand to make of what seems to be an anarchist inspired movement.  The protesters’ lack of an explicit set of demands and coherent arguments when interfacing with corporate media is from my perspective a sign that the movement is an authentic expression of popular frustration.  Of course, specific demands may evolve organically through deliberative democracy… and if a list of demands does emerge from such a process, that would be welcome.

In the meantime, I would offer a few hurried thoughts/critiques about the movement so far in the hope of sparking a discussion with Duck readers…

1. Socio-economic domination is fractal as well as fractional.  By this I mean that patterns of domination are endlessly recreated at different scales.  

2. Sources of oppression are internal and external to the subject.  It is easy to target the blame on a tiny elite which is grotesquely wealthy and politically influential.  However, mass consumer practices are the fuel for the economic system. Adbusters, which helped to spark the current protests, has had much less success with its “Buy Nothing Day” campaigns, but perhaps this should be seen as integral to the OWS movement.

3. Wall Street is only part of a nexus of power that has left the country economically devastated.  Perhaps protesters should consider adding a movement to Occupy the Pentagon?  There have been some initial steps in linking the anti-war movement with the OWS protests, but a more symbolic spectacle may be needed.

4. Demands to limit “corporate greed” seem awkward or a tad naive.  Can corporate influence in politics and profit maximization really be limited without dissolving corporate personhood?

5. The globalization of protests to match the globalization of capital is strategic and intelligent.  However, global capital has regulative organizations which need to be pressured directly (e.g. the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision at the BIS).  So far, Basel is relatively quiet with only about 100 protesters participating. Whether such organizations are susceptible to popular pressure is debatable, but a protest outside the BIS would at least spotlight one of the institutions which could help to rein in global capital.


“I Don’t Care What You Believe In, Just Believe In It.”

Although reports that he is insufficiently feminist appear to have been exaggerated, Joss Whedon does appear to be insufficiently Browncoat. Or so it would seem since he recently blocked the first fan-based effort to acquire the rights to a television series by nixing Unstoppable Signals’ movement to revive Firefly, the one-season hit space western whose film sequel Serenity just beat out The Empire Strikes Back for Best SciFi Film of All Time at io9.

(If you need more background on the show and its connection to post-9/11 global political culture, start with this and follow the links.)

This latest fan effort to resuscitate the show was sparked after lead actor Nathan Fillon stated in an Entertainment Weekly interview:

”If I got $300 million from the California Lottery, the first thing I would do is buy the rights to Firefly, make it on my own, and distribute it on the Internet.”

Fillon, whose character Malcolm Reynolds is an archetype for outside-the-box machinations against government or corporate powers that be, quickly became an icon for Firefly fandom’s guerilla marketing bloc, who interpreted his dream as a cause and his words as a call to action. A Facebook page was established to gather pledges for a “Buy Firefly” fund in anticipation of the new Fillon-produced show and quickly attracted over 116,000 members and more than $1 million in pledges.

It also attracted some derision by those who thought the idea was a waste of money and time, not least by Fillon himself, who quickly retracted his statement and asked fans to donate to his favorite charity instead, Kids Need to Read. Browncoats took this seriously and many sent money they had planned to pledge to the show to KNTR and well as a variety of other charities. They also hatched a new plan: rather than raise the money for Fillon, they would aim to buy the rights to the show themselves:

Call it what you want… democratic entrepreneurialism, populist production or just plain crowdfunding, we believe it is possible to create the first film company that is owned by the fans and for the fans. And why not? The many are mighty.

But in early March Joss Whedon’s sister, claiming to speak for Joss, tweeted

Guys, no one in the Whedonverse is in support of www.helpnathanbuyfirefly.com. Please save your money!

According to Screenrant:

Tancharoen later amended her statement with a longer message, stating that there were no hard feelings from the Whedon clan, but Joss and Co. weren’t comfortable with fans trying to take direct control of the Firefly rights, and even less with them collecting real money to do so.

In a disappointed show of deference, pledge collections for HNBF shut down and the fans began directing actual donations toward additional charity efforts instead. These have included design contests and merchandise sales to benefit a variety of organizations including the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, the Dyslexia Foundation and Equality Now. However they also continue to explore the idea of crowd-sourcing fan productions of other TV series’ “to address a genre that is plagued by unjust cancellations and complaints of low profits despite its unimaginable importance to our cultural fabric.”

While Whedon’s position is certainly understandable from a copyright perspective, one must note the irony: this notion of “people’s control” over objects of art is perhaps the logical culmination of the very political sentiment promoted by the show Firefly. And the humani-liber-tarian spirit in this comments thread, collecting fan ideas on moving forward is a fair bit, well, mighty. (At least in one sense of the word.) I especially liked this one:

Firefly seems to appeal to people with a soul. I don’t mean nuthin’ with any religiosity, I just mean folk who got more’n a passing interest in the fortunes of other. Build the good works into the fandom-related activity whereby we sit around the campfire enjoying our collective appreciation through story, and song, and craft. But at the same time, we pass around a cup and do a little takin’-up for those who ain’t so lucky.

And when the morning comes, get our gear on and set out for places what have the aforementioned folks-in-need. Show the world that we can do more than just get frothy on the internetz. Show them that a bunch of shiny people maybe can’t make a big ole difference against all the misery out there … but we sure can try just the same. Like vinyahuinewen said, let’s be Big Damn Heroes.

Beats sittin’ around grumbling about how rotten the world can be.

“I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.”

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]


We are all Khaled Said, We are all Mohammed Bouazizi

Apparently separate and relatively peaceful revolutions have now toppled dictatorial regimes in two North African states. What provoked these events?  While there are a wide range of political and economic factors as well as organizations that had been building for years, the proximate causes that triggered the call for protests were quite similar.

A cartoon by Carlos Latuff depicting the late
Khaled Said’s revenge on President Hosni Mubarak

The trigger for both events can be traced to two individuals. The outrage that started the January 25th revolution in Egypt was the brutal death of a 28 year old Alexandrian businessman, Khaled Said on the 6th of June last year; and the self-immolation of the 26 year old Mohammed Bouazizi in December started the Sidi Bouzid revolution in Tunisia.

The narratives of both men revolve around difficulties at the hands of arrogant and corrupt police officers. In the case of Khaled Said, he refused to show his identification to police in a cafe as they did not have the right to make such a demand and he knew it was only a ruse to get a bribe. (Anyone who has lived in Cairo long enough has encountered this scenario). The police responded to Said’s defiance by hauling him out of the cafe, and as he pleaded for his life, the police beat him to death over the course of twenty minutes. The Egyptian government attempted to explain the death of Khaled Said by discrediting his reputation and claiming that he died of asphyxiation from trying to swallow a bag of marijuana. The circulation of graphic photos of Said’s dead body made it plainly evident that he had died in the most horrible manner. It should not be surprising then that the protests which erupted under the banner “We are all Khaled Said” occurred on January 25th which was declared National Police Day in Egypt in 2009.

In Tunisia, Bouazizi had his only means of supporting a family of eight, an illegal fruit cart, seized by the police, who also apparently insulted him. Unable to bribe the police or gain an audience from a local magistrate and upset at the fine he had to pay to recover his fruit cart, the young man set himself on fire in protest on December 17th and died on January 4th.

While these events would not have garnered the same level of attention as quickly without social media and satellite television and the protests would not have been as successful without shrewd street-level organizing as well as serious miscalculations about the political economy of violence by riot police, what interests me is why these two particular deaths, among hundreds of citizens in both countries who had been killed/tortured by regime thugs over the years or who killed themselves, created such waves of sympathy and outrage which could be mobilized by protest organizers.

I would argue that what these two exemplified were educated individuals reduced to bare life or to the essence of humanity. They were both young men who could not be deemed a security threat or even politically active; they could only be seen as victims by their countrymen. In fact they came to stand in for the frustrated economic hopes of a new generation living under abusive, Western backed, authoritarian regimes.  Said apparently had studied computer programming in the US. And although Bouazizi did not have a college degree (or even a high school degree), several newspapers initially reported that he was a college graduate. As in any insurrection, the rumors were more important than the truth in galvanizing popular support.

The originally South Asian/Southeast Asian idiom of political protest utilized by Bouazizi was apparently unprecedented in Tunisia, but the symbolic message was simple enough to be communicated almost instantly. In fact, the immolation in Tunisia led to several other immolations in the region, including in Egypt. Of course, in Egypt, once the Tunisian protests began to gather momentum, it was possible to revive the outrage around the death of Khaled Said to rally protesters for police reform. The Egyptian man who immolated himself, Ahmed Hashem el-Sayed, was an unemployed construction worker; his suffering garnered sympathy but I don’t think it made the same connection with young, educated, Egyptian elites as the previously dormant case of Khaled Said.

The reduction of (supposedly) elite individuals to the status of bare life, allowed them to become the common currency or symbol of the utter hopelessness of the political and economic situation felt by many young educated Arab men and women whose prospects for social mobility and even marriage have diminished with the global economic crisis. The transformation from elite individual to a victimized humanity also helped to bridge class divides and revive a sense of nationalism in otherwise highly unequal, class stratified societies.

What we are seeing in these social movements, to paraphrase the argument of Faisal Devji, is the desire of the masses to give agency to humanity, to move from being objects of the state to subjects.  


Rally Signage

According to NPR, the “great debate” in the hours before the big luau on the National Mall was whether people were coming to the rally for politics or comedy:

When Jon Stewart announced his Washington, D.C., Rally to Restore Sanity, he inspired much joy among fans of his Daily Show.

But he has also sparked a fierce debate among pundits over whether Stewart really has comedy or politics in mind for the event. It is scheduled for Saturday afternoon on the National Mall.

“I have had the growing suspicion that the participants in this rally don’t entirely think of it as a comedy show,” Timothy Noah of the online magazine Slate says. “I think that they are mistaking … participation in this rally for some sort of political statement. That confusion troubles me.”

A cursory glance at the rally signs suggested Timothy Noah is missing an important point: to blend comedy and politics. And people clearly didn’t come all for the same reason or all with the same politics.

Not that this is in any respect a representative sample, but of the signs I was able to photograph during the early part of the rally on the edge near the National Museum of Art, many in the crowd were clearly on message, alternatively affirming Stewart’s call for tolerance and civility openly or doing so indirectly with satire:

Others were clearly on Team Fear; but this crowd struck me as a mix between two sets of folk:

1) people who just like Colbert better than Stewart,

2) those who argue that the rational response to the situation is fear

A third group of people struck me as on the fence about the trade-offs associated with actually implementing the message:

There were also a significant number of people who openly rejected Stewart’s message of moderation with vitriolic signs of various sorts:

Then there were lots and lots of signs taking specific political positions. While this was not the point of the rally as articulated by Stewart, some protesters clearly interpreted it as a focusing event for whatever-your-agenda-might-be. For example, there was quite the anti-fracking contingent on the steps of the National Museum of Art (though I do not think that means what they think it means).

Also various other positions on social and political issues, often expressed with humor:

Conversely, there were those for whom “civility” appeared to be conflated with “political agnosticism”:

Finally, there were clearly many people who thought this was just a fun-fest. Camera crews at the rally consistently gravitated toward those in costume, but few of the costumes in my area had political symbolisms. Based on the interviews I overheard while trolling around, many of these folks tended to just be dressed up because it’s Halloween weekend. But there were some exceptions: these guys are running for President in 2012 and think we should be very, very afraid.

More rally signs and commentary are at TPM.

Estimates of the crowd size are still rolling in and speculation about the effects on the election next week is raging.

More than anything, I for one enjoyed getting out with my fellow Americans in the bright autumn sunshine. And overall, I was happy to see the number of people who seemed to be on message. This wasn’t a rally for a party or a platform; it was for a set of values that crosses the political spectrum and is at the foundation of our authentic political culture: deliberation. My favorite tweet today at #rallyforsanity read:

Whenever I get to feeling too proud, I remember that you, too, are an American.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]


Certain G20 Protesters Senselessly Ravage Beautiful American City Clash With Police in Pittsburgh, Giving the Rest a Bad Name. And For What?

The G20 Summit kicked off yesterday in Pittsburgh, and today the NYTimes reported that anti-globalization protesters vandalized the Boston Market I used to feed my kids at in Shadyside. Aside from feeling a bit homesick when I saw the photo of that neighborhood on the front page, I ask myself what the anarchist block of these movements really thinks it’s accomplishing with these tactics. Bear in mind that unless the movement has changed considerably in the last decade, the majority of the protesters are using nonviolent tactics and it’s only a few on the fringes that are mucking up my beautiful former city.

Here are two standard rationales for anarchist tactics at the protests:

Rationale #1: The “black bloc” legitimizes the wider movement on non-violent protesters by behaving illegitimately. This kind of “radical flank” effect is noted in many social movements, but in this case since the Black Bloc tends to monopolize the press coverage, I tend to think they do more harm than good.

Rationale #2: They promote the movement by inciting a harsh police response that then tarnishes the authorities in the public eye, creates press for the movement and helps the mainstream nonviolent protesters look like helpless victims. Classic insurgent strategy, can be quite effective but like other forms of violent protest or terrorism, often has the opposite effect of making moderates look like they’re associated with extremists.

I have a more cynical hunch based on my memories of being involved in the organizing run-up to the 1999 Battle in Seattle while in graduate school at University of Oregon: at best those two rationales serve as justifications. I suspect that anti-globalization vandalism isn’t tactical at all but rather primarily self-promotional. Individuals in fringes of the anti-globalization movement may be doing it for no better reason than to earn status among their peers, a small minority of the wider movement. A shame to see an entire protest effort tarnished by the self-aggrandizing activities of a few.

Also, I wish they would stop wrecking my Pittsburgh!


The not-so-twittered revolution

Some comments from a friend of Iranian extraction, who kindly agreed to allow me to repost them here.

As someone who has family members primarily outside Tehran and who has been following the revolt via them, I can say that what drives everything, that intensifies protest, that prevents a calming down of anger is the very clamping down on all press that the conservatives immediately mobilised and which they thought would be effective in suppressing protests.

Rumour has been intensely spreading about everything that it actually results in people in provinces feel they need to do “something”. So before last night (7 people were killed), there were no dead protestors, but people in the provinces were hearing casualties of 14 people, resulting in escalating anger.

There have been all sorts of rumours: that Rezaii (the ultra-conservative candidate) had endorsed Ahmadinejad’s win (he hadn’t), that Moussavi was under house arrest (he wasn’t), that the plain-clothes men beating people were imported from an ominous sounding “Arabic-speaking country” (they weren’t) and on and on.

I think the rumour mill here has been central to the escalation of protest and someone MUST do some research on this.

Finally, a note about Twitter. Twitter and Facebook and blogs are primarily for the protestors to reach outside Iran, not in the country itself. Furthermore, internet speed has apparently slowed to a crawl and mobile phone networks (and SMS capability) has been severely circumscribed. So, I’d be cautious about accepting at face value the accounts celebrating this as a “blogged” or “twittered” revolution! [emphasis mine]



Over at Donald’s place, I predicted that the total turnout for the “tax protests” would be about the size of a single large Obama rally. Based on the numbers we’ve seen, that sounds about right.

Puts things in perspective.

I also noted that the AP story contains the following:

Organizers said the movement developed organically through online social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and through exposure on Fox News.

All of the main guys handling the organization for this on Facebook were, from what I can tell, employees at conservative anti-tax foundations.

Just saying.


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