Now that the Blue Wave has washed over the House of Representatives (and continues to grow in some states), will the Resistance join the Graveyard of democratic politics? History suggests that progressive political movements lose their potency after Democratic electoral wins. Just look at the post-9/11 anti-war movement and the Obama campaign in 2008 for evidence. Although some called the campaign to elect Barack Obama a movement to elect the first Black president, the campaign’s infrastructure (which became Organizing for America) was subsumed into the Democratic party quickly after the inauguration. The grassroots army of activists celebrated as the future of grassroots organizing was swiftly disarmed into a cadre of donors and phone bankers. Will the Resistance meet a similar fate?
As part of research for this book, I conducted a follow-up survey with participants in what I am calling the Resistance in the Streets—people who have marched in the largest protests since Donald Trump’s Inauguration, including both Women’s Marches, the People’s Climate March, and the March for Our Lives. Overall, there is clear evidence that the Resistance redirected its attention from the streets to the districts to fight for Democrats to win in the 2018 midterm elections. Participants identified electoral politics generally and the midterm elections specifically as the main solution to what they considered to be the “top challenges” facing America. In fact, almost two-thirds of participants in my follow-up survey (63%) reported working with at least one “Resistance Group” six months before the midterm election (see Chapter 4 draft for more details).
The result of these efforts is a midterm election that saw unprecedented turnout and enthusiasm, particularly by educated white women who make up the bulk of the Resistance. But what happens to a movement that has been laser focused on one election after that election is over? Many leaders of Resistance groups have told me they plan to continue to channel their members’ outrage against the President and his administration, but will the ground troops continue to follow their lead?
At this point, it is too soon to tell. History certainly provides a cautionary tale.
At the same time, President Trump has been fanning the flames of Resistance since before taking office by eliciting the moral outrage of citizens through his statements and actions. My research finds that moral outrage motivated many Americans to participate in the Resistance without strong ties to the groups that were organizing the events: groups didn’t mobilize the activism, outrage did. Moreover, this outrage has sustained their activism throughout the past 22 months.
As President Trump continues to mobilize his base with inflammatory rhetoric and extremist politics, he may be exactly what the Resistance needs to survive. Just one day after the election, MoveOn worked with numerous other groups to organize over 800 #ProtectMueller events in response to the President firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Will people be outraged enough to continue marching in the streets and confronting their elected officials at town hall meetings? It is a bitter irony that the President’s base feeds on his outrageous conduct and so does the Resistance.
In final days before the Midterm elections, I am just finishing up analyzing interview data collected from conversations with leaders of Resistance Groups that are working to organize resistance in the districts around the election. I am currently revising the chapter based on these data (which is now Chapter 3 of the book on Organizing Resistance).
To get a first hand account, I’m also participating in the Last Weekend with my sister this weekend. The experience will provide some real world experience/observations from the work in the trenches of the districts right before the election.
I have also finalized the follow-up survey that I will field next week after the election. If you were surveyed out in the streets at one of the big protest events, expect to hear from me on Thursday. The survey is short but will provide extremely valuable information about how participants in the Resistance in the Streets participated in the Resistance in the Districts and the degree to which (and how) they connected with Resistance Groups to do their work.
After the survey closes at the end of this month, all of the data collection for my book about the American Resistance will be complete. My plan is to submit the fully revised chapters to Columbia University Press for publication before the spring semester begins.
With two weeks until the Midterm elections, we are barraged with polls telling us what likely voters might do on November 6th and what early voters have already done every day. As astounding images of early voting in states such as Florida, Nevada, and Texas, everyone is wondering what will happen.
Having just completed follow-up interviews with the leaders of many Resistance Groups that are working to organize people around the election, I have heard all about how these groups have been working to channel activism into electoral campaigns. One of the leaders told me about the relationship between the Resistance in the streets and the Resistance in the Districts: “You can’t just march and think that things are going to change, we march and we organize and we vote.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the focus on electoral campaigns and the Midterm elections is that these groups are working to varying degrees to embrace a distributed organizing model for electoral outcomes. As a Netroots Nation panel on the mess and magic of distributed organizing describes it, distributed organizing involves “participatory campaigning” that is more bottom-up and relies on technology to mobilize and connect people. Beyond that, each organization and organizer has a somewhat different definition.
As I wade through the interview transcripts to understand the full range of perspectives on and executions of distributed organizing, one of the big questions that remains is: in the face of the current local infrastructural deficit on the Left, can distributed organizing fill the gap and contribute to a Blue Wave? We should know the answer soon.
In the meantime, here’s a wordcloud of the distributed organizing node. It’s really interesting to see what made it and what did not..
While everyone focuses on different aspects of the upcoming midterms, I’m spending my time coding data from interviews I conducted last week with leaders of Resistance Groups. One of the clear themes in the interviews is the degree to which the Resistance in the Streets has shifted to the Districts leading up to the elections in 19 days.
So far, my favorite quote by a leader of one of these groups is:
“People are still concerned. People are still donating money, but they are tired of doing sort of like flailing-type organizing…like Trump did this thing, now we need to protest. They are more interested in doing the kind of block-by-block electoral work, and in some cases, community organizing work…that feels like it has meaningful outcomes and will actually change the – like a bunch of people woke up.”
These data and many more are being integrated into the revised version of Chapter 4 of American Resistance.
Four weeks from TODAY are the midterm elections. In addition to determining what party will hold the majority in both houses of the US Congress, as well as local and state-level elections, the midterms are the end point for this study of the American Resistance.
Before then, I have a final push of data collection and analysis. First, I am spending the next week interviewing representatives of ‘Resistance Groups’ to understand the work that they are doing a month before the election to organize Resistance in the Districts. This component of the research is particularly important as civic groups and social movement organizations are the cartilage that holds together American Democracy. In other words, these groups have the potential to channel outrage into longer term political work and activism.
The week after the election, I will field one final survey of participants in the Resistance in the Streets to learn about their engagement in civic activities including around the election. This final survey will round out the project and inform the connection between Resistance in the streets and Resistance in the Districts.
One of the hallmarks of the American Resistance is the degree to which institutional and non-institutional forms of activism and political engagement have merged. Although recent research chronicles some cases when social movements have connected with more institutional electoral politics, it is relatively uncommon. However, the merger of the tactics and targets employed by the Resistance is clearly visible in the activism against the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court that is currently underway.
Yesterday, I took my social movements class on a ‘fieldtrip’ down to the US Senate to observe this activism in process. There, we observed evidence of how multiple groups are working together and separately to coordinate daily visits to Senate offices (as well as confronting Senators in public spaces), marching in the streets, direct action around the US Capitol, and candlelight vigils on the steps of the US Supreme Court. In fact, tonight’s vigil is scheduled to include musical performances by Alicia Keys and Michael Stipe.
Although it is unclear if the activists will achieve their political goals of blocking the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh, it has certainly mobilized people to engage in politics in innovative ways. Moreover, I expect the legacy of this wave of activism to persist for years to come.
This month, the New York Times has run two separate Op-Eds about the Resistance: one anonymously claiming that people working within the Trump Administration are the Resistance and another questioning the utility of calling the movement against the Trump Agenda the Resistance. In response, I feel compelled to expand my previous post about what is the Resistance (as well as to revise that specific part of Chapter 1).
American Resistance (rɪˈzɪstəns) : People working individually and through organizations to challenge the Trump Administration and its policies (therefore NOT people in the Administration who are challenging the President as a person if they support his broader agenda). The Resistance includes people working as individual citizens, through their professions as lawyers, scientists, artists, or professional athletes. It also includes organizations that run the gamut in terms of their levels of professionalization–the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Greenpeace, professional associations like the American Sociological Association, Indivisible, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance–are all playing parts in the Resistance. The oft-discussed violent fringe that stirred in response to White supremacist activities around the US—the Antifa—is also part of the Resistance to the degree that it is focusing specifically on targeting the Trump agenda.
In many ways, the Resistance is a countermovement to the Trump regime (like the Tea Party was a countermovement to the Obama Adminisration and its policies). The fact that it is a countermovement makes it possible to bring diverse streams of progressive activism together to form the raging river of resistance that we see today. In other words, the Resistance represents a merging of movements—including Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the Women’s, Anti-Gun Violence, and Climate Movements. Because it is unified against a common enemy driven by moral outrage, the Resistance has united movements that have historically competed for resources, energy and attention. At the same time, however, the bonds among these movements and the organizations that coordinate them are fragile and create a challenge for the strength and persistence of the Resistance.
With numerous large-scale marches having taken place since the Resistance began with the 2017 Women’s March, my research has found that people are turning out again-and-again to march for various issues across the progressive spectrum. One of the questions that I’ve recently focused on is what explains who has persisted?
In a new paper, Lorien Jasny and I answer this specific question. We find that the two major predictors of persistence are: (1) having contacted your elected official in the past 12 months and (2) being motivated by the issue of Reproductive Rights. We also find that being motivated by the political system in general is negatively associated with coming out again-and-again.
Overall, these findings provide additional evidence that the participants in the Resistance are engaging in politics in their local communities and Congressional districts.
With three months to go until the Midterm elections, this week is bringing lots of different types of Resistance, particularly focusing on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Even Hillary Clinton has gotten involved in resisting the confirmation, taking to social media with her message.
On September 24th, I am hosting a symposium on Studying Protest in An Age of Resistance at the University of Maryland. The symposium features the work of colleagues who have been working to track the Resistance since the beginning, including the folks at the Crowd Counting Consortium and at Count Love, along with those of us who survey protesters. The event is open to the public, but registration is strongly encouraged.
Click here to RSVP
Now that the bulk of American Resistance is drafted, I will be spending the next few months leading up to the midterm elections updating and revising the chapters (which will involve some new data collection).
In addition, I am currently working on a paper that focuses specifically on the differential rates of participation at the various protest events since the Resistance began. This table presents the rates of differential participation across the protest events. Although one of the hallmarks of this current wave of contention is the fact that people are turning out again-and-again for protest events focused around different progressive issues, there is quite a bit of variation among first-timer participation at the various protest events (see this piece in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog for a discussion of the Families Belong Together Event). The paper discusses how we can understand these varied rates of participation more clearly.