Todd Gitlin on Why OWS is Different From All Other Social Movements

Matt Bieber in The Wheat and the Chaff:

ToddGitlinTodd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph. D. program in Communications at Columbia University. In 1963-64, Gitlin served as the third president of Students for a Democratic Society. Later, he helped organize the first national demonstration against the Vietnam War and the first American demonstrations against corporate aid to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

MATT: During a panel last week at Harvard’s Kennedy School, you suggested that there’s a key difference between the Occupy Movement and other social movements. While most social movements begin with sparse public support, the Occupy Movement begins with potentially widespread support for its goal of reducing wealth inequality. Say more about this distinction and what it might mean for the Occupy Movement.

TODD: I hadn’t realized this until I checked off the movements of my recollection, that they had started as minority uprisings – at least expressions of dissidence – in comparison to the population as a whole. So the Civil Rights Movement, which obviously was popular with black people but not with Americans overall, certainly not in the South, when it broke out. The anti-Vietnam War movement represented a small minority, maybe a little more than 10%, when it erupted. The women’s movement, it’s hard to say – possible exception there. The gay movement was certainly not a popular movement over all. I see this more as the rule than the exception. Perhaps the major exceptions in American history were the Populist and labor movements against the robber barons in the late 19th century. But of course there were no polls, so nobody knows.

More here.

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