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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.