Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How a Movement Spreads

Every semester, I've always tried to take at least one class that I thought would really add to my understanding of society - how things work, what's important, etc. Last semester, classes like my seminar on Urbanism fit the bill. This semester, I took a political science seminar on Civil Rights.

Right away, when we were given our syllabus, I got kind of excited. We have a 15 page paper - long enough to study an issue, not long enough to make me insane trying to write and research every day. Anyway, the paper is basically on anything we want to study within the context of Civil Rights - and, despite the fact that I only had one class so far, I think I already know what I want to do.

I want to study how a movement works today - what makes it effective, what's a huge waste of time and what each type of event or organization means to a movement. Since that's such a huge question, I thought I'd narrow it down by focusing on the glbt movement in Massachusetts as a case study. So, for example, I'm interested to know what effect any of the rallies have had - is the publicity worthwhile? Are they useful as a sort of rallying point? I'm interested to see how all the different organizations fit together - how have in-your-face organizations like Knowthyneighbor made an impact compared to more conventional ones like MassEquality? What about regional organizations like the SouthCoast Alliance?

Furthermore, are there certain events that have become important in the movement - and how can you tell if they're important? For example, how did the attack in Puzzles effect popular opinion about gay rights? What about all those rallies for hate that went around earlier this year, including the one where one of the leaders attacked a counter-protester? Is there sort of a marketing element to movement-building that's become important, so people hear about these events and realize their importance?

I think that there's a lot to learn within the framing of this question that could be useful information. If anyone has any ideas about what you think - or any suggestions for a good book on the subject, let me know. I doubt too many people have done research in this area, but it's truly a question that interests me. Because movements are so important to increasing equality in this country, it's important to know what works and what doesn't. By the end of this semester, I intend to have an answer to that question.


Joe said...

I really think knowthyneighbor is an anathema. While groups like MassEquality existed solely in the spirit of fighting for equal rights for gays, knowthyneighbor is a bully organization. Just look at one of the highlighted stories from the front page.
Do you think anything good is going to come of this?

When you write your paper, are you going to include all the possible negative consequences and dangerous precedents set by knowthyneighbor?

Ryan Adams said...

absolutely =) it'll be analytical. the point is I don't really know the answer. My suspicion is that all sorts of organizations serve all sorts of roles - and i'm going to try to sort those out.

However, I do think some good came out of knowthyneighbor's list. Over a thousand people, using ktn's lists, discovered they signed something they either didn't think they signed or didn't sign at all.

Plus, at base, it could spark discussion among family and friends, etc.

Joe said...

You'll have to email me the paper when you finish it. Should be a good read.

Laurel said...

Ryan, it's great to see you taking on the subject! Here's my Take: no one approach to advancing civil rights will ever be "the" right one, because not all people have the same personality. A logical, sober, quiet and respectful discussion works for some. For others, they need the verbal equivalent of a smack upside the head to get it. Or they simply must be told what to do/think (some beg to be told). So, while I sometimes cringe at KTN's tactics, for example, I'm guessing they've actually worked to our benefit sometimes with some people. But then this leads to the question of what is the "attracts more supporters":"offends would-be supporters" ratio of various approaches. And as with anything, the cost factor(limited volunteer time, money) must be considered.

My assumption has always been that if you could understand the motivations of the "anti" people and the neutral people, you could devise the best approach(es). So for me, it all comes down to psychology and marketing. [I'm not expert in either, beyond being a human being, so I hope more educated folks weigh in on that]

I wish you the best of luck - it is a huge subject but it's a great subject. I second joe's request - please consider posting the final paper.

Anonymous said...

"My assumption has always been that if you could understand the motivations of the "anti" people and the neutral people, you could devise the best approach(es)."

Maybe - just maybe - you talk to them and ask them. That would involve talking to them, instead of sloganeering at them, or trying to find a pigeonhole to stick them in, but both sides might find it productive.

Joe said...

I get fumed when people accuse me of being some sort of bigot or hatemonger or homophobe or whatever... gratuitously dishing out those labels does a lot to alienate people who would otherwise be open to discussion.

Some of us in the other camp want to see you get your rights, and want to see the religious institution of marriage protected. But you probably wouldn't ask me, because I'm just a homophobe who hates you.

(not by Ryan of course, his ears have always been especially open, which is much appreciated.)

I feel like I should share a story about open ears. I used to be a lot more hardcore. When I was in high school, I thought that gays were subhumans who didn't deserve rights, or even recognition. I saw their existence as an affront to God. When I got a job at stop and shop, I because friendly with pretty much everyone there, as per my general demeanor.

I talked a lot with one of the older gentlemen who worked in the deli. He didn't have a car, so a lot of nights I would drive him home. At some point in our conversations, it came up that he was gay. I was shocked that someone who seemed so normal to me could possibly be gay. So I asked him questions. I asked about how he knew he was gay, what was his life like...stuff like that. Here I was in a car with a 40something year old gay guy, hearing about how he had to bury his boyfriend whom he loved that died of aids. He had the same frailty as any other person I knew. It also made me realize that they're just as human. Just because a union between two men would not be ordained by God, doesn't mean they don't deserve to be together.

Perhaps that story will help you understand that just because I don't think marriage should include homosexuals in it's definition doesn't mean I'm some fascist. Most people who are in my voting bloc are the same way. You'd be surprised in the complexity of my response to the marriage issue -- and the amount of support such an answer has.

Laurel, if you ever really want to understand the motivations of the "anti" people, feel free to ask me.

Laurel said...

Anonymous 12:34, I couldn;t agree more. One-on-one conversation is by far the best way to reach mutual understanding, and I engage in it whenever I can. I have for my whole adult life.

The unfortunate thing is that when we're up against a deadline such as another vote in the concon, the logistics of having these conversations is overwhelming. There are too few LBGT people and allies available to have all the personal conversations needed in the limited time left. This is why mass communications happen, in this as in any endeavour. The anti-equallity folks are up against the same thing, although they've got it easy. Heterosexuals are already the ovewhelming numerical majority (about 95%), so each person need only converse with a few others. Whereas each LGBT person or ally would have to have conversations with dozens or more. Hard to have meaningful conversations with so many people in a short time period. So, while I agree talking is best, you can understand why a marketing approach is sometimes relied on when legislation is pressing.

laurel said...

Joe! I submitted a response to you and blogger ate it. Ugh! Ok, I'll try again...

Thank you for your story. I am glad that you see gay people as full human beings!

If I don't talk to you or other people, it is simply because I don't know you. So, I'm glad you busted through that barrier and initiated a conversation here. Thanks for that.

Your story makes a really good poin that I think is often missed (by me, too). That is, that people are complex, and don't necessarily have black & white views on issues. That is definately worth keeping in mind.

You mention that you and others "want to see you get your rights, and want to see the religious institution of marriage protected.". This is great to hear! Me too! Your comment does make me wonder, though, where you see the threat to religious marriage. The 1st Amendment of the US Constitution protects religious freedom. The advent of civil marriage for all can never force any clergy to marry a couple they don't want tot marry. Clergy regularily turn away couples that don't meet church criteria. For example, a priest may refuse to marry a pair of previously divorced heterosexuals. A rabbi may refuse to marry an interfaith couple, whether hetero or homo. Some pastors will refuse to marry interracial couples. Legally, that's fine because it's religious freedom protected by the constitution. And it doesn't hurt the couples legally because they can still get their civil marriage at town hall. So, set me straight please if I've misunderstood you in there somewhere. I just don't see a conflict.

Thanks for the conversation.

joe said...

This might come out long, so I apologize, but this is more or less the big problem the anti people have.

I've read from your posts that you are atheist, so here's a brief overview.

I was raised and continue to be ardently Catholic. In Catholicism, the holiest rites we have are called the Blessed Sacraments. These are:
Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, Reconciliation, and the anointing of the sick. Different sects of Christianity follow some or all of them.

So, one of the holiest rites of my religion is the Sacrament of Marriage. Standing before God and pledging your soul to another and vice versa. It's been like this for thousands of years.

For most of American history, marriage was not conducted outside the context of a religious ceremony, so for all intents and purposes, there was no reason for the law books to make any differentiation between a religious ceremony and a civil one. It was just "marriage". In the past 100 years, when secularist movement picked up steam, in the shuffle of words and changes to the government and public institutions, it was sort of forgotten that "marriage" is a religious ceremony.

So here we are, in a rut, trying to apply a new, modernist definition to a revered ceremony that has existed for thousands of years. Some people are worried that gays will destroy the family -- i think straight people will give them a run for their money in that department. Since, right now, gays and straights both are married by justices of the peace or whatever civil servant, it would be only natural to call it a civil union; leave the word marriage out, because marriage is in essence a religious term. In this system, I would find the woman I love, we would file for a civil union, and supplement it in a Church before God with our wedding. EVERYONE is equal under the law.

The way I see it, what we're doing right now would be like calling someones 18th birthday, the age they are recognized under law as an adult, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the ceremony in which Judaism recognizes a person as an adult.

I hope this helps you see where a lot of us are coming from.

Ryan Adams said...

Your reply brings up a question for me, Joe.

Say, for example, we just got rid of the term "marriage" from all law books... and, before the eyes of the government, the only papers they gave out at a town hall near you was for civil unions, be you gay or straight.

If that were to happen, and marriage became a strictly non-legal term, gay people would assuredly still want to get married in such a ceremony, religious or otherwise. Furthermore, many people - straight and gay - would still want to have a marriage ceremony and call it "marriage" too, though there wouldn't necessarily be any priest/rabbi/etc. overseeing the ceremony.

So, would you still have a problem with that? I don't really see how it would change anything, because there's still going to be that divide of how you percieve a word and how others percieve it. And, ultimately, the constitution provides plenty of room for people to apply the term "marriage" as they would see fit given the changes of the hypothetical situation I discussed in this reply. After all, even before Goodridge came, plenty of gay people - across the country - were having wedding ceremonies, often times in religious settings with ordained ministers.

joe said...

People would be free to call it whatever they want. I just don't want to see it in the law books or on the constitution. It doesn't belong there.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Joe. Have civil contracts/unions and call them such. Go to the town hall and get a "civil union" license not a "marriage" one. And religious ceremonies wouldn't have any standing in a court of law, unless they were accompanied by a civil license.

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