Based on a comparison of the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions, Theda Skocpol states that revolutions are the results of intricate interconnections between social and political structural factors. Further, the Social movements’ interactions with the state, as well as with internal and external classes, influence them.
Numerous social movements and protest activities have accompanied and influenced the growth of Western democracies over the ages, a tendency that is still present. However, today, Western societies are associated primarily with what is called as the ‘New Social Movements’.
New Social Movements
Early in the 1980s, social movements suffered a setback. A stable foundation for the struggle against the imperialist nature of the globalisation process has, however, evolved as a result of the formation of “new global social movements”, in post-Cold War international politics. In the years following the Cold War, emerging social movements were primarily seen as disruptive forces. Scholars like Alain Touraine classified it as a counterculture and the pursuit of alternative modes of social and cultural life.
The welfare state’s redistributive policies and the 1950s-1960s’ strong economic growth ensured a level of wealth sufficient to meet fundamental human needs. However, there were issues with how this economic security was delivered. State control in postindustrial society extends beyond the production domain and into areas of consumption, services, and social connections, in contrast to the industrial period of capitalism. As a result, those involved in these new movements aim to reclaim both their individual and community sense of identity.
The goal orientations of the new social movements are shifting inward in an effort to reclaim control over their own lives from a system of supervisory institutions as the sophisticated industrial state increasingly regulates and intrudes on daily life. The focus on personal, everyday and cultural politics minimises the involvement of incumbent political and economic structures and effectively de-centres the state as the predominant site of political struggle.
New social movements are interested in the provision of collective or intangible goods that would improve the quality of life for all facets of society, as opposed to “old” social movements, which were movements of a specific class, typically the working class, and articulated the interests or demands of that class (the right to organise, the vote, the length of the workday).
Habermas makes it abundantly obvious that new social movements are the “new politics,” which are concerned with human rights, quality of life, and individual self-realisation, as opposed to “old politics,” which are more concerned with the stability of the economy, the government, and the military. New social movements frequently recruit members based on ascriptive traits like gender, colour, or ethnicity. As Inglehart has said, the new social movements seek the achievement of “postmaterial” values, “the preservation of social bonds, collective goods and the quality of production and consumption.
New-new social movements?
Today social scientists believe that we are witnessing the emergence of new-new social movements in reaction to, but also embedded in, the contemporary information and communication society in the form of movements like Occupy Wall Street, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion or indeed the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow vest movement).
The worldwide sharing aspect of the digital revolution is important to these “new” social movements. Laptops and smartphones are a common sight during protests, and live streaming has become a career among activists. This motivates us to consider cyberactivism and hacktivism as an essential facet of the current political conflict. These uprisings were not only broadcast on alternative and mainstream television, but they were also widely disseminated online, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. Hence, one wonders as one of the posters of Wall Street protesters during the occupation of Zuccotti Square said: “The revolution will not be televised, but will it be downloaded?”
1. Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter has been one of the most important movement that the world has seen on mobile screens lately during the first phases of the Covid-19 lockdowns. In May 2020, George Floyd, a black man was killed by a US police officer which led to the re-emergence of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement which was created in 2013.
The movement was started in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of African-American teen Trayvon Martin. Although it started in the US, Black Lives Matter is now a global human rights movement. It campaigns to end violence and systemic racism towards Black people and other people of colour. In Australia, Black Lives Matter has become synonymous with the 434 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have died in police custody since the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987-1991).
2. The Fight for $15
In 2010, the notion of a $15 minimum wage was unheard of; today, it is commonplace. According to a Brookings Institution analysis, published in November 2019, 44 percent of all workers (from the United States) aged 18 to 64, or more than 53 million individuals, make low hourly pay. One-fifth of all teachers are among the many families who struggle to make ends meet and require more than two jobs. The current catchphrase for many unions is “One job should be enough.” Activists have promoted the topic in towns and states since Congress hasn’t raised the federal minimum wage ($7.25) since 2009. The Fight for $15 exploded forward, with impromptu strikes at fast food restaurants and retail stores developing into fruitful legislation proposals and election campaigns.
3. Say No to 64
Similarly, a series of protests began in France on 19 January 2023 with a demonstration of over one million people nationwide, organised by opponents of the pension reform bill proposed by the Borne government to increase the retirement age from 62 to 64 years old. The strikes led to widespread disruption, including garbage piling up in the streets and public transport cancellations.
4. Italy: Sardines Turn the Tide
The Sardines campaign was organised to show that many people still opposed bigotry and intolerance when the far-right League party sought to win in Italy’s central Emilia-Romagna area in early 2020. The idea was to crowd into public spaces like sardines (a type of fish) in order to demonstrate that people of all political stripes could come together and oppose the League.
The Sardines were an immediate hit, drawing an estimated 15,000 people to the initial meeting, and the strategy was immediately imitated elsewhere. Election turnout in Emilia-Romagna was significantly higher than usual, thanks to the Sardines, which prevented the League from winning.
5. Gilets Jaunes/Yellow Vest
The yellow vest protest over the increase in petrol prices brought on by the implementation of the green tax began in 2018. Initially, the demonstrators wearing yellow vests were residents of rural communities who frequently had to travel far distances. They claimed they were unable to pay the increased cost of petrol. Protests immediately expanded into a bigger movement that included people from the middle class and working class who were angry over falling standards of living. They claim that while their wages are too high to be eligible for social welfare payments, they are also too low to get by. The movement was first coordinated through social media groups and has no recognised leadership. The movement emphasises how social and geographic marginalisation is prevalent in affluent nations.
5. Schools Strike for Climate
One girl with a protest sign outside Sweden’s parliament every Friday inspired a worldwide movement in less than one year. The Schools Strike movement (also known as Fridays for Future) wants politicians to act now on the climate crisis. The movement is digital and youth driven; and is spread throughout the world.
6. Extinction Rebellion or XR
Extinction Rebellion is a UK-headquartered global environmental movement established in 2018. In order to prevent tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss, and the possibility of societal and ecological collapse, it intends to use peaceful civil disobedience to force government action.
Extinction Rebellion seeks to build a sense of urgency about stopping further “climate breakdown” and the continuing sixth mass extinction. It draws inspiration from grassroots movements like Occupy, the suffragettes, and the civil rights movement.
7. Gender and Sexuality
The Me Too movement was started by American activist Tarana Burke in 2006. She aimed to empower women through empathy and the strength of numbers by ending the silence surrounding sexual assault, rape, and harassment.
The ‘Me Too’ hashtag gained popularity in 2017 in relation to Harvey Weinstein. The movement, which supports underprivileged individuals and communities, has expanded to encompass men and women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. Further, the developing societies have also acquired it with success.
Homosexuality used to be a taboo even in the developed societies due to the Christian norms. But gradually most countries have adopted marriage equality and legalized same-sex marriage.
Western countries are also witnessing the Anti-natalist movement given the dystopian future perceived by the youth due to the issues originated by the neo-liberal policies. Whereas in America, the Roe vs Wade judgement was overturned, furthering the pro-life regressive conservative agenda and whipping the pro-choice movement down.
Edgar Morin, a French philosopher, would say that if the twentieth century ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the twenty-first century had started in Seattle. Three protests—Seattle 1999, Prague 2000, and Genoa 2001—could be viewed as the beginning stages and primal settings of an alternative globalisation and a collective awakening to the effects of globalization’s socially fracturing, fragmenting, and disrupting effects.
As Roberta Garner puts it: ‘Movements are changing from fairly coherent national organizations into transnational networks, with highly fragmented and specialized nodes composed of organizations and less organized mobilizations, all of which are linked through new technologies of communication’. Today, national movements are merging into transnational ones. Solidarity is an intrinsic vocabulary of the new social movements, for instance, people cutting their hair in solidarity with the Iranian women. The ‘Occupy’ movement of the USA inspired many other societies to re-create the movement.
The recent social movements are fighting against the neo-liberal policies which are taking the glossy ‘developed societies’ into a a gloomy, lonely, dystopian nightmare.