Pre-Rally Questions: How can we Explore the Character of Urban Movements?

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?

Many prominent New York City politicians have already shown support for a higher minimum wage, including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito who stated that she would be open to a minimum wage higher than the Obama-proposed $10.10 an hour. [source] . Furthermore, Mayor DeBlasio has proposed that New York City have the ability to set a minimum wage separate from the rest of New York State [source] and also supports a wage higher than $10.10 [source].

New York City has a progressive local government, similar to Seattle, fueled in part by the mobilization of the Working Families Party. The packed metropolis has a much higher population and thus, I predict that organizing low wage workers here and accomplishing a goal of a $15 minimum wage would be easier here than other less progressive, more sparse American cities.

This Sunday, 15 Now is holding a rally and march to fight for a $15 minimum wage in Herald Square, which is located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. Here is the description from their Facebook page [source]:

“All across the country people are not only talking about the need to raise the minimum wage they’re taking action. We’re hearing about proposals to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016. That’s good but not good enough. We need a $15/hour minimum wage and we need it now! Join 15 Now, fast food and other low-wage workers, Occupy and union activists on June 15th for a $15/hour minimum wage”

What do I expect to observe this weekend at the 15 Now Rally in Herald Square? I think it would be best to list some questions that will help summarize what I am hoping to find:

Are there elements of the rally and protest which are expressions originating in the virtual community on Twitter and Facebook? Conversely, how is the event being covered on twitter, becoming an expression of the actions happening on the ground? how do the virtual and physical spaces interact, and how do they facilitate movement mobilization and radicalization?

How are the rally and protest organized? How is the event attempting to facilitate the mobilization of the urban community? What elements of the event might serve to radicalize participants into investing more resources into the cause?

How many people are attending the event? Which organizations are present at the action and what are their goals in relation to those of 15 Now? What are the demographics of the participants? How does the turnout compare to the amount of people who confirmed they were going on the Facebook event page? What about when considering the people who said maybe?

What type of signs are people holding at the event? Do they have a uniform style and do the feature any organizational logos? Who is speaking at the rally and how do their statements play into the narrative of the movement and its stated goals? What are participants chanting during the march? Which route does the march take and are there any targeted locations? What is the reaction of non-participants who encounter the march and rally?

Did the march obtain a permit to take the street or is it an informal action which will only use the sidewalks? What tactics do participants utilize during the march? How do the police interact with the marchers? Do the participants challenge the orders of the police, by taking the street or other direct action tactics?

These questions provide a good basis of what to observe on Sunday in an attempt to capture the character of the event and its role in the mobilization and radicalization of low wage workers in New York City as well as the larger movement as a whole.

I look forward to sharing my observations, pictures, and videos next week. Stay tuned!

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