Untangling the symmetry of social movements

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Sylys Knackstedt
The Evergreen State College

The relationships between social movements seem random, haphazard, chaotic, even contradictory.


The pattern applies to organizing efforts and actions that seek to broaden and diversify support for change. Whether the issues involve resource consumption/sustainability, social equality, or economic justice, clear connections must be made to each other so that they jive instead of strive.


The interactions between social movements often culminate in combined protests against manifestations of established power. The powerful global elite try and get around this by "hopping" around the globe to hold their meetings, hoping that by exercizing hyper-mobility they can out-privilege their opponents.
This is a game protesters cannot win. Even the word "protest" suggests an outright refusal of, an outcry against. This negative energy is a weak way to form coalitions. For a moment we are surprised to see environmentalists and labor unions united against the WTO. But this ephemeral partnership will not hold after the object of their scorn leaves town.
Citizens often cannot comprehend the deeper dynamic which aligns various social movements because it is not clearly demonstrated. Irony encourages cynicism when neutral bystanders see protesters in sweatshop-made clothes vandalize a designer store, or see a crowd of white college students gripe about the exclusivity of the global organization they oppose, or a war protester who drives 100 miles to hold a sign proclaiming the injustice of an oil war.


Social movements that seek truly progressive social change must fixate on positive, alternative visions. The creative must be emphasized. Support can be mustered through inspiration instead of disgust by turning negative "protests against" into positive "demonstrations of." Lasting alliances require common vision, not common enemies.
Consider the intersections of issues, help to make these intersections predictable and obvious. Examine the injustice stemming from personal privilege before taking on systems of power.

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