So far, my exploration into groups like 15 Now, Fight For 15, Fast Food Forward, and the multitude of others which compose the $15 Minimum Wage movement, has been focused on the content of tweets and the composition of users who tweet with popular movement hashtags. While Twitter is a network which rapidly facilitates the creation of weak ties which are more useful for spreading information, as studied by Granovetter in “The Strength of Weak Ties”, Facebook is also an important medium which can’t be ignored in the study of new networked social movements.
We are in a time period where the hope for social change burns more intensely than ever before. Even as we see economic conditions worsening in many parts of the world, with austerity measures and corporate welfare dominating the policy decisions of many nations, there remains a hope that the virtual spaces which foster instantaneous connectivity will raise the possibility of social action to enact meaningful change. As communities are formed through the togetherness of sharing ideas and goals in urban spaces, they are supported and intensely linked with virtual communities formed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networking sites.
The internet is a space of autonomy, which lowers barriers of expression and social movement participation. In “Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age”, Castells defines autonomy as “the capacity of a social actor to become a subject by defining its action around projects constructed independently of the institutions of society, according to the values and interests of the social actor”. (229) He then proceeds to link this concept with networked social movements as the transition from individuation to autonomy is “operated through networking, which allows individual actors to build their autonomy with like-minded people in the networks of their choice…the Internet provides the organizational communication platform to translate the culture of freedom into the practice of autonomy.” (230)
What findings do I expect to discover from my research into the Twitter presence of 15 Now and related movements fighting to raise the minimum wage and how they tactically mobilize and spread the movement using a social media platform comprised of only 16% of the U.S. population? [source] Due to my years of experience using Twitter for these purposes, it won’t be too much of a stretch to formulate a hypothesis of what the hashtag histories of #15now, #FightFor15, and other related tags will look like.
This weekend, I began reading the “Strategy of Social Protest” by William Gamson. He analyzes a random sample of 53 American social movements between 1800 and 1945 that fit into what he defines as an “opposing group.” He seems to be focusing on mainly the outcomes, and has distinct categories for measuring when a group can be considered “successful” in their challenge of a defined antagonist. While this work certainly provides a foundational backbone for the sociological study of social movements, it needs to be complemented by an interactional study of the micro-processes that comprise a social movement, including the role of culture and the frames of the individual protesters.
In the 2013 election, Kshama Sawant defeated a corporate Democrat for a Seattle city council seat, running as a member of the Socialist Alternative party on a platform which heavily featured the $15 per hour minimum wage. Due in part to a progressive city council and mayors office, her debates with opponents of the campaign, and the mobilization of 15 Now both virtually on social media and the streets, she was able to fulfill her campaign promises in just five months. The story of Seattle proves that this type of change is indeed possible in the United States, and corporate money and power can be defeated by the popular will of the people. While some business groups are suing Seattle, and the victory is scheduled to be a gradual increase, it is still a significant achievement, especially in relation to other cities where movements are fighting for the same goals. For instance, can this measure be passed in New York City, where the movement started a year and a half ago with Fast Food Forward?
There are few processes in human life that are more fascinating to explore than the expansion of ideas and concepts over time as a result of research and brainstorming. We are gifted as animals with the innate ability to recognize the patterns that exist around us and it’s refreshing to witness this process occur, especially from a first-person perspective.
Since initiating an academic exploration into our current networked social movements only ten days ago, many ideas have bloomed and evolved, including a wide range of theories, research plans, and expectations of what will be found. I have been collecting a plethora of academic research which will be useful for analyzing the current mobilizations for social and economic justice in America, including frame alignment processes studied by Snow, Benford, and other colleagues, the networked theory of power presented in “Communication Power”, and “Networks of Hope and Outrage” by Manuel Castells, the resource mobilization perspective popularized by Gamson in “The Strategy of Social Protest”, and the theory of networked publics formulated in the research of danah boyd. While resource mobilization theory and frame alignment provide two completely different methods for studying the processes of new social movements, their interrelations must be understood for better analyzing how offline and online action coexist to build movements like 15 Now in Seattle.
What is in a tweet? Certainly, we see twitter elements featured on ads in subways and bus shelters, linking our digital and material worlds as if the hashtag symbol itself were a QR code. These hashtags and handles are symbols referencing meanings associated with the digital environment of twitter, whose content is itself comprised of references to the events of our physical world. This interconnectivity between different environments is only increasing as we move into a generation of smart electronics and Google Glass. As we witness this process of singularity occurring before our eyes, we must ask ourselves the question: What is the impact of these technologies on our social world? What I want to explore in particular is how these social networks impact the mobilization and radicalization processes of social movements, and how they can use these tools to build the political power needed to work toward either moderate reform or substantial systemic change in American politics.
As this exploration into the new social movements of the digital age begins, one method for ascertaining the role of social media would be to study current movements against the backdrop of similar mobilizations working toward comparable change in the pre-digital era. How do the protests, rallies, and sit-ins of today differ from past struggles for productive change? What portion of this difference can be attributed to communication via social media? For example, what distinguishes the current fight for a $15 per hour minimum wage from past movements of poor, disenfranchised workers in the United States?