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Columbia Sociologist on Past Social Movements and More

Posted on Oct 22, 2011
getdarwin (CC-BY)

Occupy Wall Street protesters fill Washington Square Park on Oct. 8.

Sociologist Todd Gitlin,  former president of Students for a Democratic Society and a Columbia University professor, compares OWS to other American uprisings, discusses the media’s early coverage of the protests and considers the fate of the movement’s signature leaderless form with writer and Harvard University student Matt Bieber.

Unlike the movements for civil and gay rights and against the Vietnam War, Gitlin says, Occupy Wall Street instantly captures the dissatisfaction of huge numbers of Americans suffering from deepening economic inequality. For this reason it has the potential to become a genuine majoritarian force in relatively short time.

The media’s response to confrontations with police has helped push the movement forward, he continues. Significant spikes in news coverage occurred after police officers hit protesters with pepper spray, arrested hundreds on the Brooklyn Bridge and engaged demonstrators in other clashes. And sustained alliances with unions, political advocacy groups and lobbies may provide the broad organizational muscle protesters need to make inroads into American politics. —Alexander Reed Kelly

The Wheat and Chaff:

MATT [BIEBER]: During a panel last week at Harvard’s Kennedy School, you suggested that there’s a key difference between the Occupy Movement and other social movements.  While most social movements begin with sparse public support, the Occupy Movement begins with potentially widespread support for its goal of reducing wealth inequality. Say more about this distinction and what it might mean for the Occupy Movement.

TODD: I hadn’t realized this until I checked off the movements of my recollection, that they had started as minority uprisings – at least expressions of dissidence – in comparison to the population as a whole. So the Civil Rights Movement, which obviously was popular with black people but not with Americans overall, certainly not in the South, when it broke out. The anti-Vietnam War movement represented a small minority, maybe a little more than 10%, when it erupted. The women’s movement, it’s hard to say – possible exception there. The gay movement was certainly not a popular movement over all. I see this more as the rule than the exception.  Perhaps the major exceptions in American history were the Populist and labor movements against the robber barons in the late 19th century. But of course there were no polls, so nobody knows.

... In the Occupy movement, the frustration is palpable, but we have this immense oddity in the political system, which is that disgust at plutocratic rule is widespread and yet the political system blocks it from momentum, from achievement, from full-blooded political expression.

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By ardee, October 24, 2011 at 2:34 pm Link to this comment

What could be funnier than someone preaching about syntax and grammar and spelling multiple words incorrectly, actually making one up on the fly.

So, Balkas do you really write for SNL?

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By balkas, October 24, 2011 at 8:49 am Link to this comment

it’s your right to skip posts which are not syntactictly, grammaticly, and spellingly written

obama speaks and writes brilliantly and americans love it and are proud that their language
can be so brilliant.

this selflaudation or idea, to me, has a scent of supremacism; thus, i try to talk to people who
understand peasant english or the english mom and pop speak.

the more brilliant the speech, the less it is understood by lots of moms and dads who hadn’t
gone to college and thus speak an entirely diff language than harvard graduates or congress
people do.

i admit, i no longer listen or read what a prez says. i do not understand what a prez says. and
neither does, i affirm, anybody else—no matter how much one thinks s/he does understand.

to some of us, it is a fact that no writ; includes bible, a speech [any whatever] quran,
torah/talmud, das kapital, mein kamf, a constitution, a law, etc., cannot be ever understood—
it can be only interpreted.

[lesson derived from this fact? look, taste, hear, touch, and smell!
that is the only way to gather knowlege for surviving, feeling secure, being at peace, etc.]

this applies to my posts. people will interpret what i or we say.

to throw more light on this astounding fact, let’s take mein kampf? why haven’t most
ashkenazim [some 10 million of them] understood mein kampf—and i spite of the fact that
german can be clearer [at least to me] than modern english and had been mother language of
most ‘jews’ ?

the fact is, no human being cld have understood mein kamf and that includes the author of it.
and roosevelt and churchill had not understood it and thus with certainty expected to occur
what occurred.
if one says, yes, then we cld say that u.k, u.s govts were extremely evil when they barred
immigration of ashkenazim into their respective lands.

the fact is that too many people know bible, quran, u.s constitution, etc. and that leads to
bloodshed, crime of all kinds, unsane behavior/thinking by vast numbers of people.

and the proof is in the pudding! said a sage!
and there are some people who get our messages. most, seems don’t! tnx

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By skimohawk, October 23, 2011 at 9:16 pm Link to this comment

much ado about nothing…
...kind of like trying to call a World Series game in the middle of the second inning.

balkas, your posts are unintelligible. No offense, and certainly no “personal attack” intended- just thought you should know that at least one person skips over them simply because they are not written in the English language.
(and I’m finding having to wade through others’ responses to them superflous to the discussion.)

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By Shenonymous, October 23, 2011 at 4:11 pm Link to this comment

balkas, your posts are mostly incoherent but what can be desiccated
from it, you pompously make dopey conclusions.  You better go and
tend to your wife.

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By balkas, October 23, 2011 at 2:50 pm Link to this comment

98% of americans deny afghan women their most basic human
rights: right to live, inter alia. and i’d not be surprised if u’d be
one of them.

u appear extremely distraught and the cause of is, i affirm, the
truth which we posit. a lie, especially about events, cannot
provoke that much hatred and anger.
lying ab. or defaming a person by negative labels can hurt
some people, but i haven’t lied ab. u nor labeled u negatively
or positively.  i bet u voted for obama? and will again?
ok, kid, my wife get’s even madder at me than u, but i still love
her and u.
iii jast laave women- scented or unscented. bozhidar
speaking. bozhidar means “god’s gift” and i add to human
the problems with that is?? i believe it!!! ok, waiting for
conversation from u. i am certain it’l come one day.
i am wondering also why truthdig had not erased or blocked
one of my posts. 
is it because we are wrong all or most of the time???
it does make sense, tho. goddevil bless us all! even amerika!!!
btw, i butcher the language but not people—not yet anyway>
but i am 80 now, and i think it is over for me. ok, i better stop,
my youngold wife is screaming at me again!

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By Shenonymous, October 23, 2011 at 2:15 pm Link to this comment

Way…elll balkas, I’ve never found the truth to hurt, only I gets
very defensively offensive when any creep makes demeaning
references about women, I means I gets virulent if there is even
a “scent” of disrespect toward women, so you might find a different
emblem to suit your interrogation about the women of afgh’n (an
insolent abbreviation for Afghanistan by the way, your penchant for
denigration is excessive sounding like a deficient upbringing).  It is
always a good idea to zip the lip if you don’t know something, like
what the OWS is after, f’instance.

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By ardee, October 23, 2011 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment

padoopa??? ...oh, and ouch!

Oh, Michael if ignorance is bliss you must be the happiest guy on the planet.
Gitlin was head of the student organization that Bernadean Dorn(domestic terrorist) was part of.

Bernardine Dohrn, Clinical Associate Professor of Law and immediate past director/founder of the Children and Family Justice Center, is a child advocate who teaches, lectures and write about children’s law, juvenile justice, the needs and rights of youth, and international human rights. With Steven A. Drizin, she is co-founder of the Center on the Wrongful Convictions of Youth. She works to abolish the sentence of life without possibility of parole for juveniles with the Illinois Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Children, and serves on the Board of the National Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. Dohrn is engaged in research, writing, policy and advocacy to reduce the incarceration and out-of-home care of youth.

As to her SDS involvement , she and her future husband, Bill Ayers, were greatly responsible for the collapse of SDS when they formulated a newer and much more radical organisation ( no not the Central Committee known more familiarly as the Weather Underground) That should make you happy shouldn’t it?

Further while Gitlin was the third president of Students for a Democratic Society, in 1963-64, and coordinator of the SDS Peace Research and Education Project in 1964-65 Dorhn and Ayers involvement and ascendancy came well after Gitlin’s term as President of SDS..

Edumacate yourself:

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By Leefeller, October 23, 2011 at 1:05 pm Link to this comment

“i do not know of a protest in u.s that actually had not made things
worse for some americans and all ‘aliens’ and diktators uncle sam does
not like of find them in his way!”  It may be prudent if the possibility exists, you could attempt to enlighten yourself balkis or at the very least explain what it is you mean?  I find the above balkis quote a miscarriage of credibility aside from the obvious poor diction. Actually making Ozark Michaels rambling sillyques look like they were composed by an protruding Intestine!

Not, may have been a misplace?

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By gerard, October 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment

Think how this cculd become a wiser, nobler world if all the “Occupied” cities and towns, in acts of open-hearted cooperation, find ways to keep these young people warm and dry while they work their way through to articulate some creative next steps to re-democratize the nation.

Such wisdom and cooperation, coming from the strong roots of the 99%, would help tomorrow’s generations have a much better chance for survival.

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By balkas, October 23, 2011 at 12:29 pm Link to this comment

i did not expect that the truth wld hurt u that much.
yes, i am aware that, say, 99% of commenters on all
sites i post deeply resent what i say but cannot resist to
read OUR comments.

i am also aware of the ancient ruse of marginalizing a
person by attributing truths, facts, opinions solely to
one person.
recall, please the case of semmelweiss? he was laughed
at for suggesting doctors wash their hands before
operating on people even tho the knowledge he
proffered rested on shoulders of many scientists.

being or not being after the scent of a woman or
money meant to find out if OWS is as interested in
welfare of women in afgh’n as they are or seems to be
in money?
u shld have enlightened us about it, but chose to waste
time on getting personal.
and i did say that i did not know what OWS IS AFTER.

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By ribbie149, October 23, 2011 at 10:13 am Link to this comment

Another tone-deaf article.  THIS IS NOT A SOCIALIST
MOVEMENT and it doesn’t help to compare it to “other
socialist movements”.  You do it a huge disservice by
attempting to pin facile labels on it.  You are better
than this.

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Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, October 23, 2011 at 9:53 am Link to this comment

OzarkMichael teaching about bias is most amusing.
From what I have read and herd; 54 percent of the populist support OWS, this must mean they are all bias.

Compared to 24 percent who support Tea Party bought and sold agendas, wonder what bias means now, suppose this means 76 percent of the people are bias?

If OWS grows this will mean something bias or not!

The lies, the inequalities cannot be real, so therefore the accusations are bias! Yes, .... of course that’s it!

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By Shenonymous, October 23, 2011 at 9:41 am Link to this comment

Who cares what you think balkas? Nobody but yourself, and you
can stick your reference to women up your padoopa.

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By balkas, October 23, 2011 at 9:23 am Link to this comment

is OWS solely or mostly after the scent of a woman [say, in palestine,
iraq, pashtunstan] or scent of money?
if that is the case, and if OWS does not stop being a movement
[generally speaking, movements exacerbate an already bad situation]
and does not join/form a political party standing antipodally to present
one ruling u.s, i expect only worsenings arising out of it.

i do not know of a protest in u.s that actually had not made things
worse for some americans and all ‘aliens’ and diktators uncle sam does
not like of find them in his way!

nobody is going to convince me that both the dems and repubs do not
swear the oath of allegiance to american god [one and the only],
constitution, and system of rule. tnx

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By Shenonymous, October 23, 2011 at 8:48 am Link to this comment

The observation by Gitlin, that OWS sharply represents
“dissatisfaction of huge numbers of Americans suffering
from deepening economic inequality” and the gripping
influential force in American politics even the mere idea of
a popular uprising is not what it may have, but will have, is
the main point.  The almost instant explosion of the popular
protest, its spontaneity and attraction of a stunning mass of
middle income people does separate it from other political
movements precisely as noted by Bieber and Gitlin.  We’ve
noted before the anarchistic flavor of the sentiments that is
propelling the movement, but that motive is what usually
instigates “palpable” action.  As long as it is useful towards
a better society, including those that have a government that
is here to stay regardless of the degree of anarchism and
libertarianism in opposition to liberalism and socialism, anarchy
has a place in rebellion.  Anarchy exhausts itself, as can be seen in
the reduction of activity in Ireland, the White Chapel Group (WAG) in
Great Britain, the ETA Basque Separatists.  Protest groups of this species
have been around almost forever so social movements are not standard
features of only modern society. It is the public consciousness of their
existence that was limited to mentions in printed media and a sound bite
on broadcast news that is now a fact of instant news via the electronics
available to anyone who can afford an iPhone or Blackberry.  iPads, etc.,
can send graphic photos of protest activities.  The public does not need
the corporate media any longer and that in itself will change the world
and lean evermore towards what the people want.

The effort of conservatives to lay blame on the 99%ers (David Brooks,
et al) is completely misguided but intentioned to deflect the blame of
the 1%.  It should be expected from the warriors of the Right as they
really have made a war about the really and unprecedentedly peaceful
public eruption.  The effects of Wall Street and those who compose the
1% has been insidious and only gradually became a consciousness of
what happened.  Like a slow-reacting poison.  If there is any public
complicity, it was from a lack of information.  Most people do not live
their lives paranoid that their country or the financial world is out to
do them in.  Fortunately for them, however, there are those who are
of sound minds who sound the alarms.  Ergo, Occupy Wall Street when
the alarm became deafening. 

There is a reality of winter coming and what these valiant people will
do in the face of cold and inclement weather is something we who
support this unique populous movement must think about.  Institutions
in the vicinity and those sympathizers with resources need to rise to the
occasion and support the protesters’ resolve.

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By OzarkMichael, October 23, 2011 at 6:23 am Link to this comment

An interesting article and one that really defines this OWS movement, despite the pettiness of the criticism of Gitlin for his past political stance. I honestly fail to see what the heck that has to do with the topic at hand.

Gitlin was head of the student organization that Bernadean Dorn(domestic terrorist) was part of. Neither the interviewer nor Gitlin have any objectivity about Occupy Wall Street, which reads similar to William F. Buckley being interviewed by National Review for his opinion about the Tea Party.

In other words, the article is biased. And you respond to biased glowing opinion by proclaiming it “really defines this OWS movement” for the simple reason that it is exactly what you want to hear.

“I honestly fail to see what the heck that has to do with the topic at hand.”

Shheeesh. Truthdig has every right to put up biased articles, but how about fielding a little criticism? How about an objective viewpoint?

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By ardee, October 23, 2011 at 5:30 am Link to this comment

An interesting article and one that really defines this OWS movement, despite the pettiness of the criticism of Gitlin for his past political stance. I honestly fail to see what the heck that has to do with the topic at hand.

The spreading movement seems to indicate, and very plainly, that there are many folks out there who share the views and the aims of this movement. I would suggest that, as indicated by Gerard, the coming winter will be a factor in the life of this protest. Will it end with the cold, rain and snow, will it simply return in the Spring? Will it possibly morph into new forms?

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By gerard, October 22, 2011 at 5:59 pm Link to this comment

Suggestion: Call upon Columbia, as an “institution of higher learning”, to open the campus and make arrangements to house Occuopy before it gets cold. Get real estate people to donate empty housing in the vicinity at free or very cheap rent. This is a living, breathing “free enterprise” that may well make a huge difference in restoring American democracy if it is helped to work its (horizontal) way toward much-needed reforms, with broad public support. Enlist the entire City of New York, and whatever national help from Washington and elsewhere
to make it possible for this very unique outpouring
of citizen energy to bear the fruits of its intelligence and idealism.  A chance in a million!

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By Zach F., October 22, 2011 at 5:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You know, I thought this was someone who actually understood what is going on, until he started casting it on the old, tired D vs. R paradigm. People need to get over that and just talk to each other, and THAT is the most important message of OWS.

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By MK77, October 22, 2011 at 3:29 pm Link to this comment

Gitlin: “...we have this immense oddity in the political system, which is that disgust at plutocratic rule is widespread and yet the political system blocks it from momentum, from achievement, from full-blooded political expression.”

Is this the same Todd Gitlin who railed against Ralph Nader’s candidacy for president? The Gitlin who said Nader’s understanding of the world “is prefabricated in purity”? The guy who believed Al Gore should not have been challenged from the left?

I guess it’s much easier to be a dissenter in theory than it is in practice.

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