Reexamining Organization/s

From the comments, olderwoman writes:

Your theoretical point is spot on, but your empirical point about Wisconsin is wrong, and wrong in a way that reflects back to a refinement of theory. Empirically, protests in Wisconsin were organized by a lot of different organizations, and I personally have never even heard of Freedom Works — your link goes to a North Carolina protest! So, yes, organizations and organizing mattered a ton, but it was a whole lot of organizations that were mobilized, not any one. There were a lot of different unions involved who are not all centrally coordinated. There were many different non-union political groups that mobilized. This leads to the theoretical point, which is that it is important to pay attention to the diversity of organizations mobilizing. And even more to the extent to which mobilizing efforts work. Organizations are all the time trying to get people to go to protests or write the legislators etc. But only occasionally do these efforts lead to huge responses. Part of the theory has to be about why organizing works sometimes and not others. In Wisconsin, as the protest spread, people who lacked direct organizational connections started self-mobilizing: it became “the thing to do” to go protest at the Capitol, in some circles, and once previously-nonpolitical people got there, they became involved in networks and became politicized. Highly visible threats and suddenly imposed grievances are part of that answer, along with media attention cycles, and the ways influence flows through informal social networks.

I appreciate the clarification about multiple organizations in Wisconsin.  Unions provided one set of efforts for efforts against Governor Walker’s agenda.  Successful campaigns in the United States are generally comprised of more than one organized group, and negotiating priorities among them is a key element of life within a movement.

On FreedomWorks: I said that FreedomWorks was a key organization working to generate and script protests at the town hall meetings about health care (and pulled a photo from a protest in North Carolina).  It’s more than that.  FreedomWorks grew out of a split within the Koch Brothers’ group, Citizens for a Sound Economy in 2004, as others split off to become Americans for Prosperity.  Although there are differences between the groups, both have worked to spread what would become Tea Party Gospel, funding organizers to do the heavy lifting of mobilizing at the grassroots.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey chairs FreedomWorks, along with the group’s president, Matt Kibbe, has tried to define and channel the Tea Party movement into an asset for the Republican Party.  Their manifesto is available, cheap, online (on the right).  If you prowl around their website, you’ll see a focus on older school small government Republicanism, with token (or less) commitments on some grassroots concerns like immigration and social issues.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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1 Response to Reexamining Organization/s

  1. olderwoman says:

    Thanks for the clarification and apologies for sloppy reading of yesterday’s post.
    I still thing it is important to examine receptivity to organizing as well as organizing. Both matter. Which I know you don’t disagree about. But paying attention to all the times organizing does not work as well as when it does work is important. For the health care issue, I think the thing people like me who opposed the tea party would like to forget is that it wasn’t just that the right wing organizations worked to create the opposition, but they found receptive ears.

    What interests me is that some of the people appear to be changing sides depending on how the issue is framed. Probably not the people who actually showed up at Town Hall meetings (but maybe even some of them?) As far as I can tell, the “tea party” too is complex and diverse and made up of different strands.

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