Authority, in the new tactical model, arose from the number of people who showed up. Queer and punk activism, well-practiced in work at the periphery, took a lead, and paved a road into the eighties, with theatrical protests at the Democratic National Convention; the audacious, enormously successful efforts by ACT UP to change AIDS policy; and the pushy, calculating Earth First!
Kauffman follows this lineage of tactical activism up to and beyond the era of Iraq War demonstrations. But she shrugs off its lack of effect. Movements might have lost their leaders, gained force, and offered personal autonomy.
History provides an especially sharp rejoinder to those who doubt the sustained power of protest: the civil-rights movement. From the mid-fifties to the mid-sixties, activists successfully worked to roll back school segregation, public-transit segregation, interstate-bus segregation, restaurant segregation, poll taxes, employment discrimination, and more. It happened, piece by piece, under politically entrenched and physically threatening conditions.
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Its efficacy was virtually unmatched in our national past. The civil-rights movement preceded the protest meteor of the late sixties, but, for a new generation eager for change, it showed what was possible by taking to the streets. Why did civil-rights protest work where recent activism struggles? Tufekci is, by training, a sociologist, and her research centers on the place where protest and digital media meet. Yet she has a mixed review of their successes. Tufekci believes that digital-age protests are not simply faster, more responsive versions of their mid-century parents. They are fundamentally distinct.
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At Gezi Park, she finds that nearly everything is accomplished by spontaneous tactical assemblies of random activists—the Kauffman model carried further through the ease of social media. At the same time, she finds, shifts in tactics are harder to arrange. Digital-age movements tend to be organizationally toothless, good at barking at power but bad at forcing ultimatums or chewing through complex negotiations. When the Gezi Park occupation intensified and the Turkish government expressed an interest in talking, it was unclear who, in the assembly of millions, could represent the protesters, and so the government selected its own negotiating partners.
The protest diffused into disordered discussion groups, at which point riot police swarmed through to clear the park. The protests were over, they declared—and, by that time, they largely were. The missing ingredients, Tufekci believes, are the structures and communication patterns that appear when a fixed group works together over time. That practice puts the oil in the well-oiled machine. It is what contemporary adhocracy appears to lack, and what projects such as the postwar civil-rights movement had in abundance. And it is why, she thinks, despite their limits in communication, these earlier protests often achieved more.
Tufekci describes weeks of careful planning behind the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott, in That spring, a black fifteen-year-old named Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on a bus and was arrested. Today, though, relatively few people have heard of Claudette Colvin. This was Rosa Parks. The boycott, set to begin on Monday morning, was meant to last a single day. But so many joined that the organizers decided to extend it—which necessitated a three-hundred-and-twenty-five-vehicle carpool network to get busless protesters to work.
Through such scrupulous engineering, the boycott continued for three hundred and eighty-one days.
Parks became a focal point for national media coverage, while Colvin and four other women were made plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, the case that, rising to the Supreme Court, got bus segregation declared unconstitutional.
What is striking about the bus boycott is not so much its passion, which is easy to relate to, as its restraint, which—at this moment, especially—is not. No outraged Facebook posts spread the news when Colvin was arrested. Local organizers bided their time, slowly planning, structuring, and casting what amounted to a work of public theatre, and then built new structures as their plans changed. The protest was expressive in the most confected sense, a masterpiece of control and logistics. It was strategic , with the tactics following.
And that made all the difference in the world. She points out how, in preparation for the March on Washington, in , a master plan extended even to the condiments on the sandwiches distributed to marchers. They had no mayonnaise; organizers worried that the spread might spoil in the August heat. Rustin insisted on paying lavishly for an unusually high-quality setup. Making every word audible to all of the quarter-million marchers on the Mall, he was convinced, would elevate the event from mere protest to national drama.
He was right. Before the march, Martin Luther King, Jr. He had given a longer version to a group of two thousand people in North Carolina. And he had presented a second variation, earlier in the summer, before a vast crowd of a hundred thousand at a march in Detroit. The reason we remember only the Washington, D. It became, in other words, the rarest of protest performances: the kind through which American history can change.
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Brinkley wrote his senior thesis on the Louisiana politician Huey P. He once described the thrill he felt doing research with primary documents. Charles E. Coughlin , the chief subjects of that book, had used the radio in the s to mobilize their supporters. The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Being attuned to contemporary journalism perhaps allowed Mr. Brinkley to be one of the first historians to see the rise of the conservative movement in American politics.
Kazin said. Alan Brinkley was born on June 2, , in Washington. His mother was Ann Fischer Brinkley. He was born in the same hospital room on the same day as Frank Rich, the future New York Times chief theater critic and opinion columnist, now a television producer and writer for New York magazine. Their mothers were good friends, both part of a relatively small enclave of Jewish families in Chevy Chase, Md. The boys remained close friends. He graduated from Princeton with a degree in public policy in and earned his doctorate in history from Harvard in Central Asia.
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